Covid-19 as a Quiet Assassin of Democracy? Beyond Backsliding and Autocratization

Project: Research project

Project Details


The literature on the state of democracy and freedom around the world has been
overshadowed the growing concerns about democratic backsliding, the proliferation of illiberal democracies and electoral authoritarianism, and lately, outright autocratization against the background of the Covid-19 pandemic which has provided the pretext for radical measures. The proposed research focuses on the electoral arena where leaders in both electoral democracies and electoral autocracies had to overcome a series of health, socioeconomic, and political risks amid the pandemic. Developing a database covering all
national elections and referendums (known here as ‘electoral episodes’) from February 2020 onwards, the analysis will move not only beyond the restrictive scope of the emergent literature which seeks to prevent elections and referendums from becoming ‘super spreader events’ with the help of stringent measures, but also the overarching concern for democratic backsliding and autocratization. To the extent that one acknowledges the normative concerns of such debates, the proposed research is going to make an original contribution in four ways to shed light on the particulars of regime choices and changes amid the pandemic: (a) how regime types shaped the choices available to the leaders in response to the crisis, (b) how such choices were made and presented to various stakeholders of the regimes, (c) how the public responded, and (d)
the extent to which the elections and referendums in question served to consolidate or weaken the incumbents. In all, the project is expected to yield nuanced analyses and conclusive findings with supporting evidence on to compare democracies, where there have been warnings about a rapid rise of populist, illiberal politics at the expense of the check-and-balance and power-sharing politics, with the hybrid and the authoritarian regimes, whose leaders are said to have taken advantage of the pandemic to consolidate autocratic rule. In addition to small-N case studies, which would provide rich details and
narratives, we propose to bring together under the Most Similar Systems Design as well as the Most Dissimilar Systems Design of the ‘electoral episodes’ with reference to both regime types and the geographical distribution where they took place. Moreover, the database allows us to empirically put to test hypotheses regarding how the interplay of institutional arrangements and state capacity have shaped the leaders’ choices, the policy outcomes, the overall performance of the incumbents seeking re-election, as well as how democratic backsliding and autocratization were checked in some nations but not in
Effective start/end date1/01/2431/12/26


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