Coronavirus is being used as an excuse for authoritarian governments to weaken democracy. While recent actions of these ” authoritarians” might seem extreme, they are largely legal. For instance, in Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban now has the power to rule by decree indefinitely. An approved bill gives him even the authority to punish journalists if the government believes their reporting is not accurate. It also allows the government to hit citizens with heavy penalties if they violate lockdown rules.
Something interesting to notice is the fact the measure also prevents any elections or referendums from taking place. At least, not while the measures are in effect. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte secured emergency powers. They give him greater control of public services. It is worth mentioning that he is a man who arrests his critics. Besides, he used to boast about personally killing suspected criminals during his time as mayor of Davao City.
Understand how authoritarian governments are dealing with COVID-19
Earlier this month, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced criticism. This happened after his government approved the electronic tracking of patients. He is using technology that was only used in the fight against terrorism. In Russia, authorities are using facial recognition technology to crack down on people violating quarantine and self-isolation.
From South Korea to Western Europe, democratically-elected governments are acting as authoritarian governments. For instance, they are using digital tools to track the whereabouts of patients with coronavirus. They can even monitor how effectively citizens are obeying social distancing measures.
Of course, this “new normal” problem doesn’t apply only to nations with weakened democratic institutions. Historically, even the United States see politicians and executives exercising extraordinary power during a crisis. The most obvious example of this is the Patriot Act. It follows the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Problems from the future
However, when the crisis is over, we cannot expect that the power will come back to the public. It is possible to tweak the laws about criminal detention. This might happen in order to impose lockdown measures in countries. Even in countries like the United Kingdom and France, the police now have extraordinary powers to implement social distancing rules.
At some point, this crisis will end and citizens around the world will be free to leave their homes. The fear is that those technologies, laws, and institutions will outlive any government of the day. By consequence, the political gain will make people exploit them in the years that follow this crisis.
However, it’s becoming abundantly clear that the world we walk into will be dramatically different from the one we left behind. And if the global population didn’t realize this yet, their authoritarian governments already did. They are demonstrating this with their coronavirus excuses.