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Explainer: Choosing Latin American Presidential Candidates in 2014

On election day in Uruguay, a voter casts her ballot. (AP Photo)

January 24, 2014

This year, seven Latin American countries will hold presidential elections. Each country has different rules about how presidential candidates are chosen, ranging from primary elections open to all voters to closed party conventions. While some countries leave candidate selection to political parties, others have rules allowing citizens to participate in the process. How does each of these countries pick their presidential candidates and how will this process play out in 2014?

Explore by country:

Bolivia (October 5, tentative): The country's 1999 political parties' law allows for primaries, though political parties tend to choose presidential candidates internally at party conventions or meetings. Each party chooses a date for this meeting; they are not held together. While details are difficult to ascertain on how parties choose their candidate, President Evo Morales noted in 2012 that, at least in the case of his party, the Movement for Socialism (MAS), a variety of party members are consulted and a decision comes from these discussions. Currently, the country's legislature is considering the Law of Political Organizations to replace the 1999 political parties' law. The bill would require parties to hold open primary elections for president.

This year provides an illustration of the two practices of party meetings and primaries. MAS picked its candidate, Morales, at its party convention in October 2013. Since then, another six candidates were selected to represent their parties. In December, the Broad Front Party and the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement agreed to hold a joint primary to elect a presidential candidate. Presently, a total of 12 political parties are eligible to participate in the presidential election. New parties must get at least 90,000 signatures to become registered with the national electoral authority. Both new and existing parties must include within their party statutes the rule to alternate women and men on all candidate lists, as established in the 2010 electoral law

To become president, a candidate must be at least 30 years old and must have resided continuously in Bolivia for at least five years leading up to the election.

Brazil (October 5): Presidential candidates are chosen internally by political parties. A 1995 law gives parties the right to determine how they pick their candidates internally, and each party's rules define the procedures for choosing candidates. Both the Worker's Party and Brazilian Social Democracy Party, for example, allow for internal elections by party members if there is more than one potential presidential candidate. Otherwise, delegates elected by registered party members at the local and state levels choose the presidential candidate at national party conventions.

Candidates are officially confirmed at the conventions, which are held between June 10 and 30 on an election year. During federal-level party conventions, each party finalizes its nominees for president and vice president. Parties often announce their candidates ahead of the party conventions as "pre-candidates." In October 2012, The Worker's Party confirmed that President Dilma Rousseff would represent the party in the October 2014 election. In October 2013, Eduardo Campos of the Brazilian Socialist Party announced he would team up with Marina Silva as the vice presidential candidate for his party's ticket. And in December, the Brazilian Social Democracy Party announced Aécio Neves as its "pre-candidate."

To run for president, candidates must be Brazilian citizens, at least 35 years old, and affiliated with a political party.

Colombia (May 25): In this country, presidential candidates are chosen either through party primaries or votes at party conventions. The country's 1994 law on political parties ensures support from the federal electoral authorities to fund and organize party primaries. The National Registry is responsible for organizing party primaries, which tend to take place on the same day as other elections. This year, the vote will coincide with March 9 legislative elections. Some primaries are open to all registered voters, and other primaries are open only to registered party members; it depends on the party. Ahead of the 2014 election, the country's electoral authority was going to hold a joint primary for all political parties in September 2013, but cancelled the vote due to lack of interest.

Parties can also opt to hold conventions to select their candidates, in which elected party delegates vote for a candidate. In October, the Democratic Center Party held its convention and elected Oscar Iván Zuluaga as its candidate, with 56 percent of the vote. Those eligible to vote at the convention included party delegates elected on the local level, as well as party leadership, elected officials, and congressional candidates. Multiple parties can choose to support the same candidate. For example, while President Juan Manuel Santos is running for his own National Unity party ticket, the Liberal Party also picked him as their candidate. The Conservative Party is considering supporting him as well ahead of their January 26 convention.

To become president, a candidate must be a Colombian citizen by birth and at least 30 years old.

Costa Rica (February 2): Costa Rica's Constitution offers guidelines for elections and political party structure, while the country's electoral code provides a framework for the nomination process by political parties. Presidential hopefuls are selected through party primaries, a process that is written into the electoral code, with party-specific statutes to further define how candidates are designated. National Assemblies—each party's highest authority—elect presidential candidates and ratify appointments during national conventions with party members and municipal delegates. An internal electoral tribunal defines the makeup of a National Assembly, which consists of delegates from district, cantonal, and provincial levels, among others, and is headed up by a national executive committee that organizes the conventions. According to Costa Rica's electoral code, national conventions must be held between May 31 and the national election, and primary candidates are allowed to distribute campaign material only during the two months leading up to the convention.

Presidential candidates must be Costa Rican citizens by birth, and at least 30 years old.

As the only aspiring presidential candidate for the ruling National Liberation Party's ticket, Johnny Araya did not face competition during his party's National Assembly in July 2013. The Broad Front party chose Congressman José María Villalta Flórez-Estrada as its representative during the National Assembly on March 2013, making Villalta the second candidate in the party's history. Congressman Otto Guevara was also the only candidate hopeful for his party, the Liberation Movement.

El Salvador (February 2): In this country, political parties can make internal decisions about how to choose their presidential candidates.

Ahead of the 2014 presidential election, the national executive council of the Nationalist Republican Alliance party set up a small, internal commission of party leaders to select a candidate, and officially announcing its contender, Norman Quijano, during its general assembly in August 2012. The Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front used a similar approach, announcing their candidate Vice President Salvador Sánchez Cerén during the party's June 2013 national convention after top party members handpicked him. Tony Saca, former president of El Salvador between 2004 and 2009, announced his candidacy in February 2013 with a new political group called UNIDAD, which is a coalition of three parties including Great National Alliance, Unity Christian Democratic Party, and the National Conciliation Party.

To be eligible to run for office, a candidate must be a Salvadoran citizen by birth, at least 30 years old, and affiliated with an officially recognized political party.

Panama (May 4): The country's electoral code requires presidential candidates to be chosen through internal party primaries. Each party holds an individual primary, in which registered party members can vote. The country's electoral authority organizes these elections. Nominations can take place up to a year before the electoral process begins. The start of this year’s electoral process—when candidacies are made official—began January 4, four months before the elections.

To become president, candidates must be affiliated with a legally recognized political party, must be Panamanian by birth, and at least 35 years old.

The governing Panamanian Party elected Vice President Juan Carlos Varela as presidential candidate in the party's internal primary in March 2013. The same month, the Revolutionary Democratic Party elected Juan Carlos Navarro as its candidate. During the May 2013 Democratic Change primary, José Domingo Arias was chosen to run for president.

Uruguay (October 26): The country's constitutional reform in 1996 included numerous electoral changes. One of them was to establish presidential primary elections; the first was held in 1999. The Constitution outlines that a primary election will be held simultaneously for all parties; voting is open to all Uruguayan voters, but it is not mandatory. The winning candidate from each party must earn an absolute majority of votes, or 40 percent of the vote with a minimum 10 percent lead over the second-place candidate. Each party then sends its victorious candidate to run in the presidential election, held in November.

To be president, one must be a Uruguayan citizen by birth and must be at least 35 years old.

Originally, the Constitution stipulated that the primary would be held in April, but a secondary law later changed the date to the last Sunday in June. This year, the primary election will be held on June 1, instead of June 29. In November 2012, Uruguay's Congress passed a law to make this date change so that the election takes place before the World Cup, which starts on June 12.