Authoritarians around the World are Exploiting Pandemic to Grab Power,Autocracy & Crack Down Enemies
Dictators are using the coronavirus to strengthen their grip on power. In coronavirus pandemic, authoritarians around the world see opportunity to crack down. Coronavirus and the (Wannabe) Dictators love lockdowns. Dictatorships make pandemics worse. Across the World, the Coronavirus Pandemic Has Become an Invitation to Autocracy. The pandemic could lead to an erosion of democracy worldwide. Covid-19 is a gift for authoritarians and dictators. Authoritarians Are Exploiting the COVID-19 Crisis to Grab Power
Dictators are using the coronavirus to strengthen their grip on power
A contagion on the scale of the coronavirus, offer authoritarians a greater opportunity than any event short of war. It has no borders, and the sense of panic it creates is broader than that after a terrorist attack, which is designed to scare but usually targets one locale — and which has nowhere near the same economic impact. In a war or a natural disaster, average people can have some agency: They can volunteer to fight in a war or assist on the home front, or provide aid to an area slammed by a hurricane. But the virus leaves citizens powerless; to help others, all they can do is stay home, leaving them dependent on experts and officials to guide them — and unable to congregate publicly to protest a power grab. And while a war, a terrorist attack or a natural disaster may cause some areas to shutter, it does not usually close down an entire country, a shift that gives a leader the widest latitude. Finally, as autocrats like Cambodia’s Hun Sen have shown, a contagion provides an authoritarian a chance to stigmatize certain marginalized populations, scapegoating them for the disease.
Indeed, from the Philippines to Hungary, autocratic leaders in many nations are using the coronavirus to enhance their powers — to put in place new rules that will be hard to overturn even if the coronavirus is defeated. Many of the new powers have no clear end date. The pandemic will have entrenched these strongmen indefinitely.
Rodrigo Duterte, the brash, illiberal president of the Philippines, has waged a brutal drug war propelled by perhaps tens of thousands of extrajudicial killings. He also has battled the media and opposition politicians. Last month, he got the legislature, controlled by his loyalists, to grant him broad emergency powers to confront the coronavirus. Some are reasonable, like the ability to order public transport to serve health-care workers.
But rights activists believe that Duterte will use his emergency powers to punish opponents and get more control of state funds. The legislature also made it a crime to spread “false information,” the definition of which is disturbingly vague, as Human Rights Watch notes. And given Duterte’s record of silencing the press, he could use the broad provisions to punish reporters who criticize him or his government’s coronavirus response.
In coronavirus pandemic, authoritarians around the world see opportunity to crack down
Leaders with authoritarian instincts may not cede their emergency powers.
Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, another strongman leader who President Trump has praised in the past, has also been granted sweeping new emergency powers over the country’s healthcare system, which could be extended past three months. He also sought even greater powers to take over private companies and the utility industries, according to NPR.
Like Hungary, the Philippines has also passed laws making the spreading of fake news about the virus a criminal offense, which advocates believe are pretexts for crackdowns.
Pointing to the example of Duterte, Kroenig said some leaders may be seeking powers they “intend to keep forever,” adopting the mantra: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”There are many historical examples, he said, of “leaders slowly accru[ing] power until there is no vestige of democracy left.”
Coronavirus and the (Wannabe) Dictators
This established a pattern. As the coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease spread, regimes across the world responded by attacking and arresting critics, violating human rights, and by imposing unchecked and draconian emergency laws. The contagion is shown in the map below. Toward the end of March of this year,
Human Rights Watch noticed the disturbing pattern. Across South-East Asia, in countries such as Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand and Myanmar governments were actively taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to crack down on critics, in the process curtailing core civil and political liberties.This pattern, of democratic backsliding and a tightening of the autocratic screw, we know from the past.
Dictators love lockdowns
Resisting injustice and abuse by authoritarian regimes like Togo’s was hard enough before coronavirus. It will be even harder during and after it.
What’s it like for populations whose governments already exercise extensive powers with impunity?
Some authoritarian governments have imposed other kinds of restrictions that go beyond lockdowns and curfews too.
Those of us accustomed to living under authoritarian rule know that dictatorships work by creating whole mix together cocktails of coercion. They do not survive by violating just one or two rights. They take them all where they can: freedoms of speech and of the press; the rights of assembly; checks and balances.
Half of us across the world are in lockdown. But lockdown means very different things for those who live under dictatorships. Those of us still with our rights – if not all our same freedoms – must lend our voices to those that have lost theirs.
How dictatorships make pandemics worse
Dictatorships make you sick. Not spiritually, not morally (though both may apply), but actually sick. Consider the responses to coronavirus by China and Iran, two authoritarian regimes whose rank mismanagement and compulsion to cover-up have driven the world to a full-blown pandemic.
This is not the place to talk about how democracy promotion might be reformed. It is, however, the right place to note that the costs of trafficking with dictatorship are not simply moral. As COVID-19 has made clear, lives will be lost because of the global ripple effect of decisions made by dictators.
Across the World, the Coronavirus Pandemic Has Become an Invitation to Autocracy
In normal times, the kind of policy measures being taken would have been scrutinised by the legislature and judiciary, but the present scenario has effectively neutralised the separation of powers and checks and balances.
“Dictatorship often starts in the face of a threat”. Earlier it was the invisible and distant threat of terrorism that demanded obedience, now it is the threat of pandemic – a fear closer to home – that is pushing people to give away their rights on a platter. The question is for how long. The imposition of any kind of emergency, formal or informal, without an expiry date spells doom for democracy.
The pandemic could lead to an erosion of democracy worldwide
Authoritarian Regimes has been attacking the media and accusing it of attempting to spark hysteria over the pandemic to undermine his government.
In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has been granted broad emergency powers, and he said he has ordered the police and military to shoot anyone who "creates trouble."
"Let this be a warning to all. Follow the government at this time because it is critical that we have order," Duterte said on Wednesday. "And do not harm the health workers, the doctors ... because that is a serious crime. My orders to the police and the military, if anyone creates trouble, and their lives are in danger, shoot them dead."
"In times of crisis, checks and balances are often ignored in the name of executive power. The danger is that the temporary can become permanent," Florian Bieber, a professor of history and politics at the University of Graz in Austria, wrote in a recent op-ed for Foreign Policy. "If strongmen are threatened with a loss of legitimacy, they're likely to double down on their authoritarian practices and take advantage of the state of emergency to consolidate power."
Covid-19 is a gift for authoritarians and dictators
First, we are witnessing the progressive "suspension" of democratic guarantees: while some measures restricting individual freedom or privacy can be justified and understood for health reasons, especially if they are temporary, others are unacceptable and very dangerous.
Second, many countries, on the pretext of Covid-19, are quietly taking advantage of the lack of world public opinion reaction to restrict the space and quality of democracy and eliminate opponents and human rights defenders.
Finally, detainees in every country in the world, homeless people, who have the right to be protected and safeguarded as far as possible against the epidemic, must not be forgotten in the emergency.
How Authoritarians Are Exploiting the COVID-19 Crisis to Grab Power
For authoritarian-minded leaders, the coronavirus crisis is offering a convenient pretext to silence critics and consolidate power.
Censorship in China and elsewhere has fed the pandemic, helping to turn a potentially containable threat into a global calamity. The health crisis will inevitably subside, but autocratic governments’ dangerous expansion of power may be one of the pandemic’s most enduring legacies.
In times of crisis, people’s health depends at minimum on free access to timely, accurate information. The Chinese government illustrated the disastrous consequence of ignoring that reality. When doctors in Wuhan tried to sound the alarm in December about the new coronavirus, authorities silenced and reprimanded them. The failure to heed their warnings gave COVID-19 a devastating three-week head start. As millions of travelers left or passed through Wuhan, the virus spread across China and around the world.
Although Hungary has reported Covid-19 infections only in the hundreds to date, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán used his party’s parliamentary majority to secure an indefinite state of emergency that enables him to rule by decree and imprison for up to five years any journalist who disseminates news that is deemed “false.”
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has also awarded himself emergency powers to silence “fake” news.There is no question these are extraordinary times. International human rights law permits restrictions on liberty in times of national emergency that are necessary and proportionate. But we should be very wary of leaders who exploit this crisis to serve their political ends. They are jeopardizing both democracy and our health.