Harvard professor discusses challenges faced by democracies in fight against COVID-19
On April 29, the FGV´s School of Public Policy and Government (FGV EPPG) held a webinar featuring Harvard professor Steven Levitsky on “Public Policy: An Objective Look at COVID-19.” The guest speaker addressed the challenges faced by democracies as emergency powers are exercised by governments across the world.
Professor Levitsky also answered questions about the impacts of the crisis arising from the pandemic. He said that fake news presents challenges to democracies in all parts of the world and he compared the impact of social networks to that caused by the introduction of radio and television. He believes there will be a period in which society and social relationships adapt, and states may at some point issue regulations about the use of social networks. He also said that democracies are doing a better job than many people thought they would at convincing people to collaborate with recent tough measures.
Regarding governments’ responses to the pandemic, Levitsky believes that factors such as states’ legitimacy and capacity are more important at determining the speed of response than whether countries have democratic or authoritarian systems. He spoke about how the crisis has boosted popular support for governments in most countries, except those led by Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro. According to Levitsky, the leaders of the U.S. and Brazil have performed poorly in the current context.
With regard to restrictions on civil rights, the professor argued that they are necessary, but they must be limited to the moments and locations needed to contain the pandemic, and they do not pose a threat to democratic freedoms. Levitsky sees no evidence that states intend to extend these restrictions after the pandemic.
“We need to distinguish between restrictive measures that genuinely help to curb the virus, such as restrictions on gatherings, and measures to curtail the press, such as those seen in Hungary and El Salvador. There are reasonable justifications for restrictions on the right to protest. However, it is necessary to negotiate these restrictions with the opposition,” he said.
Levitsky also talked about disbelief in the construction of democratic coalitions without political parties and how this practice has resulted in more amateurs in politics, as seen in Peru.
You can watch the whole speech here: