When the Coronavirus pandemic happened on the world through Wuhan in China, no one could ever have imagined that its impact would have been so profound as it has been since December, 2019 when it strayed out China to other parts of the world. This pandemic has led to the shutting down of all institutions and infrastructures that have kept the world going before its unannounced appearance. The mitigating measures against the virus have made life difficult to run as usual. Lockdowns, social distancing and other personal hygiene instructions have put life activities at an abrupt pause. One area which seems to have found a way to defy this pandemic is governance and activities that surround it. Specifically, governments have found a way to run. Elections which are signposts of democratic government have also found a way to hold across the world. Democracies of the world pride on tenured terms for elected public officials. So, without elections there is likely to be a constitutional stalemate. For some countries, it was either to choose between live and continuous governance.
In a report earlier widely quoted on this platform, countries of the world that defy the Coronavirus scare were highlighted. Even though a total of 69 countries were reported to have postponed elections, 11 countries still held elections in the face of the ravaging virus. All kinds of elections were held- major, regional, municipal and local elections. They held across the regions of the world. From Africa to Europe, Asia to South America, people defied the novel virus to make democratic choices of their leaders.
In another report examining what the countries of the world that held elections did to mitigate the transmission of the virus, various means by which governments and electoral bodies of those countries put in place to ensure that people were not further put at danger of contracting the disease were highlighted. Elections are large-crowd events and as such have a very high risk of exposing people to the COVID 19. These measures ranged from fumigation of the polling booths, availability of hand sanitizers, ensuring social distancing on queues, compulsory use of face masks to provision of hand washing facilities at polling centres. In countries where pens are needed at voting points, voters were instructed to come with their own pens. These measures to a large extent have the capability to prevent transmission of the virus at the voting centres.
In specific terms, different countries deployed different preventive measures in a varied manner. While some countries ensured maximum precautions and deployment of the mitigation measures, some other countries made use of the minimum requirements that created loopholes for the virus to penetrate. An examination of selected countries’ approaches might reveal more.
According to the report, among the countries of the world with maximum preventive measures was Abkazhia – a country that seceded from Georgia. With a population estimated to be between 150,000-220,000, the country held its presidential elections on March 22, 2020. The country electoral body made sure there were facemasks for election officials, hand-sanitizers for voters who were instructed to come to the polling booths with their personal pens. Most importantly, the polling stations were fumigated before the elections.
In the same manner, Israel had its general elections on March 4, 2020. The country made sure quarantined individuals voted at separate, tented off polling stations. There were paramedics who wore complete protective gears while the election officials operated from behind sheeted plastic.
France also had her municipal elections on March 15, 2020. As part of the maximum mitigation efforts, quarantined individuals, People with Disabilities and the Sick had their ballot papers delivered to them. Physical distancing was ensured at the voting stations. Voters were instructed to come to the polling booths with their personal pens while compulsorily using face masks and disinfectant gels. The election authorities ensured proxy voting. All were aimed at making people safe while exercising their democratic rights.
Germany’s local elections in Bavaria held between March 15-29, 2020. Election workers wore gloves. Even though those who chose to come vote physically came to the polling stations with their personal pens, postal voting was also allowed. Canada held her council elections in Shaol Lake 39 on March 26, 2020. In addition to the provision of hand-sanitizers and physical distancing, ballot cut out slip was handed over to voters in plastic. Australia had its local elections on 29 March, 2020. The country ensured availability of hand-sanitizers and adherence to physical distancing of at least 1.5meters. Voters carried their personal pens and additional cleaning was done on the polling booth areas.
Among the countries with minimal mitigation measures during their elections were Guinea, Mali and Zimbabwe. During Guinea’s parliamentary elections and referendum held on March 22,2020, only mandatory hand-washing before voting was ensured. Mali’s general elections were a bit fairer in terms of mitigation measures. Apart from the availability of hand-washing facilities at the polling booths, social distancing was ensured during voting. Zimbabwe’s municipal elections in Chigutu held on March 21, 2020 were the worst. There were no preventive measures in place during the voting period.
The major implication of the report is the inherent models of preventive measures available to countries that have elections pending. They can choose between the minimum and maximum prevention scale but should never leave their citizens unguarded in the course of exercising their democratic right of choice.