Sunday, December 5

Latvian ban on unvaccinated MPs should be a wake-up call | View

Since Monday, members of the Latvian parliament, the Saeima and local councils who were unable to provide proof of vaccination or COVID-19 recovery have been excluded of parliamentary affairs, including online meetings and voting in parliament.

Last month, the Australian state of Victoria also imposed a vaccine mandate for legislators. But Latvia is the first democratic country to do so at the national level.

Legal experts have questioned the constitutionality of measures in Latvia and Victory. But the more fundamental question is moral and political: how far can politics go in enforcing vaccine mandates?

Targeting the unvaccinated undermines equal citizenship

We have become used to severe restrictions on our freedoms. At times in this pandemic, freedom of movement has ended. It remains severely restricted.

Schools and universities have closed. We have become used to masking mandates, the obligation to get tested and provide proof of our vaccination status to access goods and services that were previously open to everyone.

While responses to the first wave of infections and deaths in Europe were generally applicable, occasionally targeting the communities that suffer the most, this is no longer the case.

Increasingly, policy responses are targeting unvaccinated citizens, even if they can prove they are not sick by recent negative tests.

Austria has returned to a partial lockdown. Unvaccinated people in Austria now I cant go out their places of residence, except for a limited number of essential reasons.

In New South Wales, Australia, unvaccinated adults i can’t visit other people at home, again with some specific exceptions.

Singapore has decided that the unvaccinated should pay your own medical bills for COVID-related treatment since early December.

These kinds of measures have been highly controversial, and with good reason. Addressing citizens based on their vaccination status questions the principle of equal citizenship, a pillar of liberal democracy.

Legislators must be able to do their job

The pandemic is an unprecedented challenge for public health in modern times. Millions have died. Perhaps some of these tough measures are justified on moral grounds.

And even when we do not agree to specific measures, we can accept that they are legitimate if they are approved by democratically authorized actors within the scope of their mandate. In fact, that is what lies at the heart of democratic government.

We can disagree with some policies on the coronavirus and at the same time underscore the authority of democratic actors to make these calls.

But all of this is based on the legitimacy of those democratic procedures. It requires fundamental civil and political rights, such as the right to freedom of expression, association and protest, the right to vote and the right to be elected.

Fundamentally, these rights must be guaranteed for all members of politics. If you are only for the civil and political rights of the people you agree with, you are not a Democrat.

Decisions to exclude unvaccinated MPs in Latvia and Victoria undermine the democratic minimum.

Latvians went to the polls in 2018, voting for parties based on public lists of candidates. Legislators elected to Saeima have a clear democratic mandate.

Conditioning such a mandate on its vaccination status undermines something fundamental to democracy: pluralism.

With the disenfranchisement of unvaccinated parliamentarians, Latvia joins the top of the list of EU states regressing in democracy.

This issue is not about the advisability of taking strong action to combat the pandemic. It is not a question of ideology. In democratic states, civil and political rights are fundamental across the political spectrum.

Democrats across Europe should wake up.

Josette Daemen is a PhD candidate at the Leiden University Institute of Political Science, researching the political philosophy of security. Tom Theuns is Adjunct Professor of Political Theory and European Politics at the Institute of Political Science at the University of Leiden and a Research Associate at the Center for European Studies and Comparative Politics at Sciences Po Paris.

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