Even before this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, commentators claimed that if Ukraine took home the trophy, it would not be for the quality of its folk-rap entry, “Stefania.” Instead, it would be a sign of European support for Ukraine amid the Russian invasion.
This article is not about the coronavirus. Or at least not directly. It’s about the elections, political processes and protests in Latin America and the Caribbean that only a few months ago seemed destined to shape many countries’ democratic futures. In Bolivia, Chile and the Dominican Republic, public health concerns over COVID-19 have forced the postponement of critical elections; in all three countries social and political upheaval preceded the delays.
In the best of circumstances elections serve as a safety valve for political and social tensions. What will their postponement mean as the countries feel the economic and social effects of the pandemic?
In Bolivia, a make-up presidential election has been postponed. In Chile, a plebiscite on whether and how to amend the constitution has been pushed back to 28th October. In both of those cases, the special elections were called in the face of public protests. In the other country to postpone elections, the Dominican Republic, the government was forced to delay presidential and legislative elections originally scheduled for 17 May to July. In that case too, the rescheduling came on the heels of protests; a suspicious technical meltdown in urban voting systems in the 16th February municipal elections sparked nearly two weeks of political demonstrations and forced a re-do on 25 March – which in turn forced a delay in the government’s imposing social distancing measures in response to the country’s COVID-19 outbreak.
And in Venezuela…. well, the complete absence of predictability and the politicization of the country’s electoral commission means scheduled National Assembly elections could occur almost any time; the one thing that is sure is under the current electoral authority, the process will never meet international standards for free and fair elections.
Discontent, Protest and Elections
International observers had determined the 20 October 2019 presidential and legislative process in Bolivia riddled with state-sponsored fraud. As evidence mounted that the election had been stolen, protestors took to the streets to demand that President Evo Morales – already running for a constitutionally questionable fourth term – step down. In negotiations, Morales allegedly agreed to call new elections under a new election commission, but then things got messy. The head of the military intervened to force Morales out and opposition politician Jeanine Áñez was appointed interim president. Upon assuming office, the former senator cracked down on pro-Morales protestors on the streets and rounded up supporters, efforts that stepped up under the COVID-19 quarantine.
The partisan attacks raised the concerns of international human rights groups while Áñez’s decision to run as a candidate in the fresh elections triggered concern among democrats. In the end, what once appeared to be a peaceful, consensus solution to election-fraud upheaval that convulsed the country turned into a coup and a vendetta, re-polarizing the country. And that was even before the elections were postponed.
In Chile, President Sebastian Piñera had called for a national referendum to potentially rewrite the constitution after months of social protests tore through the country shutting down large parts of the capital city, Santiago. While there is evidence that some protesters were supported externally, from countries such as Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, the social upheaval had been brewing for years over a lack of social mobility, the unequal educational system and a closed political system marked by a constitution originally drafted in 1980 during the reign of General Augusto Pinochet. Originally on 25th April voters were to head to the polls to answer two questions: 1) whether to amend the constitution at all and 2) how that body charged with redrafting the charter should be elected. But on 19 March the Chilean Congress postponed the referendum to October 26, 2020.
The protests petered out as Piñera declared a nationwide state of emergency on 18 March in response to the virus but the frustrations and inequities that led to them remain and continue to fester. Whether or not a constitution rewrite could have addressed the political, social and economic demands of a majority of Chileans that led to the protests is an open question. For many Chileans, though, it was seen as a critical step with according to one survey 86 per cent supporting the process and a majority holding the view that a new or reformed magna carta would improve the economy and social policies. With now even the October vote in doubt and social distancing effectively limiting large scale peaceful demonstrations, the means for Chileans to channel their demands and push for a collective solution have become limited.
The COVID-19 postponement of elections in the Dominican Republican comes under a similar cloud of political and social discontent. The demonstrations that erupted after the technical failures of the municipal elections stemmed from longstanding distrust over the government of President Danilo Medina and his party’s creeping control over the state and allegations of corruption. While the municipal elections were eventually held without incident, the larger contest of legislative and presidential elections were seen as a crucial test of Medina’s Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), with even one of its standard bearers and two-time president Leonel Fernandez, running against it under the newly created People’s Force (FP) party. Up until the electoral commission delayed the balloting, the opposition candidate Luis Abinader of the Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) had been leading the governing party’s candidate, Gonzalo Castillo, with potentially enough to avoid a second round. The future of the July elections is unclear with President Medina at the end of April extending the quarantine to 17 May but the number of infections is still rising, recently to over 11,000.
Democracy is often depicted as a means to peacefully resolve political conflict and socioeconomic discontent through free and fair competition. But what happens when that essential safety valve of elections has been closed off? To this we can add to the risk the economic contraction the world and the region will face in 2020 and likely beyond. The World Bank recently predicted that the Bolivian economy will contract by 3.4 per cent this year the worst in 34 years. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) revised sharply downward its projects for the Chilean economy, predicting it would shrink by three per cent in 2020. And according to the World Bank the Dominican Republic’s will remain flat, after years of steady growth. Add to that the reactions to the COVID-19 infection and its unequal effects on the populations in these countries and you have a pressure cooker.
'Replacement' conspiracies driving gunmen creep into mainstream politics – CNN
(CNN)Critics are drawing parallels between the pattern of racist gunmen citing fears of a conspiracy to “replace” Whites with rhetoric pushed on Fox and by some Republican politicians.
- The Buffalo shooting and the victims: 10 people were killed at a supermarket and authorities say it was hate crime. The gunman exchanged fire with and killed an armed security guard.
- The shooter: The suspect is 18-year-old Payton Gendron, who traveled from another New York county hours away and livestreamed the attack on the social media platform Twitch.
Ukraine won the 2022 Eurovision because of politics – The Washington Post
The Eurovision Song Contest allows countries to enter songs — but also to vote for the songs entered by other countries (each country nominates a jury of representatives to vote on its behalf). Several country representatives didn’t exactly try to hide their sympathy for the Ukrainian cause. When Poland’s representatives were asked for their jury vote, they mentioned “artistic creativity” — but also the bravery of Ukrainian fighters.
And it’s true: Ukraine’s victory on Saturday was political. This doesn’t make it unusual. Eurovision has always been about politics, even if the European Broadcasting Union (the organization that runs Eurovision) sometimes claims the opposite.
Past Eurovision songs have taken aim at Russia
In the past, Russia’s neighbors have weaponized Eurovision songs to retaliate against Russian actions. In 2007, Ukraine submitted a song called “Dancing Lasha Tumbai.” In Ukrainian, the pronunciation sounds very much like “Russia Goodbye.” After Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia, that country tried the same trick with a song called “We Don’t Wanna Put In” — coincidentally pronounced in the song like “we don’t want a Putin.” It didn’t work; the entry was promptly disqualified. When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Ukraine’s entry was a song about the Soviet deportation of Crimean Tatars. The song, entitled “1944,” also won the contest.
An analysis of voting patterns demonstrates that Russia, too, has engaged in Eurovision politics. Since Russia first entered the contest in 1994, its entry has frequently finished in the top five. Is that due to the quality of its entrants? Maybe, but many watchers also have noted how Russia almost always collects “douze points” (12 points: the maximum) from Belarus and other allies. This year, Russia was banned from participating.
Not all of the politics is about Russia’s actions
So, would Eurovision be apolitical if Russia’s ban from the contest became permanent? Hardly. While many of the recent political scandals have involved Russia, it’s not the only country that sparks controversy.
Israel’s participation in Eurovision means that many Arab countries do not participate, even though Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan are all eligible. Morocco’s first and only appearance in the contest was in a year Israel did not participate. In 2005, Lebanon withdrew rather than broadcast the Israeli entry.
Nor have Western European nations avoided politics. 1974’s Eurovision might be best known for introducing the world to ABBA. The Portuguese entry was more politically consequential: It served as a signal for coup plotters to begin the overthrow of Portugal’s authoritarian regime. Nor was that all; Italy censored its own entry that year, for fear that listening to “Sì” too many times would influence voters to vote “sì” (yes) in a referendum the next month to make divorce legal.
Eurovision has been political from the start
None of this is entirely surprising. Eurovision — and the European Broadcasting Union — was founded in the aftermath of World War II. The aim was to promote European cooperation. If it gave European nations a way to compete without guns and bombs, that was all to the good. There are worse ways for nations to vie for supremacy than with song and dance.
Given these foundations, it is safe to say that “Stefania” is not undermining any proud vision of political neutrality in Eurovision. It is very likely that Ukraine did win because of the Russian invasion — but it will be neither the first nor the last time that Eurovision expresses politics through the medium of a song contest. The solidarity that other European countries have expressed with Ukraine, and their implicit condemnation of Russia’s invasion, is not out of keeping with the contest’s political beginnings.
How women have helped change the culture of politics in Quebec – CBC.ca
It’s been 61 years since Claire Kirkland-Casgrain became the first woman elected to Quebec’s National Assembly, and though women politicians say there is still much to change to make Quebec politics more inclusive, they point to the ways they’ve already created progress in what was a boy’s club for centuries.
“It was really a purpose of mine to change the way we go about politics, the way we practise it,” said Véronique Hivon, who recently announced she would not be running in the next provincial election, after being a mainstay in Quebec politics for more than a decade.
Hivon, the Parti Québécois MNA for Joliette, is one of 16 women so far who have announced they will not run again in this year’s provincial elections, expected in October.
A CBC analysis earlier this week highlighted the fact that number represents about one in four female MNAs, compared to one in seven male MNAs who have announced they will not seek re-election. There are currently 55 women and 70 men who sit in the provincial legislature.
Groupe Femmes, politique et démocratie, an organization based in Quebec City, has been pressuring the province to adopt a “parity law” that would force parties to have between 40 and 60 per cent of their candidates be women.
“Because it won’t happen alone,” said Esther Lapointe, the group’s director. “There are always setbacks.”
Lapointe worries the majority Coalition Avenir Québec government’s surging popularity in the polls and the opposition parties’ struggle to gain ground before the election could be the reason so many women are leaving.
But Hivon, in an interview with CBC this week, said she is optimistic more people — more women — will enter politics without feeling like they have to “fit into a mould.”
Hivon has been hailed for her work on cross-partisan initiatives. With three other female MNAs from different parties, and in just under four years, Hivon helped create Quebec’s new court specialized in sexual violence and domestic violence.
She also helped draft Quebec’s legislation on medical aid in dying and led a highly praised commission on end-of-life care.
Hivon was seen as a natural choice to succeed former PQ leader Jean-François Lisée when he lost his seat in the 2018 election, but she decided not to seek the job.
“I have no regrets. I feel I was able to fulfil my objectives and what I wanted to change in Quebec politics and in policies,” Hivon said.
“I feel I was able to do it, even though I wasn’t a leader — maybe even because I wasn’t a leader,” she added, laughing.
The PQ suffered a dismal result in the 2018 election, losing its official party status with only nine seats, compared to 30 in 2014, which was already one of the party’s worst results since 1970.
It is still reeling from those losses, finding itself fifth among the province’s six main parties in popularity, with only 10 per cent of the potential vote, according to polling aggregator 338canada.com.
Hivon posited that more women may be leaving this year because they are content to step aside once they’ve accomplished their goals.
“They don’t hold onto power maybe as much as men, who see it as a milieu, a place where they can still do things, even if they don’t know exactly what,” Hivon said in the interview.
WATCH | Véronique Hivon on why she thinks more women are leaving Quebec politics:
The pandemic and the reflections it prompted about work-life balance may have also played a role, she said.
Thérèse Mailloux, the president of Groupe Femmes, politique et démocratie, also said she believes women tend to leave once they feel they have accomplished their objectives.
That may be because the culture still has a ways to go to be more welcoming to people who are not white men.
“The men who have been there for centuries, well, they are in their codes and their networks and the way they do politics,” Mailloux said.
Need for better work-life balance
Québec Solidaire’s Ruba Ghazal, the MNA for Mercier, said she sees firsthand the ways her female colleagues don’t feel as comfortable in the National Assembly, and believes the institution should do more to “make it easier for women to come and to stay in politics.”
Ghazal suggested the National Assembly create a daycare to make it easier for politicians to find balance between their work and their families.
“I’m going to run again, and in my personal life it’s easier because I don’t have children and I will not have children,” Ghazal said, also speaking in an interview with CBC this week.
The way men in the Salon bleu approach debate is also different, Ghazal said, opting for harsher jabs in a style that can sometimes alienate women.
Still, she acknowledges, progress takes time.
“Even if it’s 50 years,” that women have been in politics in Quebec, “that’s not a lot of time to change this,” Ghazal said.
After Kirkland-Casgrain was first elected in 1961 for the Quebec Liberals, it would take another 15 years before more than one woman at a time would have a seat at the National Assembly.
Mailloux said she sees the culture changing. Debates — although at times brutal — have in general become more respectful. Schedules are more humane, and there is a recognition of the importance of working on cross-partisan initiatives, such as the ones Hivon participated in.
Hivon said it’s getting easier to be oneself in Quebec politics but it remains a fight to do so.
“I made a promise to myself when I entered politics that I would stay true to myself, my values, my convictions. It’s hard work every day because there are pressures, but you can do it,” she said, encouraging others to join.
“I really feel hopeful that there are new generations of women who will come and really be themselves.”
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