The Potential Effects of Covid-19 on Global Political Regimes

Dr Ahmet Erdi Ozturk, lecturer in International Relations and Politics, has provided his expertise on how coronavirus could affect political regimes.

Date: 30 March 2020

While studying the structure of society, economic system and sociological relationships of the twenty-first century, future generations will no doubt examine the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects in similar ways to how we discussed World War II or the Great Depression. This situation confronts us as an indisputable truth, while many thinkers have now begun producing interpretations for the future economic and social order. For example, these economic circumstances, according to some, will desolate the capitalist economic system, while others allege that capitalism will emerge from this crisis, strengthened. The general consensus of sociologists is that our social relationships will never be as they were before—or at least that our return will not be facile.

Similarly, Covid-19, although persisting similarly around the world, is testing a multitude of political regimes in many regards, and we gather that it will coerce change. Democratic-liberal, competitive authoritarian and totalitarian regimes vary based on their own nations’ economic and bureaucratic structures and warrant evaluation in a range of categories. For instance, while China, a totalitarian regime, was accused of failing to share information about the disease quickly, the country became a centre of attraction for quickly adopting preventive measures, effectively controlling the disease and, moreover, aiding many other nations, not the least of which being Italy. 

This novelty, on the one hand, exhibits the effectiveness of totalitarian regimes while, on the other, highlights the issue of Covid-19 assistance as a new element of soft power. But, while it is yet unofficial, it demonstrates the extent to which closed-box systems may be threatening for their own people, exemplified when Russia, which we can define as totalitarian, neglected to share information and was ineffective.

Despite this, France, Germany, Belgium and some Scandinavian countries, which are considered democratic, are showing us the manner in which the synthesis of democracy, transparency, accountability and a powerful state structure can function. Although not making decisions as forceful as those of totalitarian regimes, they operate with the advantage that comes with the perseverance of a social state. Germany, for example, managed to decrease the mortality rate by conducting half a million tests a day

However, it is very possible that a new debate of nation-states and hegemony will emerge here. If we look at statements from Macron, who said, ‘I’ll drive the army into the streets,’ we can assert, with an Agambenian approach, that leaders use exceptional circumstances to heighten their own fields of supremacy. Additionally, it appears as if umbrella institutions and ideas will cede eminence to a developing form of nation-state. It would be difficult to say, while the European Union took belated and inadequate measures, that great solidarity arose among its member states. Democratic institutions and states, in short, appear to be passing through a novel process.

I believe that occupying the most interesting position are competitive authoritarian regimes, which are under the control of right wing-populist-authoritarian leaders and are dominated by an atmosphere of authoritarianism that challenges the existence of democratic institutions. These countries possess fragile and dysfunctional state structures because of authoritarianism and populist policies. Furthermore, they remain defenceless in the face of such an unexpected crisis.

For instance, Turkey sought to shroud its failure in the pandemic by concealing details and data, while the leader of Hungary increased his own authorities, guaranteeing his benefit from the situation. In Brazil, which recently fell under the influence of right-populism, appears set to pay heavy tolls because of the policies of its leader, who failed to take the situation seriously

This may also represent the end of the road for populist-right competitive authoritarian regimes. They will not collapse yet will undoubtedly be unable to maintain their existence in the long term, at a time when there exists no other ‘other’ they have produced themselves. I believe that they, first, will hunker down in their descent into authoritarianism but, later, will disintegrate before the importance of human life.

Amongst all these categories, what will happen in the futures of nations such as the United Kingdom and United States—countries that both possess a modicum of populism yet exist in democratic systems and consider economic circumstances, healthcare systems and human life—will arrive based on the success of the policies they are currently enacting. 

But just like other regimes, there exists a common value between them. Despite the current diversity of the regimes and their reaction, it is obvious that when we finally pass through this terrifying and mind-boggling dystopia, the cards will be reshuffled for the world’s current leaders and regimes, and a new world will begin to form—albeit slowly. Clearly, the only truth that we must expect at this point is change.