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The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in authoritarian behavior by governments around the world led by the Philippines, posing a growing threat to democracy, hundreds of former prime ministers, presidents, Nobel laureates and lawmakers have warned, Luke Baker wrote for Reuters late on June 25, 2020.

“Authoritarian regimes, not surprisingly, are using the crisis to silence critics and tighten their political grip,” wrote some 500 signatories, including more than 60 former leaders, in an open letter organized by the Stockholm-based Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA.)

“Even some democratically elected governments are fighting the pandemic by amassing emergency powers that restrict human rights and enhance state surveillance without regard to legal constraints (or) parliamentary oversight.” More than 80 countries have enacted emergency measures, according to the U.S.-based International Center for Non-Profit Law, ranging from curfews and fines for those who breach the rules to extra surveillance, censorship and increased executive powers.

The overall impact has been a dilution of democratic norms, which has implications for political freedom as well as the ability of governments to handle the crisis and future health emergencies, said IDEA’s secretary-general. Among the countries he cited as having introduced authoritarian measures or having fallen short on accountability were the Philippines, Hungary, El Salvador and Turkey. “There are legitimate reasons to invoke emergency powers. However, it is always problematic when a government uses emergency powers to clamp down on independent media and other fundamental rights,” said Kevin Casas-Zamora, also a former vice-president and government minister in Costa Rica.

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