Post Covid-19 World: Pro-People or Authoritarian?
The global Covid-19 pandemic has not reached its peak and there is no vaccine for it yet. Many experts say that even when a vaccine for it is prepared that will not be the final eradication of the Coronavirus and its spread will be a recurring phenomenon. So, if the virus is here to stay, then most of the precautions will remain in place perhaps on a permanent basis. The world will never be the same in all spheres of existence. What is likely to happen in the political space?
The pandemic has strained the health infrastructure to its outer limits even in the developed world. However in developing countries it rapidly becoming unmanageable. Even if one goes by the official statistics of the less developed states, the fewer number of infections continue to burden the fragile systems. They will soon reach the stage where infrastructure will crumble even if the poor countries manage and boost their resources, through aid or re-allocations.
The need for social distancing as the first response has resulted in less sharply reduced international travel with negative impacts for economic, political and inter cultural and inter religious relations.
Less travel and stay-at-home strategy to contain the pandemic is a necessary evil that has hit the global economy hard. Oil market has collapsed, with implications for all other areas of economic activity. The downgrading of expected growth rates for developed and developing states is just the beginning as a global recession has just begun.
There are expectations of change at both global and domestic levels. The logic of the situation, being a threat to all without any discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, class or state demanded for global cooperation, ceasing if not ending all geopolitical competitions. The voices for peace, international cooperation, better social welfare systems, more budgetary allocations for human security than traditional military security have become stronger and louder. However, we see no signs of any plans for change in this direction, not even a freeze on spending on weapons and their experiments for modernization and improvements.
The US decision to cut funds for World Health Organization (WHO) has weakened any expected global response to the pandemic. The pandemic has further intensified the US – China geopolitical confrontation. Pakistan India, or US-Iran and other conflicts of potential conflicts are intensifying rather than moving towards resolution or lower priority. The few online international conferences including the G-20 moot have yielded no viable strategies of cooperation or even come up with agreements to freeze the various geopolitical conflicts. In short, we note that internationalism and globalization, in almost all areas, are on retreat. The traditional responsibility of states towards their citizens has been reinforced and strengthened. Most international traffic is bringing citizens back home. US ban on immigration, even if temporary and selected, is another step in state exclusivity and will gain ground in regions too.
Statism appears to be regaining its lost ground. There is increased demand on state for intervention in support of the efforts against the pandemic, in terms of medical needs, enforcing precautions, and social and economic support. Role of the state is increasing in all spheres including personal, social and religious. Increased role leads to increased control. The issue is increased role in one area never remains limited to that area. For the civil society everywhere, peaceful public demonstrations have been the methods to demand for rights, increase democratic space and to keep a check on the state. The pandemic has taken away this tool from people without much interference from state. Social media remains the only space for expression of popular dissent, but not only in states with weaker democratic political systems. However, in this space too, states and other non-democratic elements, directly or indirectly are trying to squeeze independent pro-people voices. There is increasing talk of ‘Chinese Model’, which simply means ‘liberal economy without liberal polity’ as the best possible way forward for economically poorer states, which mostly have relatively weak democracies or are outright authoritarian.
Those who hope that the pandemic will bring a positive pro-people, pro-peace, social democratic order, both within states and internationally, are likely to be disappointed. Some think that the post–Covid-19 times will be an era of the end of unjust systems with exploitation and war, as they rightly see the crisis and vulnerabilities of the state and the inter-state system being exposed. Similarly, those who were in power remain committed to maintaining their power as the best way forward and see an opportunity to regain any lost ground, as well as increase it at the expense of their international rivals.
The continuation of the above panoramic view of the current situation is admittedly too pessimistic. But it is not cast in stone. In this crisis, the world is also seeing the example set by leaders such as PM Jacinda Adern of New Zealand. Crisis opens up space for change, remains true. However, that crisis is opportunity for all sides on the divide, the exploiters and the exploited, those who see gain in violence and war as well as those who want the world to be more peaceful and just.
The limitations on international travel have weakened the possibilities of interactions among the international civil society and have negatively affected their ability to come up with a strategy. The progressive forces need to develop innovative strategies to make the post-Covid19 world a more humane international order – one that respects human rights for all. This will not happen without collective struggle, for which a window of opportunity has appeared.