Foreign Policy Blogs

The Divisive Vote: Elections in the Americas

The Divisive Vote: Elections in the Americas

Political Rally during Brazil’s latest election: REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli

It was shocking to see what had occurred in a local election in a city in my country. A grassroots candidate won because the sitting government representative took to marginalizing certain groups and dividing the community over the last few years. This was done in order to garner majority political support for his chosen candidate. Many of those issues affected everyone’s grandparents and dealt with violence against women, especially diverse women in the community. The candidate did not choose to be supportive of those in the community, but was intentionally divisive to the point of actually accusing a grassroots pro-elder support group of committing illegal acts with no evidence in order to slander them in the community.

While in the above example the community was able to push back against the sitting Government representative and his established allies, the tactic of alienating the other in the quest for a position of power goes against the most basic freedoms established in any healthy democracy. So limiting are some of these restrictions now in a G7 nation, that it would be difficult to even discuss them openly. When you have the feeling that openly presenting your balanced opinion and criticism of your Government would make you identify with characters in a Cold War novel, you are not in possession of your Constitutional rights.

It is essential that this tactic of alienating the other as an election strategy become a thing of the distant past, as the alternative is most likely mutually assured conflict. In recent elections in the Americas the results are almost an even split. In Colombia’s recent election, the left wing candidate was able to pull off a victory despite successive Conservative and anti-cartel governments dominating Colombia’s political landscape and policy discussions for a generation. The end result of the election split came close to 50/50, and this narrow lead assure a Presidential victory. What will be key is to not target the other fifty percent of the population as the “other” in policy discussions, to not label them with terms that minimize their perspective and local issues, nor dehumanize them as a public relations exercise.

The most divisive election result in the Americas took place recently with the final run off vote in Brazil. While Ex-President Lula was able to secure a victory against now Ex-President Bolsonaro, it was by the narrowest of margins and many regions still secured regional seats from Bolsonaro allies. Lula, who came from Brazil’s labour movement, was popular in the past as he tried to secure more labour rights and socially progressive policies while implementing a balanced economic file that differed slightly from his fiscally conservative opposition at the time. With a world recession approaching, Lula will have to try and convince Brazilians that his past successes can be repeated. Lula will have to follow an economic policy that will not place its citizens in a situation of high inflation while burying any image of corruption from his administration. The issue of high inflation is what will likely hurt Biden in his upcoming midterm elections and has placed Canada’s governing party at the lowest levels of popularity in eight years.

Divisive politics often dominates the lingua franca around elections because dividing people might work for votes, but it marginalizes small interests groups in a society and actually seeks to deny them their basic rights. As we saw locally in my town, women who were threatened and assaulted needed to be reminded that despite being told they would not receive help by those in charge, they had the rights to be safe in their community. The phrase “Women get attacked all the time” should never be the common response from leaders in a community. Citizen’s rights are not abolished by being assaulted, nor can they be eliminated by the local politician’s opinion or even the police who gave a lackluster response to safety in the area. Even in the realm of international policy, these local policy tactics affect how a country approaches human rights issues abroad. Freedom cannot exist when a government dehumanizes its opposition for its own political gain.



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