What is an autocratic government

Crisis managementAutocrats vs. Democrats: Who Are The Better Corona Fighters?

Autocrats, who lead their people through the Corona crisis with an iron hand, are happy to recommend themselves as a model for other countries. From the point of view of the leadership in Beijing, China did everything right - and is now supplying protective equipment all over the world to strengthen this image. The message: There is a recipe for fighting the pandemic - an authoritarian system. On the other hand, there are democratically elected governments who gamble away their legitimacy through incompetence. Other democracies have been criticized for reacting too late, too hesitantly to the pandemic - too much discussion, too little action.

According to Rachel Kleinfeld of the US think tank Carnegie, when it comes to how a country gets the virus under control, it does not matter whether it is governed by authoritarian or democratic rule. Precisely because China is governed in an authoritarian manner, serious mistakes were initially made - the spread of Covid-19 was concealed, warners and critics were silenced. It was only later that the communist government took decisive action. In Singapore, too, the political leadership reacted with a delay. Other regimes such as Iran, Russia or Egypt have failed completely, says Professor Sofia Fenner from the US elite Bryn Mawr College.

"It would be a mistake to give strictly centralized regimes in authoritarian nations an advantage in dealing with the pandemic," says US political scientist Larry Diamond from Stanford University. You say that of yourself, of course. However, this must be countered vigorously: "If they suppress information, they hinder the ability to fight the virus effectively." China's behavior has also contributed to the world now paying a high price.

Politicization is subject to competence

Conversely, according to Diamond, there is no statistical evidence that liberal democracies are more successful in fighting the pandemic. Competence and leadership skills are decisive for him - whereby he praises Germany for its quick reaction and science-based politics. “Can you imagine the physicist Merkel talking about injecting disinfectants?” He asks.

Rachel Kleinfeld names other democracies such as South Korea, Taiwan, Canada and several European countries as examples of successful crisis management. In her view, there is much to suggest another obvious pattern: such countries are worse off where the crisis has been heavily politicized. Not only US President Donald Trump is polarizing and instrumentalizing the pandemic for his political purposes - in the election year and in the struggle with China. Iran also initially blamed the arch enemies USA and Israel for the outbreak in their own country, Kleinfeld said, but the virus does not care about politics.

On the other hand, states with a high degree of trust in the government would have the most successful control of the pandemic - with the help of the population. The authorities in China enjoy great trust. But some democratic governments also enjoy a high level of trust among their people. This applies to Scandinavia, Switzerland and Canada, for example. The pandemic must be approached soberly with medical arguments and according to the principle of equal treatment. In countries like Italy, France and Great Britain, however, public opinion was deeply divided even before the crisis. "The USA is also a country with an extremely low level of trust," says Kleinfeld.

Boost to authority

Beyond all explanatory models, experts fear and watch with concern, such as autocrats, or those on the way, use the corona pandemic as a welcome opportunity to tighten their grip. Examples of such deadweight effects are India, Brazil, Egypt, but also European neighbors such as Hungary or some Balkan states. The crisis becomes a pretext for undermining the separation of powers, eliminating the opposition, branding minorities or regulating the media.

With all fears and uncertainties, the coronavirus creates a good breeding ground for this. People chase after populists, looking for saviors and generally for authoritarian figures. "But Covid-19 also creates problems for autocrats," argues Andrea Kendall-Taylor, political scientist at the US Center for a New American Security (CNAS). An example of this is Russia, where the virus caught President Vladimir Turkey cold while he was cementing his power.

The question of whether badly governed states can protect themselves from the virus through repression, censorship or denial does not arise. Here are some examples of how to try anyway:

@imago images / Xinhua / Joaquin Hernandez
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China: Autocratic lack of transparency as a problem

For the People's Republic, the pandemic is a good reason to further expand the already existing control system with cell phone monitoring and movement profiles. Beijing spreads the presentation of the successful epidemic control worldwide and supplies states (in the picture a broadcast for Cuba) with aids for the health system. It does not want to allow an anti-China coalition to form based on the criticism that the crisis could have been recognized and fought much earlier if reports and criticism had not been suppressed. Autocratic opaqueness was more of a problem than a solution.

@imago images / Itar Tass / Sergei Konkov
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Putin is shifting responsibility to the provinces

President Vladimir Putin wanted to put constitutional amendments to the vote that would enable him to remain in power beyond the end of his term in office - initially until 2036. Now the number of infections is rising, the vote has been postponed indefinitely, and Putin is fighting a new enemy. He is facing headwinds because he is leaving the doctors in the country in the lurch without adequate protective equipment (see picture), while at the same time humanitarian aid is being sold to the USA and the export ban is being lifted. The number of infected people is rising, and Putin is leaving that to the governors.

@imago images / Xinhua / Tamas Kovacs / MTI
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Orban continues to undermine democracy

The national-conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orbán - pictured with a delegation from China - is managing the crisis with decrees that he can issue on the basis of special powers. These days he wanted to announce a "sober, serious plan" of easing, although the number of infections is increasing. Orban had previously passed emergency laws that would enable him to rule uncontrollably by decree, defeat parliament and postpone elections indefinitely. 13 EU member states demonstrated against this in a public statement.

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Balkan countries are receiving Russian and Chinese aid