Caught between unpopular Covid truths and winning local elections

Ideas

Caught between unpopular Covid truths and winning local elections

Political parties will no doubt manipulate the pandemic’s impact to suit their own agendas

Columnist

Covid-19 dominates elections around the world, amplifying voters’ distrust and shining an unflattering light on incumbents and those in opposition. The pandemic has forced a rethink about individual rights versus society’s rights and ignited debates over lockdowns and curfews. In their eagerness to argue individual rights are not always sacrosanct, the pro-vaccine lobby has brought the English utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill to a new generation who hadn’t yet enjoyed him in paperback.

Many go much further than Mill would ever have done, though, and hold up China’s authoritarian government as best-suited to the challenges of a world that will be living with Covid-19 well into the future. It has the obvious command structures, it demands total obedience at the risk of terrible sanction, and it comes with the necessary logistical aptitude. Most importantly, it doesn’t rely on voter approval. Democracy by contrast is deemed unsuitable to the task, too clumsy and permitting of dissident viewpoints to allow for the smooth operation of government.

In countries that don't have the luxury of total control, which is most of the rest of the world either by design or default, Covid-19 and the responses to it drive democratic contest. The pandemic’s biggest scalp to date must be former US president Donald Trump, who was edged out of the White House in a record voter turnout, which pundits said proved widespread disillusionment with his stance on Covid-19, and the fact that the US had the world’s highest Covid-19 death rate. Ironically, Trump had been quick to ensure he and his family were vaccinated, and backed the drive to develop a vaccine in record time. Yet his unsurprising inability to finesse the line between caring about those afflicted by Covid-19 and keeping the economy open earned him widespread wrath. The outcome was a victory for Joe Biden and a shot in the arm for the pharmaceutical and tech interests that have benefited from the pandemic...

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