Covid-19 takes its toll on democracy worldwide


New Zealand. Not since Lord of the Rings has this distant island nation inspired such admiration. Indeed, while the US continues to diminish its own reputation through its appalling handling of the Coronavirus (Britain isn’t much better in that regard, but I digress), the kiwis are showing us all how it’s done. Only last month, the exceptionally popular Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the nation had gone over one hundred days without any localised transmission of Covid-19, a milestone that, by 2020 standards, is nothing short of a miracle.

Of course, celebrations were cut short when a cluster of new cases were traced to Aukland, proving to the world that even the biggest Coronavirus success story wasn’t able to completely eliminate the disease. Now, after the city went back into a state of “Stage three” lockdown (restricting those who can enter or exit the city), the ruling Labour Party has decided to postpone the General Election by a month, disrupting the electoral cycle and signalling that the fight against the virus requires long-term planning, and huge political sacrifices.

When it’s Beijing who set the parameters, what’s to stop the act of voting becoming an act of terror?

It’s interesting that this move has been taken by the world’s biggest success story in this pandemic, and the step raises questions about the way in which the rest of the world could move forward. Not long ago, President Trump suggested a possible delay to the US November election, and let’s not forget that Hong Kong took the step to delay it’s city-wide elections by a whole year following an outbreak in the city.

Yet the contexts surrounding these issues could not be more different. Ardern’s decision to delay the election was amicable and generated a largely positive response. The opposition National Party had previously argued that restrictions on campaigning following the surge in cases would give the incumbent an unfair advantage, and the Prime Minister’s decision was justified by her as the fairest solution in allowing all parties to plan their campaigns accordingly.

On the other hand, the situations in the United States and Hong Kong have far more dubious contexts, and raise more dangerous questions. President Trump already has a sordid history with the democratic process. In 2016, he threatened to not accept the result of the election should he have lost, and his musings on Twitter suggest that there is a danger of a repeat of that this year in the event that he loses to Joe Biden. Unlike the fundamentally democratic nature of Ardern’s decision to suspend the democratic process for a month, every suggestion Trump makes seems to undermine it completely.

Democracy, as ever, exists on a tightrope.

On the other side of the world, who knows if Hong Kong will even have a delayed election next year? The controversial security law, tightening the Communist Party of China’s control over the city, transforms any form of civil disobedience into acts of “Secession, subversion or terrorism”. When it’s Beijing who set the parameters, what’s to stop the act of voting becoming an act of terror? The immediate reaction to Chief Executive Carrie Lam was one of dismay towards the delay. Thousands lined up to vote in early July’s primaries highlighting a widespread appetite for pro-democracy, a virtual slap in the face to the repressive Beijing.

Thus, Covid-19 seems to inspire similar sentiments across the globe, but even the collective will to defeat an alien disease does not discount external political contexts and factors. Both New Zealand and Hong Kong have moved to delay their electoral process, and the US President, if he were to get his own way, would do the same in a heartbeat. However, these actions have been met with vastly different responses. Ardern’s decision was met with widespread praise, and indeed, her reasoning was sound and fair. The same cannot be said about the others. Indeed, democracy, as ever, exists on a tightrope. Depending on external forces and the political climates of each state, actions in the name of democracy inspire a multitude of responses.

Image: by Christoph Strässler via Flickr

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