There exists ‘no vaccine for cruelty,’ writes Ben Jones of The Economist, bringing to the forefront of the discussion the damage that Covid-19 has inflicted on democratic institutions all over the world. The Coronavirus has (justifiably) permitted governments to assume a range of emergency powers, however it is becoming increasingly clear that they are being used in ways that were never intended. Democracy has taken a hit at the expense of tyrannical power hungry individuals, inciting violence and fear to bolster their political power in a time of crisis. It seems as though Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ prediction is becoming less of a reality than ever before, and there may be very little that can be done to stop it.
The extent of the situation is quite simply truly worrying. Freedom House, a Washington based think-tank, counts 80 countries in which the quality of democracy and respect for human rights have deteriorated since the inception of the pandemic. Whilst these are difficult factors to measure accurately, this points to a wider trend of a reduction in individual and political liberties across the world, which unless addressed may cause significant damage to the global order the west has been crafting for the last three-quarters of a century. Throughout the pandemic we have witnessed Egypt executing 15 political prisoners at once, human rights abuses towards the Uyghur Muslims in China and Bolsonaro using heavy handed tactics to suppress opposition in Brazil, all contributing towards a crisis of liberty around the world.
Even the ‘most democratic and free’ nation in the world has endured large amounts of turbulence, with Biden’s election last week the only suggestion that improvements are to come, even if it takes time for American democracy to fully restore itself. Trump has confirmed his status as the ‘law and order president’, using a domestic level of force few presidents would even dream of, with his more recent election antics suggesting he has yet more damage to deal to his nation’s democracy. Claims of a ‘rigged election’ by Trump amongst record numbers of mail votes cast serve as a clear pointer as to the way in which he will remain intent on disrupting democratic institutions, also determined to take the election result to court in a case that would completely destroy democracy in the scenario that it were to prove successful.
Elsewhere, Modi’s administration in India has been subject to 100 day long protests against proposed alterations to citizenship laws that would potentially render millions of Muslims stateless, whilst anyone who spreads ‘false’ information that may impede the response to the pandemic faces up to 20 years behind bars in Zimbabwe. In Hong Kong the September elections were postponed for a year following fears that pro-democracy candidates would be successful and Putin held an unobservable constitutional pseudo-referendum to lengthen his stay as Russia’s leader until 2036, in which people could vote at home or even on tree stumps if they wished. Globally, it is clear the pandemic is being used as ammunition to suppress democracy and freedom, with the extent of the situation extending much further than just the damage listed within this article.
The cloth is beginning to unravel and as a result democracy is falling apart. Pushed by the global pandemic, democratic institutions are being stripped down to their bare threads across the globe, as international ‘strongmen’ are increasingly able to manipulate emergency powers to their own ends. The western work of the last 75 years is being undone in the process, as even democracy’s founding fathers find themselves in precarious situations. Democracy is hanging on a knife edge. It won’t take much to cause it to tip, reversing previous global political trends for good.