Coronavirus News Asia

Democracy attacked by coronavirus – Asia Times

The global Covid-19 pandemic has prompted a major question about leadership in a time of crisis: how to balance the importance of public health with the respecting of individual liberty?

The virus that causes this disease respects no borders. It cares little for how nations are run, whether through democratic governance or authoritarianism. But democratic governments have already used the pandemic to crack down on freedoms, while those regimes that were authoritarian to begin with have used it to grab even more power.

Meanwhile in countries like the United States, the notion of freedom is being used to undermine public health. But freedom and public health are not mutually exclusive.

Hungary’s right-wing government offers perhaps the most striking example of how a crisis of public health has been used to further authoritarianism. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has cited the virus spread to cancel all elections and remain in power indefinitely. He has invoked broad powers to limit air travel and individual movements. But there is no end date to the restrictions, nor any parliamentary review of his actions.

For as long as Orban’s emergency orders are in place, he has claimed the right to rule by decree. Likening the virus to the sort of “foreign influence” he has railed against, Orban said, “We are fighting a two-front war. One front is called migration, and the other one belongs to the coronavirus. There is a logical connection between the two, as both spread with movement.”

In Serbia, President Aleksandar Vucic has pushed for similarly extreme measures and relied on heavily armed police patrols to enforce his edicts. He too has undermined parliamentary oversight of his actions and assumed the right to rule by decree.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s human-rights chief explained the framework for what the pandemic requires from governments: “A state of emergency – wherever it is declared and for whatever reason – must be proportionate to its aim, and only remain in place for as long as absolutely necessary.” But history is replete with examples of governments seizing power during moments of crisis and refusing to voluntarily relinquish them.

In India, the world’s largest democracy and second most populous country, the authoritarian Hindu fundamentalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has imposed the strictest lockdown in the world, announced with almost no notice. Modi upended life for more than a billion people with a mandatory 21-day lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

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