COVID-19: Troubling News For Democrats
Countries worldwide are facing unprecedented challenges due to the virus and each one is attempting to implement adequate measures to avoid backlash as much as possible.
Critical times call for immediate and effective action, and such is the case of the current health crisis. Yet we must bear in mind that it also represents an opportunity for governments to consolidate power. Political scientists have divided countries in two opposing sides: democracies, where power is distributed and citizens are involved in decision-making, and autocracies, where individual leaders have all the power themselves.
Which Political System Is Better Equipped?
There have been mixed responses to the crisis: Autocratic governments have opted for rigid measures and democracies depend on consensus. This has sparked debate over which political system is most effective before the concerning spike of autocracies.
Democracies worldwide have been experiencing a decline in their mandate for quite some time. The “national unity” dynamics haven’t been convincing enough and the system now appears to be even more fragile. Most experts would agree that Western countries represent the democratic side, with specific exceptions that presumably prove the rule: Russia, Hungary, and Turkey. These countries, alongside Israel, are occupying more and more space and attention from the media.
Historically, countries ruled by individuals or small groups have tended to concentrate power and eliminate political opposition. Such regimes are now taking advantage of calls for self-sacrifice to further suppress political and social dissent.
Hungary has become the first official autocracy in the European Union. Prime Minister Orbán passed a law adopting an indefinite state of emergency that allows him to rule by decree, meaning that elections or referendums will be suspended. Freedom of speech is bound to become past history.
Leaders of older, more mature regimes like Russia and Turkey have placed self interest ahead of public good. Putin and Erdogan have been in contact to build strong bilateral ties to fight the health emergency. And Netanhayu, Israel’s Prime Minister, has joined them to discuss “global pressing issues”, A euphemism that obscures the real focus: increasing their own authority.
Traditionally, democratic systems have been better able to manage health crises as they make public health their priority. However, not all that glitters is gold in democracy. The U.S., which prides itself of being the “Home of the Free”, and the U.K. have been profoundly destabilised. Both governments are trying to exert control over citizens, while failing to address the impact of the virus on the population.
The whole world has fallen on difficult times with the COVID-19 pandemic but the opposition and the ruling governments should, for once, join forces to offer alternatives for the sake of properly functioning democracies.
Democracies must be renewed, even in the most progressive countries, to really raise our voices against regimes and individuals whose agenda does not include looking after the well-being of the citizens.
We don’t want a third wave of autocracy The upcoming waves of coronavirus will bring about enough challenges.