The pandemic has put the performance of political leaders in the spotlight and opened a portal to restore peoples’ faith in the democratic system, but it still appears to be a system in crisis.
The impact of the pandemic appears to have affected the condition of democracy worldwide. In a recent report by the research Institute freedom House, in 80 countries, including Cambodia and China, peoples’ freedoms deteriorated.
According to Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, the pandemic has created a global democracy crisis. He told CNN, “Governments in every part of the world have abused their powers in the name of public health, seizing the opportunity to undermine democracy and human rights.” The report covered a total of 192 countries.
Threats to democracy
One of the main threats to democracy, according to 62% of people surveyed, is that they mistrust the information issued by their national governments about the virus. The fear that there is no transparency has been instilled in people because of false statements made by politicians. Corruption has also proved to be a problem in many countries.
Unfortunately, freedom of the press has also been restricted in at least 91% of the countries examined in the report. This has come in the form of online censorship, the closing down of news sources and the harassment of journalists through arrests. Some have even been stripped of their press credentials.
Freedom of speech has also been limited in many countries, and China forced the doctor from Wuhan who made the virus known to retract his statement last December. Unfortunately, he contracted the virus and died in February this year causing an uproar on social media in China. When medical workers in Kyrgyzstan spoke out about the problems of trying to work with patients during the pandemic, they were forced to apologize.
Some governments have also abused their power and have used the pandemic as an excuse to enforce curfew orders brutally. In some countries, there has been an increase in political persecutions. In others, there has been a crackdown on the political opposition.
Discrimination against minority groups has also increased, and in both India and Sri Lanka Muslims were blamed for outbreaks.
Elections are one of the most important pillars of democracy, but the pandemic has disrupted and potentially compromised quite a few. Some authoritarian governments have used the pandemic to leverage the elections in their country to their advantage. In Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous Chinese city, the September elections were postponed for later “because of the pandemic”. Pro-democracy candidates were also barred from running.
Leaders and their roles
Governments have been forced to throw all their time and resources into fighting the pandemic. Many democratic leaders have assumed unprecedented powers usually reserved for wartime.
While some leaders have been too busy to notice how the pandemic has affected democracy in their country, others have cleverly used it to their advantage to limit it. One thing is certain, the pandemic has required that trillion of dollars are used to fight it and leaders must ensure their country’s economies do not collapse.
Some believe that the pandemic will prove that populists across the globe have been right. Weakened health care systems, low taxes, and open borders are proving to them, whether they are to the left or right, that they have been correct all along.
In Moscow, the rhetoric is that the virus is better beaten by authoritarian regimes. China’s draconian measures helped control the initial outbreak, but no one is sure how many early cases there were. The Democratic Republic of Korea proved capable of sufficiently suppressing the virus. Trump often made delusional statements and in Europe initial controls soon lost to a second outbreak.
Globalization and internationalism seem to have faded through the crisis. However, the pandemic and the hope of a vaccine will increase cooperation. This crisis has offered governments an opportunity to use democracy to fight a new enemy and assure a more equitable spread of resources. They also need to ensure more transparency and freedom in the future if they want to keep democracy alive.