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Governments around the world are exploiting the pandemic to hide public business from the public

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

In politics, it’s known as “taking the trash out” – releasing a swathe of bad news at a time when the public is too busy to notice. Christmas is always an opportune time, Friday afternoons too. Now, it seems we can add global pandemics to the list. Here are several examples of governments around the world that are not just burying bad news but seizing the current health crisis as an opportunity to, at best pass controversial laws, and at worst seize power. 

Lee Jin-man AP

  • Abortion bans in America: Several American states have attempted to enact abortion bans during lockdown. While some are being challenged in court, it is to varying results, which means women may find it difficult to obtain an abortion even after the pandemic.

  • Australia quietly renewed logging agreements: Following a summer of devastating bushfires, this news is particularly hard to swallow – the federal and Victorian government extended agreements that exempt the logging industry from conservation laws. Critics argue that while the agreements have been “modernised” to allow sustainable management of the state’s forests, they did not consider the impact of recent fires. 

  • North Korea “quietly” tested some missiles: Military reports from South Korea said a barrage of North Korean missiles were fired from both the ground and fighter jets this week, in a display of force that is worryingly becoming routine during the pandemic.

  • Vladimir Putin has (almost) extended his term for an indefinite period: In February, Russia’s president rushed constitutional changes through both houses of parliament, which would effectively extend his rule by 12 years. The final hurdle, a national plebiscite, was set to go ahead until Putin bowed to pressure and postponed the vote, citing concerns of spreading coronavirus. Nonetheless, little stands in the way of the President now being Russia’s leader for life. 

  • Hungary is being labelled a coronavirus autocracy: Using an emergency to seize extraordinary powers, Hungary’s Prime Minister can now suspend existing laws and rule by decree for an indefinite period. Among other implications, this means anyone the government views as spreading “falsehoods” or “distorted truths” that obstruct efforts to protect the public from the pandemic can be jailed for up to five years. 

  • Europeans suffered a power grab in Poland: The ruling party is seeking to push forward with national elections in May, posing a health risk to millions of people and meaning the opposition is unable to put forward their case or campaign on the ground. If it goes ahead, some fear it will deal a final blow to the country’s democracy given the May election has long been hailed as the make-or-break moment for Poland.

Molly Bruce

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