Opinion: The coronavirus pandemic has given would-be despots the excuse to pass draconian laws

The uses of draconian laws to suppress dissidents has been more pronounced during the coronavirus pandemic as dictatorial regimes use the crisis to pass laws that would otherwise be scrutinised by the public and the international community.

This is especially pronounced in countries where dictators have known to be using such laws even before the pandemic.

China and Russia

At the top of the class you have President Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping. 

No other country can match the brazenness of either leader, both of whom changed the constitution in their respective countries to ensure that they can become “president for life.”

Using the results from its one-time “public vote” instead of a referendum, the Kremlin said last week that 78 per cent Russian voters have approved amendments to the country’s constitution that would allow Putin to stay in power until 2036. 

President Xi, who made similar moves earlier in 2018, is reaping the benefits of his power grab by expanding China’s hegemony in more aggressive and dangerous ways than ever before, just ask India, Hong Kong or Taiwan.

Hong Kong’s rapid descent under Beijing’s reach is shocking and heartbreaking.

It is no coincidence that both these moves have been made at the height of the pandemic while the world is too busy and in crisis to care or protest.

Following in China’s footsteps

In the Philippines, on Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte told his people not to fear of the new anti-terrorism law if they just follow the rules.

“For the law-abiding citizen of this country, I am addressing you with all sincerity, do not be afraid if you are not a terrorist,” he said in a televised address.

Duterte and his team can keep on saying that this about stopping terrorists and communist from bombing and terrorising the nation but there is no doubt that the new law could definitely be used against opponents and dissidents should the need and occasion arrive.

In Thailand, the prolonging of the State of Emergency (SOE) act has drawn the ire of opposition politicians and civil liberty groups.

The government defends the laws as necessary to keep down virus numbers but somehow instead of the law being applied for pandemic related occasions, they’ve instead been used to arrest student leaders and protesters.

While it could be argued that the more draconian-inclined governments of the region would likely have found other ways to terrorise its own populace, the coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly provided a ready excuse for the would-be despots to reinforce and ensure their version of law and order.

Now as the pandemic dies down across the region and people awake from crisis mode, it will be interesting to see if the status quo can hold.

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