The novel Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is extremely contagious and currently incurable. Hence, much of the efforts to contain the pandemic have focused on social distancing, prohibiting gatherings and even curfews. The Coronavirus poses a new dual challenge for legislatures. First, the Coronavirus, and the measures taken to contain its spread, make it difficult and even dangerous for parliaments to operate, given that legislatures are by their very nature large multi-member bodies whose operation requires assembling a large group of people together to deliberate and vote. Second, the Coronavirus pandemic creates a sense of emergency that empowers the executive branch and emboldens it to assert greater authority at the expenses of the legislature.
Despite these challenges, the continued operation of legislatures throughout the Coronavirus crisis, and particularly the maintenance of legislative oversight of the executive, has never been more vital. Legislatures have a crucial role in checking the executive and ensuring that countries will not lose their constitutional and democratic values in the process of managing the Coronavirus crisis.
This report begins by explicating the novel dual challenge the Coronavirus pandemic poses for legislatures. It than focuses on elaborating on the unique challenge currently faced by the Israeli Parliament. It explains how the unique combination between the Coronavirus pandemic and the complex political situation in Israel, has made the issue of parliamentary operation during the Coronavirus pandemic particularly acute and urgent.
Against this background, this report examines whether and how parliaments in other democracies are operating during this crucial period of the evolving Coronavirus pandemic. Drawing on a combination of two main types of sources – a network of expert academics and a network of parliamentary research centers – it presents a novel and timely comparative overview about current parliamentary activity during the Coronavirus pandemic. The report covers 26 democratic parliaments from Europe, North America, Asia, Israel and Australia. It finds that most parliaments continue to operate during the Coronavirus crisis (including in countries in which the pandemic is quite substantial and in countries where legislators themselves were among those diagnosed with the coronavirus). It also finds that even though some parliaments continue with business as usual, many parliaments are beginning to modify their operation, and generally show an ability to adapt to meet the Coronavirus challenge.