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Illness and Elections: Does it Make a Difference?

Illness and Elections: Does it Make a Difference?

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (Karita/AP)

In 2011 Jack Layton, the left of center leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party, changed the political landscape of Canada by campaigning for his party’s position as the third party in the Canadian political system. The New Democrats, known as the NDP, always was Canada’s third party behind the Conservative Party and Canada’s natural governing party by perception and history, the Liberal Party of Canada. The NDP had only one seat in Quebec before the 2011 election, trumped by Quebec’s representative party the Bloc Quebecois. During the campaign, Mr. Layton was recovering from cancer and was always seen with a cane to help him during his post treatment, but appeared somewhat healthy and positive. His campaign shocked the country when despite the current Conservative government winning the election by taking seats from the Liberals, Layton’s NDP wiped out almost every Bloc seat in Quebec and feasted on the Liberal vote reducing them to not only the third position with the lowest number of seats in Liberal party history, but almost wiped them out along with the Bloc. Layton certainly changed the political landscape of Canada, but a few short months later a recurrence of his illness caught up to him and he passed away soon after his greatest political achievement.

There was not much discussion on the effect Layton’s illness might have had on his positive electoral successes, but an illness certainly can have an effect on a political campaign. When John Edward ran to be the Democratic hopeful, and later petitioned to run with President Obama in 2008, many focused on his support for his wife who was fighting a recurrence of breast cancer at the time. What might have given him support for being a wonderful husband, tarnished his reputation when it was discovered that he was cheating on his wife around the same time he was helping his wife battle cancer, according to sources. While Elizabeth Edwards had to fight a recurrence of the disease that ultimately took her life, Edwards stepped out of the public spotlight as his reputation was destroyed by his actions, turning his great compassion for Elizabeth into the definition for how to be an uncompassionate husband.

The question of illness and political campaigns has returned with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in a tight race for re-election against his rival in Venezuela, Henrique Capriles Radonski. Today, Chavez has returned again to Cuba for cancer treatment in a fight against his illness that has returned recently, right before his next six year bid to remain as Venezuela’s president. Analysts on Chavez have weighed in on the effect his cancer has on his ability to win the next election in Venezuela. Other possible candidates in Chavez’s party were seen as unable to win against Capriles in recent surveys and Chavez and Capriles were seen as having a statistical tie in recent polls. The effect of cancer on Chavez’s future bid was seen as helping him gain the sympathy of many supporters and undecided voters, while the effect of his ongoing illness on another six year term made many think he may not be healthy enough to remain as a strong President over the next few years. It is hard to say how cancer or an illness can change the electorate’s view on a candidate, but it is certain that there is probably some influence it has on how voters view potential leaders and the strength of their character.



Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration