Possible electoral reforms in view of Covid-19: Expectations vs Reality
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) recently held a virtual discussion on the electoral reform discourse whilst seeking to bring to the fore, some of the possible initiatives that could be adopted to ensure electoral processes continue during the COVID-19 era.
Elections TDGHR consult Taona Mwanyisa moderated the meeting and the panel comprised of Head of political participation and representation programme international Rumbidzai Kandawasvika-Nhundu, Africa director of International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) Rushdi Nackerdien, Resident programmes director, Elections democratic institute Ethiopia Franklin Oduro and National coordinator of elections observers ELOG Mulle Musau.
Kandawasvika-Nhundu initiated the discussion by responding to a question on what are the technical, political and social threats to elections caused by COVID-19.
“What we are seeing right now with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, what is unfolding is that it is also to a very large extent posing and deepening the deeply entrenched inequalities and democratic deficits that we have in our countries.
“Democratic deficits in terms of weak governing institutions and processes, challenges related to repression and suppression, freedom of association and speech,” Kandawasvika-Nhundu said.
Kandawasvika-Nhundu highlighted that the pandemic was amplifying those challenges that were already pre-existing in our country.
A question was raised by Mwanyisa as to what were some of the the key considerations that inform the decision on whether to hold or not to hold elections under COVID-19.
Nackerdien answered this by expressing that democracy strives on a series of rights and understandings that thrive on assembly, transparency and confidence in the elections.
“When we look at the elections themselves, there are worries on the issue of health and safety risks.
“We worry about the person to person transmission that there would be especially in environments where the spike calls for social distancing. Nackerdien said in the virtual meeting.
Nackerdien furthermore expressed that there was now a shift of focus from public health and safety to the credibility and legitimacy of the elections.
Oduro was of the view that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about changes to the electoral processes especially on the issue of where and when to hold elections.
“Technically I think that one thing that has become a trait is how election bodies have to quickly respond to how they organise elections without putting people at risk of contracting COVID-19.
“The question has been; how long will you postpone elections in the COVID-19 era when we don’t know when it will last for,” Oduro said in the virtual meeting.
Oduro also stated that if elections were to go ahead, the main issues would be their credibility which is their transparency, accountability and inclusiveness of the electoral process.
The discussants also raised an important issue that the decision making process on whether to hold or not to hold elections lies on clarity on who is involved and who is left out in the decision making process.
Musau spoke on the issues surrounding the legal framework and modalities on electoral processes in the COVID-19 times.
“When it comes to the policy framework, we expect the electoral management body to come up with the framework to which elections have to be held,” Musau said.
He further added that the setting up of these policy frameworks regarding the electoral processes should involve public participation as well among other key stakeholders.
Mwanyisa then asked the discussants that assuming that elections were to go ahead and be held during the COVID-19 pandemic, how do electoral management bodies determine the risks of exposing voters and workers to potential infection at the polling stations and how it can be minimised.
The discussants noted the importance of observing protocols and regulations put forward by the World Health Organisation and other public health entities regarding the COVID-19.
Musau expressed the need for policy frameworks that honour these health regulations and also compliment the whole electoral process in regard to transparency, accountability and inclusiveness.
“A policy framework can be reached that allows for different voting mechanisms and an expansion on how people can vote,” Musau added.
Kandawasvika-Nhundu highlighted that with the new normal in COVID-19 times and with political campaigns probably only to be conducted online, there was need for inclusivity of citizens in coming up with innovative ways to hold elections and not only depending on the electoral management body to do that.
“It cannot just be the electoral management body being innovative, the electoral management body can only do this much and within its sphere of influence.
“I would like to challenge and say the innovative ways have to emerge from the citizens within the societies,” Kandawasvika-Nhundu added further.