Hearing the word democracy is certainly not strange enough for our ears. Democracy is very familiar in the international community. Democracy actually symbolizes a freedom that is not limited to anyone and anywhere. However, in its implementation democracy is often blamed and there are even limitations that even interfere with the essence of the values of democracy itself. In this case, these limits of course lead to violations of human rights regarding freedom of expression, whether it be expressing opinions or otherwise (Landemore, 2020). This was then exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. At least due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there are several government policies that can disrupt political stability and security in a country.
An example of the case in question is the controversial action of the government which provoked public anger about the issues of the weakening of the democratic system, which in this case is the Southeast Asia region. In recent times during the pandemic, it seems that democracy issues are still a concentration for countries in Southeast Asia and also the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as the parent organization in the region. The reason is that during the pandemic some ASEAN member countries during the pandemic experienced a democratic crisis which even continues to this day.
ASEAN Democracy Crisis in the Midst of Pandemic
The development of democracy in Southeast Asia appears to be going backwards during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you look at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 until early 2021, issues regarding the democratic crisis have not subsided in ASEAN member countries and have tended to experience a more severe level of crisis. Tracing from 2020 were the case of the democratic crisis in the Philippines during a pandemic in which President Rodrigo Duterte, who was famous for often committing human rights violations at that time, carried out a strict quarantine in his country. It is proven that in carrying out his policies, Duterte has implemented strict protocols to enforce a curfew. However, in its implementation there are also sanctions in which there are people who violate the curfew in the Philippines which is very inhumane such as being locked up in dog cages, coffins, sitting for hours in the sun (“Human Rights and Democracy Amidst Militarized COVID-19 Responses in Southeast Asia,” 2020).
In addition, other cases also occurred during the pandemic in several ASEAN member countries. In the case of Indonesia, some people were arrested for spreading fake news on social media. This is then also different again in Thailand, where people who are very aggressive in fighting against the government, which is lacking in handling COVID-19 at that time, are being prosecuted. However, the most severe cases to date have been in Myanmar. After the victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in November 2020, the turmoil of the democratic crisis peaked. The coup by the military, the mobilized laws and the severance of the web and information networks add to the poor record of democracy in Southeast Asia (Hutt, n.d.). Apart from these problems, how exactly are the commitments of ASEAN member states to handle democratic crisis during a pandemic?
The Declining of Democracy During Pandemic
The pandemic seems to provide a better picture of the democratic crisis currently being experienced by a number of ASEAN member countries. However, this increasingly severe pandemic condition is not accompanied by handling of the attitude of the public who do not fully understand the dangers of this virus. As a result, during the pandemic, the handling of the state government itself tends to be repressive which causes violations of human rights (“COVID-19 Accelerates Democratic Regression in Southeast Asia,” n.d.). Civil and political rights are victims of Covid-19. Journalist arrested for criticizing the government’s response to the pandemic in Indonesia. In Myanmar, journalists who interviewed the Arakan Army, now labeled a terrorist organization, have been subject to criminal sanctions.
Furthermore, the increasing role of the military and police, with the Covid-19 opening up opportunities for the expansion of military power and security measures. In Myanmar, a Covid-19 committee with civilian and military representatives has been set up to address the health crisis, which is blurring the lines between civilian and military authorities. The role of the military is also seen in other areas. In Indonesia, many civilian officials in high-level positions in the health sector leading the pandemic response are former military officers. The next trend is that the courts are less active as a counterweight to executive power. In this case, it is feared that corruption will occur among government officials because the decisions taken are not constitutional. Finally, there is a prolonged conflict in several ASEAN member countries such as Myanmar which is often ignored, making health democracy from COVID-19 decline and as a result there are obstacles in handling pandemic cases (Southeast Asian Democracies in Declining Health amid Covid-19, n.d.).
The Alternatives Solutions For Democratic Crisis
Despite the gloominess of the democratic crisis in Southeast Asia, these events, if handled with effective policy-making, can promote societal reconciliation and lead to dramatic political and economic reforms. In this case, efforts to promote democratic unity and progress amid the COVID-19 pandemic are considered to have proven successful in being implemented in countries such as Canada, South Korea, New Zealand and South Africa. Such strategies are considered quite popular and politicians are usually attracted to strategies that also help them maintain their popularity and win elections. In New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has combined an effective approach to containing COVID-19 with a drumming rhetorical message that emphasizes New Zealand’s unity.
She was rewarded, in elections in October 2020, with the biggest electoral victory in the country’s modern history. So effective reforms in this massive democracy will also benefit ASEAN member countries in dealing with the democratic crisis in their countries. Given the size of these democracies, and their regional and global leadership roles, the world will be watching whether they can leverage the pandemic to address their increasingly dysfunctional politics (In Asia’s 3 Biggest Democracies, COVID-19 Has Entrenched Inequality and Democratic Regression, n.d.).
From time to time democracy becomes a matter of urgency, especially in terms of handling a sustainable pandemic as it is today. During the pandemic, there were many policies in ASEAN member countries which were quite controversial and even escalated the democratic crisis in the region. As is known in several international media, several countries in the Southeast Asian region have actually taken repressive actions even though this is an effort to deal with the pandemic. Violations by governments such as in Myanmar, the Philippines, Indonesia and other member countries are actually obstacles in handling COVID-19. At least the political elites in ASEAN member countries are more effective and transparent and educate their people so that there are no misunderstandings about the spread of this virus and then also create a safe and comfortable space for accelerating the handling of the COVID-19 virus.
*Usman Tri Wahyudi is a Student of International Relations Universitas Islam Indonesia
COVID-19 Accelerates Democratic Regression in Southeast Asia. (n.d.). Australian Institute of International Affairs. Retrieved July 6, 2021, from https://www.internationalaffairs.org.au/australianoutlook/covid-19-accelerates-democratic-regression-in-southeast-asia/
Human Rights and Democracy Amidst Militarized COVID-19 Responses in Southeast Asia. (2020, May 13). E-International Relations. https://www.e-ir.info/2020/05/13/human-rights-and-democracy-amidst-militarized-covid-19-responses-in-southeast-asia/
Hutt, D. (n.d.). Post-Pandemic Southeast Asia Faces a Crisis of Authoritarianism. Retrieved July 5, 2021, from https://thediplomat.com/2021/01/post-pandemic-southeast-asia-faces-a-crisis-of-authoritarianism/
In Asia’s 3 Biggest Democracies, COVID-19 has Entrenched Inequality and Democratic Regression. (n.d.). Retrieved July 6, 2021, from https://thediplomat.com/2021/03/in-asias-3-biggest-democracies-covid-19-has-entrenched-inequality-and-democratic-regression/
Landemore, H. (2020). Open Democracy: Reinventing Popular Rule for the Twenty-First Century. Princeton University Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv10crczs
Southeast Asian democracies in declining health amid Covid-19. (n.d.). Retrieved July 6, 2021, from https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/southeast-asian-democracies-declining-health-amid-covid-19