The Covid-19 pandemic poses a series of new challenges to human rights and democracy. Oppressive governments have globally reacted to the pandemic in conducts to perform their political interests, often at the outflow of freedom of expression. Even a society that allows its member considerable freedom, encounters pressure to accept constraints that may outlast the crisis and have a detrimental effect on liberty. The state of human rights and democracy respectively has gone worse in 80% countries in the world. Some regimes have retorted by involving in abuses of power, weakening important institutions, silencing critics, and undermining the important systems of accountability that is as well needed to protect the universal health coverage.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic is believed as one of the biggest public health catastrophes of the past hundred years and has generated ‘unprecedented’ government reactions (Cheibub et al. 2020). In democracies, the pandemic leaves governments in a difficult situation. High uncertainty caused by the pandemic drives them towards embracing measures that, during normal times, reverse major democratic principles. Decision-makers are challenged with the dilemma of emphasizing public health goals against democratic rights, freedom and norms (Zwitter 2012: 95). This argument plays out at two levels: first, the need for quick response creates strong incentives to converge power on the national executive and thus to deteriorate other institutions. Second, the policies to counteract the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic are extraordinary themselves – as they target on ‘social distancing’ and thus constrain the fundamental rights such as the freedom of movement or assembly.
In times of Covid-19 pandemic, the global citizen, to include Asian countries, expected that the pandemic would lead to not only more open and democratic politics, but also wider social equality. Unfortunately, such expectations have not been manifested. Since the beginning of the pandemic, wealth inequality has increased significantly. Rising inequality has become the crucial challenge; it has great implications for the resilience of democracy in Asia and most countries tended to produce a single narrative in tackling this pandemic. It also severely distorts political voice and representation towards those with resources and power. This condition spawns and enables elites with immense influence to shape policy and decision-making processes in this unprecedented times towards universal health coverage. The imbalance of power affects the prospects for development and how impartial and progressive they are, including in the vital area of state performance and social protection and services provision during the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and regional equivalents provide a vital opportunity to connect action at both national and international levels to eradicate inequality. The SDGs recommend a compelling framework to foster more resilient societies and states. They insert specific goals linked to ‘reducing inequality’ and ‘ending poverty, in all its forms, everywhere’, as well as tackling marginalization and taking actions to the needs of all groups, including women and girls, children, people with disabilities and older people in promoting social justice (Stuart et al. 2016) including in times of the pandemic. Giving that notions of social justice and democracy in Asia have always had to conform with economic and socio-political dynamic, we are cordially inviting researcher, academics, students, activists and practitioners to send original research abstracts and full paper under the theme: “The Spectrum of Democracy in Times of Pandemic: Re-narrating Inequality and Social Justice in Asia”. We address the key questions by analyzing inequality, social justice and democracy in times of the pandemic in conjunction with ideas emerging from several aspects such as: gender and intersectionality, economy of well-being, disability issues, social security, post-colonial issues, trans-nationalism, multiculturalism, social movement, digital society, environmental crisis, education, social theory and methodology. The theme is interdisciplinary in nature and broad enough to cover a range of disciplinary areas such as sociology, international relations, economics, technology, political science, development studies and gender studies, to name a few. Presenters may provide theoretical discourses or empirical case studies revolving around the theme.