International Leaders Use the Pandemic to Pass Personally Beneficial Legislation

By: Talia Lewis

History is littered with examples of leaders who used pandemics to expand state power.[1]  This Pandemic has proven not to be an exception. What is exceptional, is that some leaders have employed measures beyond closing borders and implementing stringent “stay home” orders.

Power-grabs, dubbed by the media as ‘coronavirus coups’, are widespread. Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu postponed indefinitely the criminal trial impending against him.[2] Serbia’s leader is utilizing armed soldiers to enforce his “emergency rule.”[3] And, the President of the Philippines threatened to shoot anyone caught violating the Nation’s lockdown.[4]

Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, garnered attention for the sweeping power he gained after passing “emergency coronavirus measures.”[5] Most notably, the Prime Minister is able to “rule by decree,” effectively bypassing the usual democratic checks on his office.[6] Fears that Orban would abuse that power immediately came to fruition when he passed a number of decrees: most, “have little to do with fighting coronavirus and more to do with shoring up the party’s rule and undermining political opponents.”[7]

Under the guise of emergency decrees and declarations aimed at promoting public health, international leadership has broadened state surveillance powers, postponed elections, and implemented military force on their populations.[8]

As the threat posed by this pandemic remains heightened, the future of governance is uncertain. Many leaders, like Hungary’s Prime Minister Orban, claim the expansive powers currently utilized will only last as long as the Pandemic.[9] Still, many remain fearful that these decrees–implemented with no end-date–may remain in place at the benefit and the behest of powerful leaders around the world.[10]

[1] Anne Applebaum, The People in Charge See an Opportunity, THE ATLANTIC (Mar. 23, 2020),

[2] Id.

[3] Adam Weinstein, The Coronavirus Coups are Upon Us, THE NEW REPUBLIC (Apr. 03, 2020),

[4] Id.

[5] Nick Robins-Early, Hungary’s Far-Right Leader Continues A Power Grab During The Pandemic, HUFFPOST (Apr. 09, 2020, 5:57 PM ET),

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] See Applebaum, supra note 1; Weinstein, supra note 3; Selam Gebrekidan, For Autocrats, and Others, Coronavirus is a Chance to Grab Even More Power, THE N.Y. TIMES (Mar. 30, 2020),

[9] Jennifer Rankin, Hungary’s Emergency Law ‘incompatible with being in EU’, say MEPs group, THE GUARDIAN (Mar. 31, 2020),

[10] See Luke McGee, Power-hungry leaders are itching to exploit the coronavirus crisis, CNN (Apr. 01, 2020, 2:24 AM ET),

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