April 22, 2024
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Democracy v/s Authoritarianism in the times of pandemic

by Sadia Saeed Rao

An immense threat has taken over the minds of people as COVID-19 pandemic is again in full swing. Millions of people are being infected on daily basis while tens of thousands of people are dying worldwide. Its intensity has compelled media to depict misleading number of causalities as the death toll and new reported cases are aggravating.

At this moment, different states are dealing with it in different ways. Some democratic states like New Zealand have succeeded in eliminating community transmission of the pandemic however; many countries are following social distancing guidelines of remaining 6 feet apart and keeping minimum social gatherings. They are planning to ease restrictions in the coming days too.

On the contrary, most of the countries have failed to control its spread. An increase in authoritarianism and repression of basic fundamental rights is being witnessed around the globe. Governments are using the virus as an excuse for conducting crackdown on individual freedoms such as freedom of press, freedom of movement, freedom of association and electoral freedoms. Authorities are seizing emergency powers. This trend is noticed in dictatorships like China and Iran but elected leaders are also eroding democratic norms in places like Hungary, and India.

The governments are taking pertinent steps globally to curb the transmission of COVID-19. It is leading to violation of individual freedoms and privacy rights. For instance, South Korea has adopted preventive measures by using Satellite technology and mobile phones to track potential carriers of COVID-19. It should be commended for flattening the curve in their country but still it has implemented incredibly intrusive surveillance measures. The measures taken and information gathered will be misused for other purposes when this pandemic ends.

Similarly, Philippines, Israel, Thailand, U.S., Britain and Hungary have granted emergency powers that would be unthinkable under any other circumstances. Many states have suspended constitutional rights of citizens for their own interests. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has provided his security agencies the power to track citizens using their cell phone data and ordered the state courts to shut down conveniently for stalling his trial for corruption. Prime Minister of Thailand has censored the media and journalists have been threatened and sued for criticizing the government’s response to the crisis. In Bolivia, elections have been suspended. The upcoming elections which were scheduled for May were going to be quite high profile as former president of Bolivia had been deposed in a military coup. The interim president has now consolidated the powers and ordered the military police to suppress large demonstrations. Likewise, U.S. avoided new legislation that would have allowed the indefinite detaining of citizens without trial as well as the repeal of legal protections for asylum seekers.

Hungary has a terrifying view for the whole world. P.M. of Hungary, Victor Orban is depicted as a dictator by citizens. He has finally found his chance to snatch all the powers as he always wanted. He has power to suspend existing laws, bypass parliament, limit freedom of expression and suspend all elections and referendum. He is ruling the country by personal decree.

Though, some democratic governments gave remarkable performance in eliminating the virus, yet, many states have adopted authoritarian measures to eliminate the spread of pandemic.

A deadly pandemic requires unprecedented response but there is a difference between unprecedented measures and unlimited control. The laws passed and the powers granted during any crisis must be voted upon.