24 June 2020

The coronavirus is increasing the populism

Sergiu Medar

The coronavirus crisis has created the proper conditions for the reactivation and consolidation of some political tendencies that are going against liberal democracy and trying to influence the population to promote anti-state attitudes. The sanitarian crisis takes place when the states are seeking a political system to adapt to their cultural wills and legacy (in a broader sense). Therefore, populism is the tendency that can easily be induced in people’s subconscious, many of them sharing the same ideas as the populist ones.

Image source: Profi Media

In each society’s development there are also crisis moments. The sanitarian crisis does no choose countries in terms of their political, social or economic system. The way to react to such a crisis is different for the democratic and authoritarian states or even for the ones with distinct society organization forms.

One of the characteristics of turbulent political developments during and after the crisis is represented by the populist manifestation tendencies of center-left, left and even extreme-right parties.

Populism is a threat against democracy. The intensified vulnerabilities, as consequence of the crisis, of democratic societies and the democratic parties are facing populist pressures which can raise violent actions. The populist parties, by manipulating the people’s minds, are underlining the differences between rich and poor people, honest and corrupt, white and black, the LGBT and the rest of the population, immigration and native citizens and so on. The main argument of these parties is that they would represent the people’s will.

Democracies’ vulnerabilities against populism are manifested as follows:

  • the results of the electoral process bring winners and losers on the political scene. The democratic behavior asks the winners to not use the legislation to get revenge on their competitors, who are now in the opposition, after the elections are completed. At the same time, losers must accept the results of free and correct elections and not accuse the winners for scamming the electoral process. By doing so, the ones who lost the elections try to keep their electorate and attract new members, to get some chances in winning the future electoral process.

When the elections are won by populists, they are starting a large contempt process against the opposition, especially if it had the majority in the former ruling governance, diminishing its chances in the future electoral process.

- democracy relies on the free circulation of information, freedom of expression and opinion and the freedom of the press. The democratic governance is based on these principles. This is why they are the main targets of populists when sending misleading information, when misinforming the population and creating false conspiracies.  These are mostly effective for the medium and low education level people, with preconceived ideas, who would accept fake news related to global or national conspiracies. The sent messages start with a real action, which is the base for further fake images that based on Artificial Intelligence are directly sent to the people who seem to believe such fake news. These vectors can easily provoke to hate, violent anti-government or anti-opposition, anti-racial and racial, pro-anarchic and anti-ethnic movements.

Cultivating distrust in state’s institutions, the results of the electoral processes, in the intelligence institutions activity, the justice and other institutions aimed at preserving the public order and the rule of law are the main objectives of the populist groups and parties.

The populist manifestations depend not just on the level and type of democracy of states, but also on their dimension, heterogeneity and culture level of the population. The smaller the latter is, the more populism becomes trustable. Populists know what the population wants so they use this vulnerability for malicious influences.

-Contemporary democracies are going through an erosion process nowadays. There are few situations when these collapse due to coup d’états or major electoral frauds. Nowadays, there are frequent democracy failures because of the exaggerated structure of governments, population’s manipulation or the misunderstanding of what the rule of law is.

The manifestations against governmental decisions perceive ed as ineffective in the eyes of the people or even as generating corruption, as well as the anti-racism manifestations, can be seen as expressions of democracy. When these turn violent, they ask for the gradual, proportional retaliation intervention from the authorities. When violence turns into vandalism and they start attacking private properties or state institutions the response become symmetrical. Interventions get complicated when a democratic manifestation is used by violent groups to execute direct attacks over the public order personnel or to deploy vandalism acts. The necessity to counter the violence exposes the democratic protestors, provoking collateral deaths or hurting people. This unwanted phenomenon creates strong arguments for the populists to blame not only the governance, but also the ruling democratic system of the country. Thus, the attacks over democracy do not take place only through the electoral process, but also after that.

The gradual erosion of democracy, in any of the world’s states, is more dangerous that a coup d’état in a small country. When the phenomenon takes place in states such as the US or France, this is truly a threat for the democracy as a global system. The current non-democratic gaps from these countries, as well as from other states seen as political powers, are only encouraging populism’s development.

The pandemic’s emergence and development, just as any other crisis, has raised discussion which had different approaches among the people in terms of the readiness and fairness of the decision-making authorities. In the democratic states, such as US, France, Great Britain, Germany, Spain and others, the governmental restrictions have raised complaints from medium-culture level people, who lost their patience in following them. It was a period when the populist tendencies found the perfect moment to be launched, through media ways, especially social ones, they conspiracy theories they got at this point for.

This is how populists are eroding the liberal democracy functioning norms. The free media becomes the “sold media” and “fake news maker media”. Those who oppose their perspectives become “traitors” who are selling their country. The justice system becomes the “source of evil” for the society.

Due to the fight against the new coronavirus, the populists and they sympathizers have managed, in some countries, to undermine the population’s trust in state’s institutions so much that they started to have violent reactions with pro-anarchic speeches. Everyone knows that the answer to anarchy is totalitarianism, which would lead, in populists’ view, to the reestablishment of the state order. For now, no state got to that point, but such an alternative exists. The dialogue and accepting concessions for both parts are the only solutions for keeping the liberal democracy, the only political option which can ensure peace and prosperity.

Translated by Andreea Soare