Abstract International

Electoral risks govern protest response

It is well known that authoritarian governments are less tolerant of public protests than democratic ones. But that does not explain why some democracies also take to repressing protests through violent means, while some don’t.

S. Erdem Aytaç, Luis Schiumerini, and Susan Stokes in their paper, “Protests and Repression in New Democracies,” in the journal, Perspectives on Politics (March 2017), seek to identify the possible motivating factors for democratic governments when dealing with popular protests, especially with a backlash following crackdown on initial protests.

Their paper looks at the “extrication” strategies of three democratically elected governments to hypothesise that “electoral calculations” are a pivotal basis for reactions to a backlash. The authors use the in-depth case study method to contrast the strategies adopted by three governments — Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government in Turkey; Dilma Rousseff’s in Brazil; and Viktor Yanukovych’s in Ukraine — while dealing with protests in 2013.

The backlash against these governments followed protests in Istanbul, Brazil and central Kiev respectively. In all three cases, the initial suppression by governments led to further agitations. What was different was their handling.

While Mr. Erdogan’s government used full-scale repression, the Brazilian and Ukrainian governments reacted with relatively less-repressive actions, even seeking to negotiate.

Using survey research and interviews with civilian authorities, police officials and protesters in the three countries, the authors argue that the strategies were motivated by concerns regarding electoral security of the parties in power. In Turkey, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) “rested securely on a base of conservative and devout constituents” and there were barely any ruling party supporters among those who protested as part of the backlash.

The support base of the ruling Workers’ Party (PT) in Brazil was less partisan, leading to a dampening of support following the initial wave of repression. In Ukraine, while there was a definite cleavage along pro-Russian and pro-Western lines, the party system was “inchoate”. The authors say this is why Turkey’s response was clearly different from Brazil’s and Ukraine’s even though the institutional structures are similar in Turkey and Ukraine.

The authors also test out alternate hypotheses such as civilian control over police, ideological orientation of the government, social class of protesters and the nature of the threat and find that the dissimilarity of the reactions in Turkey and Ukraine despite regime and structural similarities are explained more by the “electoral security” argument.

The findings of this paper are useful to explain how even the government in India reacts or could react to similar situations.

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Printable version | May 5, 2021 3:54:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/electoral-risks-govern-protest-response/article18348037.ece

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