The novel coronavirus is exposing the true colours of populist and extreme nationalist leaders who until recently seemed less dangerous than what they are now.
Boris Johnson and Donald Trump have been rightfully criticized for their botched coronavirus policies. From ignoring the scale of the problem to coming out with a plan that had more in common with human sacrifice than with disease prevention, their lack of foresight and insensitivity has been well reported.
But they are not the only heads of state who have gambled with the pandemic. Some of their international allies are in unique ways making the rest of the world feel better off by just not being their subjects.
Rodrigo ‘Shoot-Them-Dead’ Duterte: President of the Philippines
“Everything is well. There’s nothing really to be extra scared of that coronavirus thing” it will eventually “die on its own” Duterte was reported saying about the coronavirus when Wuhan was already two weeks into a lock-down.
The Philippines was in denial while its neighborhood was taking strict measures to contain coronavirus by restricting international passengers and public messaging.
Currently, the Philippines has more than 3000 positive cases and 177 fatalities. The government is now trying to enforce a long needed lock-down that hasn’t taken into account the livelihood concerns of its people. To those who are protesting the lack of food aid due to the perfect plan, the president has a quick fix.
Jair Bolsonaro: President of Brazil
The chief guest of this year’s Republic Day celebrations surely beats every other head of state when it comes to making the coronavirus a bigger disaster than it is. Not only did he ignore the threat of coronavirus to his country, he launched a campaign against coronavirus awareness.
Bolsonaro’s views of the pandemic were so dangerous that social media platforms had to delete his posts from his official handle because they contained potentially harmful coronavirus misinformation.
The country also saw its biggest protest against the president with people banging pots and pans from their balconies expressing their anger over his handling of the pandemic. With the lack of active measures from the government, in some areas the local mafia has stepped in to enforce lock-downs and manage essential supplies.
Brazil has now registered more than 12,000 positive cases and more than 500 deaths.
Only recently has the president publicly acknowledged the threat of the virus.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan: President of Turkey
The maybe forever president of Turkey seems to be caring about the economy now more than ever.
Turkey had recovered from a recession only recently. For Erdogan it seemed like there was ample time to improve the economy given how long he intended to stay at the top.
But that situation has changed in the past month. Turkey is only behind the UK with 34,000 positive cases and more than 700 deaths. Calls for a nation wide shutdown are being made by doctors and the opposition and the president is ready to do anything but.
Turkey’s economy may not be able to sustain the effects of a nation wide shut down, and the president has no predecessor to blame for the current impasse, since it was him at the helm for more than a decade.
The president has announced a curfew for only individuals younger than 20 and older than 60, but the bulk of the country’s work-force that comes from ages in between still remain exposed to the virus as they are not told to stop going to their daily work. Criticism of the government’s handling of the situation is dealt with the enthusiasm that is much needed elsewhere.
Viktor Orban: Prime Minister of Hungary
Under the pretext of fighting the coronavirus the country’s parliament, which has a majority of Orban’s supporters, recently passed a bill that allows him to rule by decree, indefinitely.
Hungary, with a population of 9.8 million has registered less than 900 coronavirus cases and 58 deaths since the beginning of March, which is one of the lowest numbers in its neighborhood of European democracies.
Ranked as the sixth worst country in Europe for journalists by Reporters Without Borders, the government has been effectively controlling criticism of its coronavirus policy, and the media narrative. The European Union, which usually joins the chorus of preaching democratic values to the world has limited its criticism of Hungary’s government to a statement that does not even mention Hungary or Orban.
Hungary and Turkey were seen as promising democracies in the past decade. Brazil, it was thought, had put its years of dictatorship behind. There was a new hope when Durete won the election. What is happening now in these countries is a result of the corrosion of their democratic institutions under the guise of populism and extreme nationalism as an answer to all its problems.
No country is immune to the emergence of similar leadership if it allows itself to fall for the same tricks.