Monday, March 30, 2020

COVID-19 and the Dictators

Boris Johnson’s coronavirus bill, which gives sweeping new powers to ministers, was passed last week with the proviso that MPs would vote every six months on whether it should be renewed. In France, President Emmanuel Macron’s more wide-ranging and draconian emergency measures have a lifespan of two months.
The situation is different in Hungary. The Hungarian parliament is expected to rubber-stamp the “protecting against the coronavirus” law, ushering in an indefinite period of what amounts to one-man rule in an EU member state.

The new law allows Victor Orbán to rule by decree, alone and unchallenged. The prime minister will be able to override all existing legislation. Elections will not take place. Information on government actions will be provided to the speaker of the Hungarian parliament and the leaders of parliamentary groups.
The spreading of “false” information that could lead to social unrest and prevent the “protection of the public” will become a crime punishable by a lengthy prison sentence. Some of Mr Orbán’s cheerleaders in the media have already suggested approvingly that this provision could lead to the arrest of critical journalists.
Orbán is not the only autocratic leader to have spotted the chance for a power grab. 

Azerbaijan’s strongman, Ilham Aliyev, has stepped up the harassment of opposition groups. 

Israel’s beleaguered PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, used an emergency decree to delay the start of his trial on corruption charges, marginalised parliament and moved to enact unprecedented surveillance measures. It now seems possible that a national unity government will be formed with Mr Netanyahu’s main political rival, Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White party. 

In Egypt, Guardian correspondent, Ruth Michaelson, had her press accreditation was revoked for publishing an article citing research by Canadian disease specialists estimating the actual number of Covid-19 cases in Egypt in early March was likely between 6,000 and 19,300 - at a time when Cairo’s official tally was only three cases. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in power since 2014, has been accused by rights groups of silencing independent and foreign media, and jailing dozens of reporters who published information deemed critical of his administration.

Ominously, in the United States, Donald Trump has begun to consider himself a wartime president.

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