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Democracy Delayed: COVID-19’s Effect on Latin America’s Politics – Chatham House

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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. 

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'Replacement' conspiracies driving gunmen creep into mainstream politics – CNN

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(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 mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, on Saturday was not the first such event in recent years in which a White gunman, who allegedly posted a White supremacist manifesto online, targeted the Black or immigrant community.
It’s not the second. Or the third.
Overtly racist lone gunmen motivated by such hate have, in recent years, targeted a Black church in South Carolina, a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and immigrants at a Walmart in El Paso. Read CNN’s report.
Some apparently drew inspiration from a shooting by a White man in New Zealand who targeted mosques, killing 51, and published his own manifesto about “The Great Replacement.”
Now, Buffalo.
Get the latest on:
  • 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.
“Replacement theory” motivation — According to a 180-page document posted online, attributed to Gendron, he was fixated on what’s known as “replacement theory” — the idea that Whites are being slowly and intentionally replaced by minorities and immigrants.
Variations on this basic idea — that Whites are being replaced by some sort of minority-driven conspiracy — have made their way into more than just the musings of gunmen.
The Fox and GOP version of replacement theory. Critics say it is dangerously close to xenophobic rhetoric finding its way into the mainstream of American politics.
Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, pointed the finger squarely at her party’s leadership Monday morning, saying it has “enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism. History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse. @GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.”
And after the shooting in Buffalo, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the Illinois Republican who has split with his party by criticizing former President Donald Trump, tried to make a connection between an old Facebook ad published by Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, and replacement theory.
“Did you know: @EliseStefanik pushes white replacement theory? The #3 in the house GOP,” Kinzinger said on Twitter, linking to media coverage that the congresswoman’s Facebook ads received in 2021, including a critical editorial from a local newspaper.
The Facebook ads from her campaign last September suggested Democrats wanted to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants to create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.
CNN has reached out to Stefanik about Kinzinger’s comment.
Replacement pattern. That ad is part of a larger narrative.
Tucker Carlson, the Fox host, has pushed the idea that Democrats want to import new voters to dilute the votes of other Americans, presumably Whites like him.
Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio and City University of New York media studies professor James Cohen wrote a CNN opinion piece last year about how the concept of replacement theory has festered in US politics for decades, but has recently become easy to decode in segments on Carlson’s show and in remarks by lawmakers. Read more.
CNN’s Chris Cillizza has documented how the concept of replacement theory has been mentioned by lawmakers like GOP Rep. Scott Perry, who said this at a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting in April of 2021:
“For many Americans, what seems to be happening or what they believe right now is happening is what appears to them is we’re replacing national-born American — native-born Americans to permanently transform the landscape of this very nation,” the Pennsylvania Republican said in reference to the number of people trying to enter the country at the United States’ southern border.
“Uncomfortably” close. This is not to say Perry’s comment, Carlson’s broadcasts or Stefanik’s ad are the same as what’s represented in the writings, allegedly from Gendron or other gunmen. They’re not. But it is also impossible to deny certain parallels in the language.
“This tension, this frustration, this fear sits not that far from our mainstream politics,” journalist Wesley Lowery said on CNN’s Inside Politics Sunday.
“One thing is unquestionably true,” he added. “Very often the rhetoric in our politics sits uncomfortably close to the rhetoric that these kind of terrorists espouse.”
Pledges to fight racism. But how? President Joe Biden, who is headed to Buffalo on Tuesday, pledged to fight racism.
“Any act of domestic terrorism, including an act perpetrated in the name of a repugnant white nationalist ideology, is antithetical to everything we stand for in America,” he said in a statement on Saturday. “Hate must have no safe harbor. We must do everything in our power to end hate-fueled domestic terrorism.”
Race is enmeshed in US politics. Political rhetoric often feeds replacement fears by highlighting racial divides that are enmeshed in American life and politics.
The issue of immigration will loom over this fall’s midterm elections as Biden struggles with how to end Trump-era immigration policy that has kept US borders largely closed.
The related issues of voting rights and election security often pit GOP-led states like Georgia, Texas and Florida against big cities with their large minority populations.
Seeking accountability from social media companies. Democratic politicians like New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argued Sunday that social media companies should bear some responsibility.
“This spreads like a virus,” Hochul told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.” She said CEOs of social media companies must look a their policies and do more to take racist content down.
“They have to be able to identify when information like this — the second it hits the platform, it needs to be taken down, because this is spreading like wildfire.”
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla who has been in the process of buying Twitter, has said he would go in the opposite direction. He’s a self-described free speech absolutist and would allow more, not less, speech online.
Buffalo and gun laws. The gun control debate has shown us that even tragic shooting after tragic shooting will lead to very little concrete action so long as a minority of senators, locked together, can stop any legislation
New York already has some of the strictest gun laws in the country and Hochul said she would look to close loopholes in state law that she said allowed magazines like the one apparently used in Buffalo across state lines.
Separately, Bash asked Pelosi if Democrats should place higher priority on passing gun safety measures like a stricter background check proposal passed by the House that was stalled in the Senate. Pelosi argued the math makes passing such bills a challenge.
“The fact is the 60-vote majority in the Senate is an obstacle to doing any, many good things, unfortunately, and again, we are not going away until the job is done,” Pelosi said.

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Ukraine won the 2022 Eurovision because of politics – The Washington Post

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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.

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.

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How women have helped change the culture of politics in Quebec – CBC.ca

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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. 

Experts who spoke with CBC said the proportion of women leaving is disappointing, given the 2018 Quebec election’s historic results for women and non-white candidates

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. 

Women goal-oriented

She also helped draft Quebec’s legislation on medical aid in dying and led a highly praised commission on end-of-life care. 

Women in Quebec politics are known for working across party lines on issues from medical aid in dying to creating a specialized court for sexual and domestic violence. Hélène David, Sonia LeBel, Véronique Hivon and Christine Labrie, left to right, worked on the court project together. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

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: 

Véronique Hivon on why she thinks more women are leaving politics

2 days ago

Duration 0:58

Retiring Parti Québécois MNA Véronique Hivon says a different approach to power and the tone of discourse at the National Assembly are among her theories as to why women might not want to enter or stay in provincial 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. 

Claire Kirkland-Casgrain served in two Liberal governments and was the first female provincial judge. (Radio-Canada)

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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