How COVID-19 revealed the limits of Political Accountability?

COVID 19 and limits of political accountability

Context: The COVID-19 pandemic has put governance under a stress test which exposed how poorly prepared the world’s governments were. 

What was the response of the world leaders to the pandemic? 

The world’s most powerful leaders failed to do their duty to protect the citizens. 

  • In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro irresponsibly refused to get vaccinated, even as his own government has launched a national vaccination campaign. He even remarked that the vaccine might turn people into crocodiles. 
  • In India, lockdowns of limited effectiveness, the sight of migrants desperately walking back to their villages and having the second largest number of cases, dented Prime Minister Modi’s popularity. 
  • In Russia, Vladimir Putin has hardly spoken even as the virus wraths unchecked across Russia. Further, the citizens are against a vaccine whose ability and safety are inadequately understood because of the opacity of Russia’s protocols. 

Then why people of their country have not held their leaders accountable for the failure in handling this situation? Answer lies in the following propositions that shape the view of general public towards their leaders. 

What are the limits of political accountability exposed during the pandemic? 

Three propositions frame this analysis: 

  • Prospective Accountability: It is often understood that the voters vote retrospectively, i.e., give their judgement in the elections by voting based on the incumbent’s record. Instead, they vote prospectively, i.e., against candidates who the voters fear would put the opponents to a disadvantage. 
  • Underestimation of collective action: Second, disease, unlike war, does not offer a clear enemy to target. Public health advice that stressed the need for personal responsibility to stay home, wear a mask, washing hands. It underestimated the challenge of collective action predicted on millions of individual responses. 
    • It emphasises person’s responsible for own health, then getting sick is also his own fault. It absolves the govt. off the responsibilities.  
  • Poverty of collective empathy: Third, the coronavirus pandemic reveals our inability to empathise with what we do not see. For example, thousands of deaths due to pollution and road accidents go unnoticed, unlike thousands of deaths by COVID-19;  

What is the way forward? 

  • Prolonged economic suffering demands government remedy more immediately as without some measure of accountability, democracy loses its power, and so do the people. 
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