Politics and COVID-19
FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras (The Freeman) - April 21, 2020 - 12:00am

The current COVID-19 pandemic is now in its fourth month and the political effects/implications are getting stronger. Sequentially, it was a public health problem, then an economic problem, then a social problem, and then a political problem. But the events/problems are not linear but circular and overlapping each other, so it really gets complicated and may take time to resolve. The high infection and death rates overburden the health facilities, the lockdowns paralyze economies, the unemployment and lack of basic needs creates civil unrest, and then the political order is destabilized. And all of these may happen on top of each other. These are trying times for political leaders in all countries, and on political structures and systems.

In the current global/geo-politics, the major issues are: the war in Syria and Afghanistan, the South China Sea conflicts, the US-China trade war, Brexit, Hong Kong democracy, Ukraine-Russia war, and US protectionism. In all of these, are the shadows of the current leading superpowers, which are the US, China, the EU, Russia and, to a lesser extent, Japan. The actions of the leaders of these countries in the current COVID-19 crisis, the effects on their countries and other nations will impact on their influence and dominant status in the world. This pandemic will negatively affect the economic status of all countries, some more than others. China’s lending and investments all over the world, its military spending will surely diminish as their economy goes into recession and as they have to jumpstart their internal economy. The US economy will also take a beating and the coming elections will restrict all their foreign economic and political policies. The EU, with Germany already in a recession, and Russia with COVID-19 and slumping oil prices, will not be in a better position economically and politically. On the whole, the superpower status of these leading countries will be diminished and their global influence reduced.

This doesn’t mean these superpowers will passively accept this turn of events. All these political conflicts are still ongoing, but are just temporarily on a pause due to the pandemic. China is still silently encroaching in the South China Sea, and there are still battles in the Middle East. Meanwhile, they are engaged in a massive propaganda war. China has tripled its exposure in the main and social media, Russia continues meddling in the US election, and uses fake news from all over the world. The current blame game on who is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic is part of this campaign, to undermine the credibility of these countries.

On ideology and the political system of government, the competing propaganda is whether a democratic or an authoritarian government is better able to handle or solve the COVID-19 pandemic. China contends that its police powers makes for faster enforcement and solution, but China is also blamed for its lack of transparency and for withholding vital information, resulting in the spread of the virus. On the other side, the undisciplined masses in democratic countries are delaying the isolation and lockdowns needed to slow down infection. On this issue, it seems that the socialist Scandinavian countries have achieved the middle ground. Enough freedom and liberties to make the political leaders accountable, and enough support to the people to enforce discipline.

This COVID-19 crisis will increase the expectations of the people from their political leaders economically, socially, and politically in all types of governments. The populist leaders in countries like Brazil, Hungary, Turkey, the Philippines, and the US will be under pressure to live up to their promises. Especially at this age and time when all the promises are in the digital media which cannot be erased, people will expect them to deliver on their promises.

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