Across the world, the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis has introduced a new wrinkle into the already complicated business of holding an election but Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) Chairperson Justice Dr Chifundo Kachale has implored on southern African nations with scheduled elections to protect democracy without putting lives in danger.
While public health should be considered, Kachale, a judge of the High Court of Malawi who led MEC to conduct the court-sanctioned June 23 fresh presidential elections successful two weeks after his assuming office, said the health of democracy should also be taken care of.
He said this during a nine-nation webinar for leaders of political parties and electoral management bodies organised by Democracy Works Foundation (DWF) in partnership with International Republican Institute (IRI) on how elections should go forward – if at all.
“Democracy must be resilient and adapt to real life situations. The conditions may be ideal, but we still have to organise elections,” said Kachale, who managed Africa’s first presidential election re-run won by an opposition leader – Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) who led the nine-party Tonse Allaince on the banner of MCP on presidential ballot.
Campaigning for election is built on closeness and voting itself often forces people to scrunch together in queues, touching the same polling-place door handles and touch screens and ink pads. Then health experts say touch and breath could spread a deadly Covid-19.
However, Kachale insisted that in democracy the show must go on.
“Life has challenges. Today, it is Covid-19 and tomorrow it will be something else. We cannot use it as an excuse not to do what we ought to do.”
He said African governments must learn to deal with such emergencies while making democracy resilient.
“There are ways and means that can be engaged to protect lives,” he said.
Malawi’s election was fraught long before Covid-19 arrived on the scene. The vote was originally held in May 2019, with former president Peter Mutharika declared the winner. But the opposition cried foul, saying that Tipp-Ex correction fluid had been used to alter results from several polling stations, and that others were faked or duplicated.
On 3 February this year, the panel of five judges at the Constitutional Court nullified the 2019 vote and called for a fresh election – only the second time that a court in sub-Saharan Africa has done so.
Then came Covid-19.
On March 20, before Malawi had a single confirmed case of Covid-19, Mutharika ordered schools closed and banned gatherings of more than 100 people. The country’s first three confirmed cases were announced on April 2. The government then announced a lockdown, but protests erupted, and the High Court ordered it could not be implemented until it included measures to protect poor people. Today, Malawi has over 3 300 confirmed cases and almost 100 deaths.
Across Africa, the stakes are especially high. On a continent where many health systems are fragile and transfers of power often tenuous, the balance between public health and democracy has been particularly hard to strike.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :