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Populists Love the Pandemic

Summary:
One byproduct of the COVID-19 crisis is that opposition parties are finding it increasingly difficult to hold governments accountable. In Poland, Hungary, and other countries under populist rule, the authorities are exploiting this to the fullest. WARSAW – Threats to national security invariably limit domestic political disputes. Now that governments have assumed a leading role in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the political opposition in countries under populist rule is quickly being marginalized. In theory, the authorities in these countries could use the crisis to invoke a state of emergency to limit democracy. But even if they don’t go that far, the need for social distancing and other containment measures

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One byproduct of the COVID-19 crisis is that opposition parties are finding it increasingly difficult to hold governments accountable. In Poland, Hungary, and other countries under populist rule, the authorities are exploiting this to the fullest.

WARSAW – Threats to national security invariably limit domestic political disputes. Now that governments have assumed a leading role in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the political opposition in countries under populist rule is quickly being marginalized. In theory, the authorities in these countries could use the crisis to invoke a state of emergency to limit democracy. But even if they don’t go that far, the need for social distancing and other containment measures implies a sharp contraction of the public sphere.

In the absence of large gatherings or campaign rallies, political debate has migrated completely to the media, which is devoting its full attention to the disease. This is happening for pragmatic reasons – COVID-19 coverage is what the reading and viewing public currently demands – but also for ethical reasons: providing accurate information about the coronavirus is an essential service.

Still, wall-to-wall coverage of the pandemic leaves no attention to spare for political opposition parties and movements. Hence, Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee to challenge US President Donald Trump in November’s election, has essentially disappeared overnight from public view.

Americans are instead furnished with daily, live coverage of Trump’s press conferences cum political rallies, in which he trots out government experts who somehow must try to correct his lies and misinformation about the pandemic while standing right next to him. Similarly, in Israel, Benny Gantz, the leading opposition politician, has decided to join a new government led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, citing the extenuating circumstances of the pandemic.

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