Leaders seize new powers to fight coronavirus, fears grow for democracy

France and Bolivia have postponed elections. Peru handed its president broad new legislative authority. Israel sharply ramped up the reach of its surveillance state.

While leaders around the world fight the spread of the coronavirus, they’re amassing sweeping new powers. As legislatures limit or suspend activities in the name of social distancing, many of the norms that define democracy – elections, deliberation and debate, checks and balances – have been put on indefinite hold.

The speed and breadth of the transformation is unsettling political scientists, government watchdogs and rights groups. Many concede that emergency declarations and streamlining government decision-making are necessary responses to a global health threat. But they question how readily leaders will give up the powers they’ve accrued when the coronavirus eventually subsides.

“This is a situation where it’s far too easy to make arguments for undue interference with civil rights and liberties,” said Tomas Valasek, a Slovak lawmaker.

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