Certain coronavirus measures risk worsening democratic deficits: study

Worrisome restrictions imposed in 43 percent of world's democracies, report finds.

Certain coronavirus measures risk worsening democratic deficits: study

Countries with democratic deficits before the pandemic face greater backsliding as a result of certain anti-coronavirus measures, according to a study published Wednesday.

Lockdowns and states of emergency were key to limiting the spread of the coronavirus, but have also temporarily curbed basic rights such as freedom of assembly.

In its report, which focuses on the state of democracy across the world, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) warned of the risks of coronavirus measures that it considers concerning “from a democracy and human rights perspective,” such as lockdowns that lack legal backing and tracking apps that share data with the police.

The study found that 61 percent of countries had implemented measures it described as “concerning” by October 2020 — 90 percent of non-democratic countries and 43 percent of democracies. It noted that in the cases of democracies that had imposed worrisome restrictions, “more than two-thirds were democracies that were either backsliding, eroding or weak prior to the pandemic.”

“The risk is that governments get accustomed to a new normal and fail to roll back anti-democratic measures,” International IDEA’s Secretary-General Kevin Casas-Zamora said.

Coronavirus measures also affected elections this year. Poland’s declaration of a “state of epidemiological emergency” enabled the government to bypass the electoral commission and parliament to initially plan an all vote-by-mail presidential election, which critics said favored the incumbent, the report noted. The country ultimately had to scrap this all-postal idea and delayed election day.

The report also looked at countries’ democratic performance in 2019. It found that 84 of the world’s democracies, or 52 percent, experienced some form of democratic erosion that year. Between 2015 and 2019, 16 countries went through “severe” backsliding, according to International IDEA, with Brazil, the Philippines, Poland and the United States experiencing the steepest declines.

While the report found “democratic aspirations have remained strong,” it warned that an impending financial crisis “will likely deepen civic dissatisfaction with democracies and non-democracies alike” and that more protests and civil unrest were likely in the years ahead.