BY MANJIMA MISRA
The COVID 19 Crisis implies an opportunity for dictators, a setback for liberal democracies and an amplified paralysis of War-Torn Nations. Conflict ridden countries are highly vulnerable to be crippled by the debilitating effect of the COVID 19 Epidemic. Dictators have found an empowering scope to tighten their hold on their citizens and shape a discourse on the benefits of authoritarianism to tackle a massive crisis. The popular perception that the global pandemic needs swift and strong government action poses a threat to the principles of liberal democracy, that is, open flow of information and consent of the citizens. If this perception about the effectiveness of authoritarian systems persists, we may see a world order in which China replaces US as the unrivalled superpower. Liberal democracies as opposed to dictatorships, ensure their citizens the fundamental human right of right to life, liberty and security. COVID 19 Pandemic has resulted in fissures in the matrix of this right to life and liberty. In the current pandemic, protection of life means limiting liberty as nations across the world impose lockdowns to contain the spread of coronavirus.
War torn nations have reported few cases of coronavirus; however, the numbers could be misleading as these countries have narrow testing procedures. If the pandemic spreads its tentacles into countries like Syria and Yemen, it might be impossible to revive these nations. Overcrowded refugee camps and detention centres, mass concentration of internally displaced people in conflict zones translates into the impossibility of implementing social distancing as a step to secure oneself against the pandemic. Syria and Yemen are also more prone to be affected by the pandemic due to their close proximity to Iran, a country which has seen a large number of COVID 19 cases and related deaths. Coronavirus has entered both Syria and Yemen with one case in each country being reported in the last few days. Libya, which has reported some cases of coronavirus, is another war-torn nation where the impossibility of containing the pandemic is evident. Conflict ridden nations will be destroyed by the epidemic, unless they enforce a ceasefire, a peace truce with immediate effect.
The narrative that authoritarian regimes have been able to control the spread of the disease more, is flawed. This has been exemplified by the success of East Asian democracies like South Korea and Taiwan in containing the spread of COVID 19. Researchers have however, pointed out that in the post COVID 19 world, illiberal democracies might replace liberal democracies. ‘Illiberal Democracies’ are the ones in which periodic elections are conducted, but citizens have limited rights. Hungary, Israel, Turkey and Brazil are a few countries where heads of government have expanded their stronghold on their population. A professor writing for the Foreign Policy magazine has pointed out: “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…If strongmen are threatened with a loss of legitimacy, they are likely to double down on their authoritarian practices and take advantage of the state of emergency to consolidate power”. The striking example of America , the country which has been a pioneer in terms of its popular and unequivocal support for liberal democracy, holds for us a mirror, about the dictatorial tendencies of the head of government to infringe upon the fundamental rights of its citizens as Trump continues to tighten his grip on US.