Recent elections in Argentina, Colombia and Uruguay have added to the sense that South America is at a turning point, as mass protests have erupted in Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia. Something is indeed happening in the region, but those who claim that this is the return of the “pink tide”—the period in the early 2000s when leftist governments were sweeping to power—are missing the point. What is unfolding is not a counter-reformation, with the left reemerging after it was toppled and replaced by the right. It is something more subtle and potentially more lasting.
South America is entering a post-ideological phase. In country after country over the past decade or more, voters have given a chance to the left and the right. Now they’re losing patience with both sides. The restlessness and discontent visible in the streets and at the ballot box are evidence of an electorate that has little interest in ideological orthodoxies, whether they come from neoliberals or socialists. People want governments that produce results and work for them, for everyone. The age of accepting corruption as an inescapable fact of life in the region is over. Strong economic growth and other indicators of progress are not enough, as the violent eruption of popular anger in Chile makes clear.
Instead of political oratory or advanced economics degrees, successful South American leaders will now have to balance a new set of skills: results-oriented management bolstered by a talent for projecting empathy, and all backed by specific governing plans. When difficult decisions are needed, effective leadership must be able to explain them to voters and earn their trust and consent.