Ballot counting at an election in Guatemala. (AP)


LatAm in Focus: Will the Anti-Incumbency Wave Reach Argentina and Guatemala?

By Carin Zissis and Luisa Leme

Universidad del Valle de Guatemala’s Marielos Chang and Cefeidas Group’s Juan Cruz Díaz cover what to watch ahead of the two countries’ presidential races.

Marielos Chang

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In 2023, several Latin American countries hold elections and there are already signs that voters, worn out by challenges such as economic woes and corruption scandals, are following the regional trend of frustration with the status quo. But will they turn to the opposition? In this episode, we check in on the electoral mood in Guatemala and Argentina, which hold presidential votes in June and October, respectively.

In Guatemala, conservative President Alejandro Giammattei, who can’t seek reelection, has an approval level of 24 percent. That doesn’t mean voters will necessarily head to the other end of the political spectrum; Zury Ríos, daughter of now-deceased dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, is a frontrunner. But even if the international community is baffled by her popularity, many voters “don't recognize that we went through a genocide, that her father actually promoted a genocide against a group of people in Guatemala,” explains Marielos Chang, a professor at Universidad del Valle de Guatemala and general secretary of Ciudadanía Celeste, a political organization that seeks to compete in the 2027 election. She tells AS/COA’s Carin Zissis about why the strong influence of both the church and the military as keeping conservatism at the fore. 

The other thing Ríos and other top candidates have going for them is name recognition, which goes far when voters are handed ballots with as many as 29 political parties competing for political posts, says Chang.

But all the options don’t necessarily mean voters feel they have good choices in a country where 42 percent of people say corruption is their top concern—the highest level in Latin America, per Gallup. “There’s a lot of despair, a lot of disappointment regarding the authorities…and the political leaders,” says Chang.

Juan Cruz Díaz  
Juan Cruz Díaz

Four thousand miles south in Argentina, voters are looking for a solution to economic and other concerns in the October 22 election. Alberto Fernández is eligible for reelection but faces an uphill battle, given that 91 percent of Argentines believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.

That doesn’t mean the opposition has it in the bag. Poll leader and Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, of the opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition, has made concessions to the center, a move some of the more conservative players in his coalition, such as former Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, have criticized, says Juan Cruz Díaz, managing director at Buenos Aires-based Cefeidas Group and AS/COA senior advisor. Infighting in both the opposition coalition and the ruling Peronist coalition might open up space for libertarian outsider Javier Milei to play a spoiler role, he tells AS/COA’s Luisa Leme.

For Economy Minister Sergio Massa, prospects for the governing coalition and his own presidential aspirations will depend on how he manages the economy after the country closed 2022 with inflation running close to 95 percent. “There is a perception that he's been doing a good job as a minister of economy so far. If he can maintain this perception, he can certainly be a potential candidate,” said Díaz. Moreover, whether it's Massa or another candidate, securing the backing of vying Peronist wings led by Fernández and Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner could be the ticket to the Casa Rosada, explains Díaz.

Latin America in Focus Podcast

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This podcast was co-produced by Luisa Leme and Jon Orbach.

The music in this podcast is “Descarga Gandinga, Mondongo y Sandunga” performed by Uzzo Ismael and “Admonición” performed by Fátima Abramo and Asunción Cantero for Americas Society. Learn more about upcoming concerts: