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Democratic Stability and Instability in Latin America

Democratic Stability and Instability in Latin America. South America ended 2019 with tumultuous months, which showed us the limits of its democratic institutions to channel political conflict. Street protests against government institutions in the Andean region pointed to the inability of political institutions to handle the conflicts that divide those societies. Only in Bolivia, however, did the protests result in the early termination of a presidential mandate. In this case, President Evo Morales’ decision to ignore both the constitutional law and the result of a referendum that denied him the possibility to run for a third re-election, encouraged protests from the opposition on suspicion of fraud caused by an interruption of the rapid vote count. Street protests were joined by police intimidation and a military “suggestion” that the president should step down. Under these circumstances, Morales went into exile two months before the end of his term.

Democratic Stability and Instability in Latin America

The Latin American agenda is replete with elections and crucial political events. This year will conclude the second stage of the Latin American electoral marathon during which, in a period of four years (2013–16), a total of 17 presidential elections will have taken place. Fourteen have already been completed. Taking into account the first stage (2009–12), during which another 17 were held, we find ourselves in this period has experienced an unprecedented series of elections. In only eight years the 18 countries in the Latin American region will have experienced a total of 34 presidential elections.

We investigate the underlying causes of political instability in a panel of 18 Latin American countries from 1971–2000. We test whether regime type, regime durability, factionalism, income inequality, ethnic diversity, ethnic discrimination, regional spillover effects, urban growth and macroeconomic variables matter for instability. We find several important results: (1) democracy has a significant negative effect on instability that is robust to several alternative specifications; (2) factionalised political systems experience higher instability; (3) income inequality, ethnic fractionalisation, and urban growth have important nonlinear effects on instability; and (4) of the macroeconomic variables we study, only openness to trade has a significant negative effect on instability.

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