Inherited Confusion

Necessitas non habet legem, this ancient maxim meaning that necessity has no law appears to be applicable to Tunisia during the pandemic. The Tunisian authorities rapidly took measures to fight the coronavirus outbreak. But the broad language used in the legal texts ruling the COVID-19 crisis – such as the constitution and the various governmental and presidential decrees – combined with legal doctrine likening Tunisia’s constitutional emergency clause to that of France have added to the confusion of power. This is not only endangering the newly installed democratic government but illustrates how the adoption of a foreign constitutional framework impacts new democracies, making it difficult for the Tunisian constitutional system to evolve.

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From Emergency to Disaster

This week, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government put before the Hungarian Parliament two draft laws that, if passed, would end the state of emergency and create a new legal framework for handing the pandemic from here on out.  In doing so, the government was responding to those who criticized the unlimited power that the government had been given in the law creating a pandemic emergency, the Enabling Act of 30 March 2020.  That law allowed the government to override any law by decree, a power that was unlimited in both scope and time and that violated Fidesz’ own “illiberal” constitution the Fundamental Law.  

The new laws are no better, and may even be worse.   One of the draft laws is less than one page long accompanied by two pages of justification.   It purports to repeal the initial Enabling Act (about which, more below).    The other one is called the law on “transitional provisions” and at first it seems only to provide lots of technical answers to questions that arise about how to reset deadlines for various legal processes that were delayed when the economy stopped. The new laws are no better, and may even be worse.

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COVID-19 in Paraguay: Health Success and Constitutional Deficit

Paraguay has been rated as the South American country that has best avoided the spread of COVID-19. This success could have come under the wing of the rule of the Constitution. However, up to now, the Paraguayan response to COVID-19 brought along with it the use of a constitutionally questionable law, kept in force a terrible approach to constitutional interpretation, and missed the opportunity for the branches of public power to collaborate with one another.

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The State of Denial Amidst a Military Parade: COVID-19 in Belarus

In contrast to the ‘illiberal democracies’ of Hungary and Poland, Belarus in its response to COVID-19 appears to be playing the role of a perfectly ‘liberal’ state with almost a laissez-faire solution, where people’s choice is prioritized and rights are respected as no severe measures are introduced to close businesses or restrict free movement. This image is inevitably misleading, as democratic institutions in Belarus have been brought to heel long ago, and alternative information about the state of affairs in Belarus regarding the virus remains suppressed.

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Chile and COVID-19: A Constitutional Authoritarian Temptation

Due to the pandemic, Chile’s 2020 electoral calendar has been modified, delaying the most important political event of the year: the April referendum for a new constitution. While the postponement is reasonable considering the current sanitary situation, recent suggestions that there be a further postponement due to a possible post-pandemic economic crisis threaten the democratic legitimacy of the process. As argued in this post, these measures and opinions, when read together, put the government close to an authoritarian use of the constitution.

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The Last Chance Saloon

To all intents and purposes, Orbán and his government have ceased to be democratically accountable either to the Hungarian Parliament or to the citizens of Hungary. The words in that last sentence are chosen carefully and with meaning. This blogpost suggest that Article 10 TEU may provide a basis for the exclusion of Hungarian representatives from the European Council and the Council of the European Union.

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Emergency Law Amendments to Fight Covid-19 in Egypt: Putting the Poison in the Honey

One could learn a very important lesson from the Egyptian experience as it relates to the state of emergency: A good constitutional text alone is not enough. Although new amendments to the Emergency Law included several public health measures that allow the state to contain the impact of the spread of COVID-19, the absence of a parliamentary and judicial review will remain a huge threat to fundamental rights and the basics of the democratic rule-making.

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Albania – Some Exceptional Extraordinary Measures

Albania was hit the by Covid-19 pandemic, although it seems not as gravely as some of its neighbours. Starting from 10 March 2020 the Albanian Government adopted several measures aiming to limit the spread of the pandemic in the country. Most of those measures have been continuously reviewed, following the development of the pandemic.

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Democracy and the Global Emergency – Shared Experiences, Starkly Uneven Impacts

Curating analysis of these developments since early April through the COVID-DEM project, and reading across the 62 published contributions to this outstanding symposium, there are clear commonalities across all democracies affected. Beyond these commonalities, the effect of the COVID-19 response on the democratic system has been – and will be – starkly uneven across democracies worldwide, due to the different democratic ‘starting point’ of each state as the pandemic hit.

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