More than 500 political and civil leaders, Nobel Laureates and pro-democracy institutions have signed an open letter to defend democracy. Demo Finland is one of the signatories. Among the signatories are, for example, Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister of Sweden, José Ramos Horta, Nobel Peace Laureate and former President of Timor-Leste, and Wole Soyinka, Nigerian Nobel laureate in literature. From Finland, Heidi Hautala, MEP and Vice President of the European Parliament, has signed the letter. The signatories warn that freedoms and democracy are threatened by governments that are using the crisis to tighten their grip on power.
The coronavirus pandemic poses serious threats to democracy. Many governments around the world have assembled emergency powers that restrict human rights and enhance state surveillance, often disregarding legal constraints, checks and balances, and time frames for restoring constitutional order. This is the key message in “A Call to Defend Democracy”, an open letter initiated by the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) and the Washington DC-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
The letter aims at raising awareness and mobilizing citizens and policymakers to protect democracy – the most effective system for handling global crises while protecting the rights of all citizens, particularly minorities and vulnerable groups. “The current pandemic represents a formidable global challenge to democracy. Authoritarian leaders around the world see the COVID-19 crisis as a new political battleground in their fight to stigmatize democracy as feeble and reverse its dramatic gains of the past few decades”, the letter states.
While it is unsurprising that authoritarian regimes are using the crisis to tighten their grip on power, some democracies have also introduced emergency powers without the necessary safeguards to ensure measures can be rolled back. However, the high number of prominent signatories indicates an unprecedented global movement for democracy. This is a sign that democracy, while threatened, is also resilient, according to Carl Gershman, President of NED.
“Now is the time when all of us must stand up for democracy. We need to make it clear to everyone what is at stake and that we will not allow leaders with authoritarian tendencies to use this or other crises to increase their power and decrease our rights. We need to defend democracy—whether in the ballot box, in the media or on the streets”, says Kevin Casas-Zamora, Secretary-General of International IDEA.