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Beware Viral Enabling Acts

It is crucial that opposition parties are broadly on board with measures taken to address what seems like a once-in-a-century public-health crisis. But the line between government and opposition must not be blurred in the name of “national unity,” and the mechanisms of political accountability must be strengthened, not weakened.

PRINCETON – There is no doubt that the coronavirus is a global emergency. There is also no doubt that governments will use this emergency to add to their powers. And some of them probably won’t relinquish their new powers once the threat is over.

It is crucial that opposition parties are broadly on board with measures taken to address what seems like a once-in-a-century public-health crisis. But the line between government and opposition must not be blurred in the name of “national unity.” Criticism by opposition leaders should not be branded as illegitimate “infighting.” And the mechanisms that allow oppositions to hold governments accountable must be strengthened, not weakened.

Emergencies have two effects: in democratic states, they concentrate power in the executive. Leaders claiming new powers can usually count on citizens’ support. Even US President Donald Trump, whose performance has been disastrous from the start, is benefiting from a rally-around-the-flag dynamic.

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