The covid-19 pandemic raises several fundamental questions on democracy and political participation. This briefing paper is the result of discussions that took place across our organisation and focuses on challenges where DRI operates in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and Europe. In this paper, we examine measures taken by democratic and authoritarian governments, and emphasizes the importance of strengthening fundamental rights and freedoms as well as democratic institutions.
The role of experts is examined: while they are essential to identify threats and possible remedies, elected politicians need to retain their ultimate decision-making powers to maintain accountability and responsibility. Moreover, the state of emergency is acknowledged as a tool of international law to protect citizens during crises. Its recent misuse to weaken checks and balances and political opposition, highlights that it needs to be temporary and limited.
Whilst technology can strengthen democratic processes during physical distancing, it bears the danger of surveillance. Additionally, pandemic-related surges of disinformation stress the need for monitoring discourses and improving general tech literacy. The pandemic exposes especially vulnerable, marginalized groups to adverse effects. Local governance structures prove valuable to secure these groups’ integration and representation in public debates.
Ultimately, reflections on the implications for DRI’s work show that its initiatives focused on strengthening fundamental rights, democratic institutions and the rule of law have gained importance. DRI’s close collaboration with citizens and local governance actors to enhance government accountability is vital at this time. DRI’s work to empower marginalized groups and improve citizens’ tech literacy is proving highly relevant.