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The attempted power grab of the Hungarian strongman has been well-documented. Few weeks into the coronavirus pandemic, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gave himself power to rule indefinitely by decree and without any scrutiny by the Parliament. In essence, he became a de facto dictator in a democratic set up.
What has, however, not been widely reported is the fact that even in the midst of national emergency, the New Zealand government put in place a system wherein the Opposition could set the agenda which the executive was obliged to follow.
NZ Ensures Opposition Plays a Big Role Even Amid Emergency
In a column in The Guardian, the island nation’s Leader of Opposition, Simon Bridges, writes that suspending Parliament “doesn’t mean that our decision-makers should go without scrutiny… the business committee, which makes decisions on the proceedings of Parliament, decided that in the absence of Parliament, we would have a select committee with an Opposition majority to scrutinise the government’s response… I chair the committee. We have five other Opposition members and there are five MPs from the government’s side. We are meeting three times a week, for two and a half hours a day.”
One of the first decisions of the select committee was to urge the government to go for more testing, and the Jacinda Ardern-led ruling government had no option but to oblige.
And the results from contrasting styles of governance speak for themselves. The Hungarian strongman seems to have faltered while tackling the corona pandemic. Hungary’s death rate at 11 percent is one of the highest in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Jacinda Ardern, liberal and democratic to the core, on the other hand has emerged as a global role model, and her country seems to have almost gotten rid of the scourge called coronavirus. At least thus far.
A liberal democratic leader like Jacinda Ardern is not alone in successfully taming the virus. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany and doctorate in quantum chemistry, whose explanation on the lockdown exit strategy was widely shared on social media the world over, has shown how the damages to the economy can be minimised while going the whole hog in fighting the pandemic.
Why Germany’s Fiscal Package is Laudable
Chancellor Merkel has come out with something called Kurzarbeit scheme, a repeat of what was done post the 2008 global financial crisis to keep the unemployment rate steady. According to CNBC, it has ensured that even in the case of steep economic contraction, there are no mass layoffs. Under this scheme, nearly 23 lakh employees are expected to get short-term allowance from the government which will cost the Exchequer nearly 10 billion euros. “Essentially, workers get as much as two-thirds of their pay even if they don’t work. And the company is not burdened by staff costs in times of severe economic stress,” according to the report.
Germany has been way ahead of most other countries in terms of launching a massive fiscal stimulus programme.
According to some estimates, it is close to 20 percent of the country’s GDP. Germany has begun to ease restrictions on businesses, and the country’s fatality rate has been one of the lowest in the world. Such has been power of a benevolent and yet effective leadership, applauded the world over.
How to Conduct Democratic Polls Amid a Pandemic à la South Korea
South Korea has been yet another shining example of how to strike a balance between fighting a pandemic and maintaining a semblance of business as usual.
At a time when as many as 47 countries the world over used the pretext of the corona pandemic to not hold elections, South Korea bucked the trend by successfully conducting parliamentary elections.
The country saw a record voter turnout, the highest in 28 years, and President Moon Jae-in’s left-of-centre Democratic Party won a landslide majority by winning 60 seats more than the last elections.
According to reports, Moon’s approval rating was quite low in January 2020, and with the slowing economy and expected job losses, his party was not expected to do well. Yet, he went ahead and took the risk of holding elections. According to the latest data, corona is by and large under control in the country, and all the naysayers have been silenced. Now the world is talking about two South Korean models – one containing the virus, and one on how to conduct elections in the midst of a global pandemic.
‘No Lockdown’ Policy Helped Sweden. Should India Have Followed This?
Sweden’s death rate due to coronavirus has been on the higher side (comparatively). But new research shows that because of its ‘no lockdown’ policy – one of the few countries in the world to have adopted this contrarian means – has saved many other lives caused by other diseases. And the World Health Organisation (WHO) says, “That trust, combined with strategic controls and clear communication, could provide a template for other countries that are loosening lockdown restrictions to safely adapt to a new normal.”
Sweden kept its schools open, and bars and restaurants were allowed to function. While people were advised to work from home as much as possible and maintain physical distancing, there was no coercive lockdown in place. Trusting the people’s wisdom is what seems to have worked thus far. And hopefully the strategy will work in the future too.
While the country’s economy is likely to suffer bruises, the contraction is not expected to be as severe as in the case of countries having imposed total or near-total lockdown.
What do these stories tell us? That a liberal and conciliatory approach seems to be winning the war against the coronavirus pandemic. Taking people into confidence is what matters, and not by say a Donald Trump’s approach of constantly shifting goalposts and snatching credit from everyone else. Is that the reason why the so-called ‘leader of the free world’, the United States of America, has fared poorly in tackling the coronavirus pandemic?
One can only hope that our Indian leaders are taking a cue from the positive global trends and best practices, and going ahead with an open mind.
(Mayank Mishra is a senior journalist who writes on Indian economy and politics, and their intersection. He tweets at @Mayankprem. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed in this article are that of the writer’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)