Times of crisis are often a test of character. From Julius Caesar to Indira Gandhi, rulers were granted powers of attorney in times of crisis that they misused for their own benefit. Not surprisingly, those who feel unduly constrained by the rule of law use the Corona State of Emergency to cement their power.
Hungary’s head of state Orbán wants to be empowered to rule by decree, “should there be a forced break of the parliament”. How long this compulsory break lasts is entirely up to him. And Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu also shows little sensitivity when he no longer convenes the Knesset and gives citizens access to cell phone data by ordinance. The fact that a criminal case against him was postponed indefinitely due to corruption is only a collateral benefit. In Russia, thanks to Corona, there is hardly any resistance to the constitutional reform that Putin is governing enabled until 2036. And while Poland’s opposition parties have stopped campaigning for the May 10 presidential election and called for a postponement, incumbent Duda continues to campaign.
The autocrats argue that it is about saving lives through quick decisions. But why are governments in Germany, Austria, Italy, and Spain able to maintain a sense of proportion even with drastic measures and to keep the rule of law intact?
It is the unscrupulous populists who have built a nimbus of infallibility and are now afraid that they will soon be naked. The pandemic will reveal where the money that is lacking in healthcare has been invested in inexpensive sports facilities or foreign policy adventures. It would not be the first time that a ruler has not passed the test in the event of a disaster and then has to fear popular anger.