Elections in the Time of COVID-19: Should Elections Be Held or Postponed?

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Primacy of the right to vote:

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has stuffed the planet by storm. Minute by minute, we’re battered with the general idea of the broadening of the virus and its health challenges. The virus has progress  diffusion in Africa, with an assorted choice of responses from governments from lockdowns to more or less declaring a government state of emergency. Other measures range from social distancing to bans on public gatherings, stay-at-home orders, compulsory face masks wearing and washing hands. These measures are necessary from a public health perspective, but what about a political standpoint? A large amount of these actions give a shock to people’s enjoyment of their civil rights, human rights, and also on the right to vote, and the organization of timely and credible elections; national elections, including presidential and parliamentary.

Elections in regular epoch are essential blocks for societies and testing time for democracy with significant resources required in terms of time, finances, and human labor. Observers, voters, candidates, and electoral officials are often engaged in the electoral process, regularly in a very much stimulating circumstance. In far too many cases, electoral periods have been marred by human rights violations which undermine the holding of credible and peaceful elections; especially in West Africa. However, Several African governments are using the coronavirus pandemic to erode democratic freedoms. “Democracy continues to backslide” is one frustrating outcome of the Covid-19 outbreak. The trends of postponement or adjournment of elections are on the rise in Africa, and the risk of infections has been cited as one of the reasons to postpone national or local elections, and Some national electoral commissions also citing the delay in logistical materials and lack of fundings as a major factor. Many African countries procure election material from abroad which the closure of airports and borders has made it more difficult to get electoral equipment.

In the last couple of months, few countries in Africa have proven it is possible to have elections at a highly precarious time, and not to yield to the health threat that may subsequently delay the rights of the population to exercise their voting rights.  In March, Guinea, Cameroon, and Mali held legislative votes. In April, Mali held its second round legislative polls. And in May, Benin went ahead with local elections, and Burundi held general elections in May to elect its new president, national legislators, and local representatives, and on the 24th of June Malawi held a rerun election five months after electoral dispute despite having active cases of COVID-19 in the country. But in all cases, the governments took some protective measures. Benin took the most precautionary measures. The government cancelled campaign events and banned gatherings of over 50 people, forcing candidates to focus on media appearances and campaign posters. With the exception of maliwe all of these elections, voter turnout seems to have suffered, because Elections are supposed to be a time for talking wherein candidates and their supporters reach out to the public to get the votes out. Door knocking, leaflet sharing in demanding cities, villages, towns, competing point of views made by candidates; and discussing them at intellectual tables, in the tea shop and street corner, mass rallies, and full participation of each and every citizen in the electoral process are all signs of a healthy election.

Preserving Health Over human rights and Democracy:

The outbreak has brought an additional factor to the holding of independent elections, which is the safe and secure nature of the elections, with regard to the health of the participants.

The general evidence and important reason for postponing an election is that the health of everyone involved. Elections should be the opposite of “social distancing”. Elections are public events that deliberately bring together people to exchange ideas and transmit infectious arguments about the future direction of a country or state. In this regard, according to the United Nations (Center for Human Rights), postponement of scheduled elections necessitated by public emergency may be permitted in certain limited circumstances, but only if and to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation. The current situation of COVID -19 provides numerous reasons for states to postpone elections. However, elections are prehistoric to safeguard self-governing rights, especially at a time when major state power is being concentrated in the executive through the exercise of emergency measures. In Kenya authorities indefinitely postponed local by-elections which were scheduled to take place in April 2020. In Ethiopia, parliamentary and regional elections were originally set for August has been postponed, and no new date announced. Ethiopia is one of the few countries in Africa in which the constitution deliberately authorizes management to invoke a state of emergency during “epidemic”. And, in early May, South Africa’s electoral commission announced a delay in 30 municipal by-elections and warned that polls scheduled for 2021 could also be affected. In Liberia, the National Elections Commission (NEC) again announced  they are unable to hold elections in October due to COVID-19-related constraints. In Uganda, an afraid citizen has petitioned the court seeking to suspend all elections scheduled for 2021 for five years until government gains dictate over the coronavirus disease, and  President Yoweri Museveni is also on record for saying “It will be madness to say you go and people gather. I don’t think it will be wise”.  In Tunisia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Gambia several local elections have been postponed due to public health emergencies.

As the plague tests the flexibility of Africa’s elected institutions, it as well provides instructions, and opportunities for improvement. Therefore, beyond COVID-19, African governments have to initiate constitutional reforms to speak to the countless shortcomings of their democracies. These reforms must, in the midst of others, compel provision for the property of elections and picture-perfect management of transitions, or negotiation of opinionated settlements during catastrophe situations. These reforms will not be the only silver bullet to the several harms of equal domination in Africa, but they will be crucial to forestalling or minimizing future risk.

Elections must be held :

This Covid-19 outbreak has disrupted our normal way of doing things, and it will be fair enough to regulate its impact on our democracies. Cancelling of elections is an abhorrence to democracy and must not be done at all, while it may be the most reasonable, and responsible option from the public health perspective, but we also cannot afford to allow our hard-won right to vote, to surrender to this deadly disease as well. Moreover, the states of emergency that have been invoked by several governments in Africa, could well provide a pretext for those in danger of losing power to continuously cancel or postpone elections. Especially “at a time when major power is being concentrated in the executive through the exercise of emergency measures. As a result, Leaders will start to rule by decree for an unlimited period of time. Then democracy will deteriorate, elected officials will overstay their electoral terms, and will lead to citizens protesting, and questioning the legitimacy of governments which will set a perilous precedent for modern democracies, and as such suspends political rights, and undermines the social contract between a government and its citizens.These developments portend greater danger for overall peace and stability across the continent.

Regular elections are fundamental to the proper functioning of  modern  democracy. COVID-19 presents governments with an uninviting conundrum of how to look after the health of the democracy at the same time as protecting the health of the citizens. The Covid-19 has placed a responsibility on every single one of us African’s, civil society, governments, and regional economic organizations to seize this opportunity, and enter into a conversation that will explore the best safeguards during these health crises by making sure governments practice the best pathways to free, fair, safe, and secure environment for credible elections. This will guarantee  the strides that numbers of African countries have made to consolidate their democracies by holding regular, transparent, and free elections are not reversed, because election is the opportunity the electorate gets to speak on the performance of their governments by either replacing or renewing the mandates. and elections should always be held, and held on time.

The Author:
Prinston Anthony Sieh Moosh Nimene is a Liberian and a master candidate at Cavendish University Uganda, studying international relations and diplomacy.

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