Pandemic Ploys: May 12, 2022 | Special Global COVID-19 Summit Edition

Understanding authoritarian manipulation & democratic responses amid COVID-19. A newsletter from the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy. If you enjoy this newsletter, forward to a friend or share on social media so others can subscribe.

Today, government and public health leaders from around the world meet for the Global COVID-19 Summit hosted by the United States. As they convene, the International Forum is highlighting the important role that civil society plays in ensuring democratic principles are upheld amid the global pandemic response and the resurgence of authoritarian measures. Our team launched two initiatives to further elevate these important considerations: a new COVID-19 Analysis Hub and special analysis of the Summit’s implications for civil society and democracy from experts and voices around the world.

The COVID-19 Analysis Hub features research and analysis from the International Forum on the effects of COVID-19 on democracy and independent institutions. Our team has tracked trends in rising authoritarianism and the pandemic’s corrosive effect on democracy for over two years. Some of the hub’s resources include:
Over the two years since the pandemic’s outset, authoritarian leaders have used the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to tighten their control and power. These regimes have grown more adept at silencing dissent at home and polluting the information space abroad. China and Russia’s geopolitical strategies, ostensibly aimed at mitigating the virus’ global toll, have raised questions about how democratic and authoritarian models of governance are perceived globally. At the same time, civil society groups have proven resilient in combating threats to democracy and human rights.  We asked four experts from different regions of the world to comment on these trends as policymakers and global health leaders gather this week.

Isobel Cockerell, Coda Story: “The pandemic put untold pressure on every government around the world. While lockdown policies were the result of scientific consensus, they also meant that states were able to use the virus as a catch-all warrant to crack down on their populations and limit their freedoms. Entire countries became testing grounds for the latest technological developments, and citizens found  themselves more tracked and surveilled than ever. As contact-tracing COVID-19 apps were rolled out globally, they created vast new data-gathering opportunities for both governments and private companies. Citizens were now tracked wherever they went, with countless data points uploaded to the cloud every day as they went about their lives. . .” [READ MORE]

Isobel Cockerell is a senior reporter at Coda Story, an award-winning U.S. nonprofit newsroom covering the roots of the global crises defining our age: disinformation, authoritarian technology, oligarchy, and the war on science. @isocockerell

Tom Daly, University of Melbourne: “Since March 2020, the pandemic has intensified the pre-existing global democratic recession, due to everything from the abuse of emergency powers, to shuttered parliaments and excessive rights restrictions. Leading democracy assessment bodies (e.g., Freedom House, V-Dem Institute) suggest that even if the COVID-19 crisis only nudged many states further down the wrong path, the pandemic proved to be a global tipping point, epitomized by multiple reports de-listing India as a genuine democracy: it is now deemed an ‘electoral autocracy’ (V-Dem Institute) or ‘partly free’ (Freedom House). Younger democracies, hybrid states, and fragile states were worst affected. . .” [READ MORE]

Tom Daly is Deputy Director of the School of Government at the University of Melbourne and Director of the COVID-DEM Global Democracy & Pandemic Tracker. He has worked on democracy and rule of law projects in Australia, Ireland, Georgia, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Palestine, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and the Pacific. @democracytalk

Irene Poetranto, Citizen Lab: “According to Freedom House, 2022 marked the sixteenth consecutive year of the decline in global freedom. The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened this long-term democratic recession. In response to the pandemic, governments around the world have enacted additional or exceptional emergency powers that infringe on civil liberties, including the right to freedom of movement and freedom of expression. These powers are often implemented without having been made public, which makes it difficult to discern what the authorities are doing and the basis for those measures in law, if any. Such action is especially concerning where there is little to no opportunity for the public to establish reasonable limits to them (e.g. creating an expiration date or a ‘sunset’ clause). . .” [READ MORE]

Irene Poetranto is a Senior Researcher for the Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary research lab on digital technology and human rights at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto. She is also a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto. @irenepoet

Vladimir Rouvinski, Icesi University: “There is little doubt that some governments worldwide used the COVID-19 public health crisis as an opportunity to limit fundamental civil liberties, including freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and the right to privacy, among others. For example, in Russia, the authorities have selectively targeted the opposition’s members, many of whom were imprisoned ‘for violating anti-COVID-19 measures’ while participating in political activities. In contrast, the authorities allowed mass gatherings of government supporters. Similar developments can be identified in other countries. . .” [READ MORE]

Vladimir Rouvinski is the Director of the Laboratory for Politics and International Relations (PoInt) at Icesi University in Cali, Colombia, and a non-resident fellow at Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy at Florida International University in Miami, Fl. @rouvinski