We have seen an unfortunate amount of democratic erosion across the world during COVID times. This blog provides a brief summary of the role the pandemic played in the significant deterioration of democracy in 2020 and provides policy recommendations to rebuild democracy in the post-COVID world.
How COVID-19 Negatively Impacted Democracy
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a halt as the virus wreaked havoc across the globe not only to people’s health, but also to countless other problems, such as economies, disruptions in education, and unfortunately, democracy as well. Despite the pandemic being a public health issue at its core, the crisis was politicized and utilized by many autocratic governments to gain more power by delaying elections, arresting protestorsfor unlawful gathering, and reducing access to the internet, all of which are worrisome signs of democratic erosion. In many countries, police brutality and violence as well as mass arrests of activists and leaders with opposing views became the norm, while facing impunity and without being held accountable for human rights violation. Increased level of distrust toward political figures and scientific evidence, the wide-spread use of surveillance or tracking technologies that could be used repurposed by governments after the pandemic, as well as the rise of populist and/or extremist groups are just some of the many effects that the pandemic brought about that furthers the continued deterioration of democracy. This well-documented trend of deterioration can be evidenced by the dropping of scores in the majority of countries across various indexes on Democracy. The Economist Intelligence Unit Index reported that 70% of countries included showed a decline in their overall score, and that the global average score has fallen to a record-low point in the Index’s history; the Freedom House also reported that 75% of the global population lived in a country that had democratic deterioration in the chaotic year, and that the number of countries qualified as “Free” dropped to a record-low point in 15 years, while those that qualified as “Not Free” reached its highest point.
While noting that the pandemic is not yet over and many countries are still being ravaged by the virus, governments need to start coming up with methods and policies to curb this trend and combat the rise of autocracy and tyranny in order to rebuild democracy in the post-COVID world.
Rebuilding Democracy — Policy Recommendations
The process to rebuild Democracy in the post-COVID world is not something that can be done overnight or with just a few policy changes. It will take time and will require the implementation of many new policies and/or amendments to current ones. After examining recommendations made by various interest groups and organizations, this blog post will list out the most commonly-mentioned recommendations with the addition of the author’s opinions and/or amendments, as well as explaining the roles they have in the process of rebuilding democracy.
Increasing Levels of Transparency to Regain Trust in Political Figures
Propaganda has long been a method utilized by many autocracies to spread false information in order to push forth their ideologies and sway public opinions in their favor. With the lowered trust that people have now in the governments and the political elite, regaining people’s trust is one of the most crucial things that needs to be done. Transparency and accountability are arguably the most important factors when it comes to this trust, and ways to improve it include allowing easier access to public records in a much shorter timeframe as well as holding governments, groups, and people accountable for their actions.
Investing Resources in Creating Alliances with Other Democracies
In creating alliances with other democracies, which is something that President Biden is attempting with the upcoming Summit for Democracy, joint efforts to impose sanctions will be more effective in holding governments accountable, which again helps with regaining people’s trust. The sanctions should be made against governments that are corrupt, are violating human rights, and/or have a leader who is not accepting term-limits. This alliance can also aid in countries that are at a turning point in regards to democracy. The alliance can provide resources or guidelines to assist the navigation of newfound freedoms in countries (i.e. Sudan) that are experiencing increased levels of freedom, and can also provide both financial aid and strategical planing in places where democracy is being threatened or demolished (i.e. Hong Kong).
Confronting and Debunking Illiberalism and Autocracies Without Fueling Polarization
Polarization has been shown to increase levels of mutual antipathy and animosity between groups with opposing opinions, making it more difficult to reach people from the “other side” and persuade them of your views. In order to engage effectively in fruitful discussions, it is important to not be dismissive or condescending. When a rapport is built, it becomes much easier to debunk propaganda or false news, especially to those who take a more moderate stance.
Strengthening Programs that Provide Civic Education and Engagement
Improving programs that provide civic education and engagement, especially in the younger generation, is vital in the understanding of the values of democracy, which in term would increase levels of democracy domestically, such as having increased rates of voter participation (civic engagement), and internationally by being exposed to international events and having the ability to critically assess the effects and consequences that follow in regards to democracy.
Supporting Independent Media
With the amount of misinformation being spread on social media about the pandemic, it is more important now than ever for governments to provide access to fact-based information. The best way to do so is to support independent media via financial, technical, training or mentoring assistance with complete transparency. In order to not allow room for speculation that can affect the credibility of these sources, regular auditing and publications relevant records should be required.
Developing Agencies or Programs that Specifically Tackle Crisis Situations
With COVID, we saw how this global crisis was utilized by autocratic governments for their own gain, see the large-scale deterioration of democracy across the world. In order to prevent another global crisis like this from happening, programs or agencies should be created and dedicate their efforts to track signs of upcoming threats, produce ways to prevent the threats from escalating, and being in the front lines in the combat if said threats do escalate to become a crisis. Having one dedicated group helps people know where to turn to for accurate and up-to-date information as well as streamlines the process to avoid wasting time on bureaucratic red tape.
While this is not a complete or comprehensive list, these are the most important changes that should be implemented as soon as possible to hopefully curb the trend of democratic erosion. These changes come overtime, and with the Freedom House showing that this deterioration has been happening in the past 15 years, it is clear that changes are required and that they need to happen now in order to prevent autocracies from taking over.