Covid-19’s Impact on Latin American Elections and Protest

May 29, 2020

“With no mechanisms for mail-in voting or effective alternatives to protests for demanding policy change, Latin American citizens are suddenly deprived of their main two mechanisms of democratic accountability,” Columbia University’s María Victoria Murillo, professor of Political Science and International and Public Affairs, writes in her latest paper reviewing the effects of Covid-19 on elections and dissent.

The publication, “Elections and Protests in Latin America: Covid-19’s Impact,” forms part of the NGO Social Science Research Council’s “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series.

In both Chile and Bolivia, electoral solutions seemed the only way out of deep, polarizing political crises, Murillo says. However, the Covid-19 outbreak forced Chilean authorities to suspend the plebiscite on constitutional reform, originally scheduled for April 2020, and Bolivian officials to push back presidential elections of May 2020.

The author, who in addition is the director of Columbia’s Institute for Latin American Studies (ILAS), also looks at other countries including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador.

“Without an institutional solution and with protests restrained by fear of contagion, quarantines, and curfews… popular discontent is left with no clear outlet, signaling a deeper regional problem with political accountability,” she adds. As such, popular discontent cannot be channeled through elections and mobilization, causing that displeasure to simmer and risking a future explosion.

In response, Murillo calls for “policy creativity to reopen avenues for political accountability that strengthen democratic governance.”