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Oxford University Press

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Global Studies Quarterly

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DOI: 10.1093/isagsq/ksac017


As governments sought to manage the coronavirus pandemic, many pursed temporary increases in centralized authority, a general tactic of crisis management. However, in some countries, public health was not the only motive for centralization. The COVID-19 response coincided with broader worldwide trends toward autocratization. Some of these efforts happened while the world was preoccupied with responding to the pandemic without concretely referencing coronavirus; however, in other cases, public-health rationales are clearly and explicitly invoked as a pretext for actions that instead aid the consolidation of regime authority. This has been especially pernicious in subnational politics, where efforts have been made to undermine the ability of opposition parties to fairly contest local and regional politics. This article examines four cases in which political actors either opportunistically used distraction from the COVID-19 pandemic or explicitly invoked public health while seeking to undermine long-term political contestation in their jurisdictions: Hong Kong, Hungary, Uganda, and the United States. We characterize the use of pandemic response as pretext or opportunity for undermining opposition parties, recentralizing political authority in dominant actors, and inhibiting the fair contestation of elections.


Published version. Global Studies Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 3 (July 2022). DOI. © Oxford University Press. Used with permission.

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