On September 15, the Valdai Discussion Club held an online presentation of the report “Legitimacy and Political Leadership in a New Era”. In the opening remarks, the moderator of the discussion, Andrey Sushentsov, Programme Director of the Valdai Club, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has seriously affected the prevailing structural trends in international relations. Most of the world’s governments were forced to respond to a severe shock without preparation and are independently seeking answers to unexpected questions. In this context, it is important to understand which actions taken by the elites during the crisis proved to be the most effective, and what kind of future the post-crisis world can expect.
The author of the report, Daniil Parenkov, Researcher at the Centre for Political Elite Studies at MGIMO University, presented the main theses of his work. He called the global revision of the balance of the hierarchy of values and demands an important trend generated by the pandemic. First of all, this means that people have begun to prioritise concerns related to their own health. This desire for security can lead to the abandonment of some freedoms, but at the same time, people are not ready to give up their current level of consumption and social guarantees. Another significant trend is related to digital technologies, in the political sphere in particular. This includes both the digitalisation of established practices and the search for new solutions.
Marat Shibutov, Member of the National Council of Public Trust Under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, describing the situation in Kazakhstan and neighbouring countries, said that the pandemic in many cases led to the virtual disappearance of parts of the political system and to the collapse of a number of institutions under the stress. He emphasised that no one was ready for the crisis enough to turn the tide, the legitimacy of the existing structures suffered greatly and any successful attempt to preserve what was already in place can be considered a great achievement.
Andrey Bezrukov, Associate Professor at MGIMO University, considered the current state of affairs in the context of a broader process of change that began before the outbreak of the crisis, and implies a change of elites. The coronavirus, in his opinion, has become a kind of test that can separate the effective elites from the ineffective ones ahead of even more serious tests, which he called the “decade of survival”.
Anurada Chenoy, former Dean of the School of International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University, offered a perspective from India on the challenges the pandemic presents political leaders. According to her, despite the rather ineffective actions of the authorities in many cases, the legitimacy of the Indian leadership has been questioned significantly less than the legitimacy of the Trump administration, since in India the damage from the pandemic is perceived by many as the impact of a natural phenomenon, and they don’t blame the central government for it.
Nathalia Zaiser, Chair of the Board of the Africa Business Initiative Union, outlined the state of affairs in Africa, which continues to fight the coronavirus. She noted that the crisis brought urgent problems to the fore. The economy and politics were thrown ten years back. Speaking about the situation as a whole, she emphasised the existence of contradictions between the demands of citizens and the actions of the elites, the problem of an imbalance between society and the authorities, and the elite's disregard for the needs and values of young people.