Ghanaians are currently on a partial lockdown as a result of Covid-19.
Given that some people have honored the Social Distance Protocols in breach, there is the fear that there may be further spread of the disease, in a manner that may accentuate calls for and actual total lockdown. But, should there be a total lockdown, when will we be certified as free from Covid-19, to warrant our opening?
There are fears, (whether well-founded or illegitimate) that Covid-19 may linger and hence lead to the postponement of election 2020. In some countries, there are concerns of actual or perceived politically motivated abuse to be demonstrated, in postponing elections that are yet to be held.
But in Ghana, it does not appear the ruling party is interested in abusing the processes and postponing the 2020 elections, just to prolong its stay in power. Impliedly, Ghana MAY go ahead with the 2020 elections, even if Covid-19 has not been fully contained. Should this be the case, there are some key issues identified by the International IDEA, in its recent Technical Paper on Elections and Covid-19 (2020), that may be considered:
- We must fully assess the risks and implications of holding the 2020 elections in the wake of Covid-19. Depending on how hard we may be hit by the disease, it may be very difficult to hold the elections. The production and distribution of ballot papers and other key election materials, can be undermined by the very measures imposed to limit the spread of the disease. We must take note also that polling officers may be scared of infections or may actually be infected, and hence may not perform their critical duties and functions optimally or satisfactorily at the polling stations. We must also be aware of the fact that voter turnout may likely be affected, because of fear of infection, in a manner that may compromise the legitimacy of the elections and acceptability of its outcomes. Indeed, in the wake of Social Distance Protocols, law-abiding citizens may be unlikely to leave their homes to go queue and vote, because of their quest to be careful in not contracting the virus. They may actually call their family members to also stay away from the polls. Again, the aged, who are highly susceptible to the Covid-19 virus, may completely stay away from the polling process. This may create uneven participation and skew the polling process against the aged segment of the population. Moreover, Ghanaians abroad, who are now expected to vote in all elections, under the aegis of the ROPAL, may be unable to do so, due to the potential restrictions, that may be imposed by their respective host countries. The dent of these challenges on the legitimacy of the 2020 election, should it be held, is indubitable.
- The challenges above, amply points to the need to consider some solutions. Given our Social Distance Protocols, the International IDEA recommends special voting, that allows citizens to remotely cast their votes through postal, internet and mobile technology, to reduce the health hazards of voting in person. The snag, however, is that, the logistical implications of this alternative voting mechanism for Ghana, at the moment, make the proposal less feasible. The adoption of alternative methods for voting would require swift public education. Unfortunately, “common public education” and reception to public learning are quite problematic in Ghana. Indeed, recent evidence in enforcing basic partial lockdown rules and Social Distance Protocols supports this assertion.
- We must strive towards achieving inclusivity in decisions, with respect to holding the 2020 elections. Government, adhering to the laws of the land, must agree with the opposition political parties on the need to go on with the elections, snd work closely with public health officials and other security and governance experts, to carefully consider the health, public safety, security risks, democratic and constitutional imperatives and implications of the decision to go ahead with the elections. But we must be mindful of the fact that, even though some funds may be sourced through loans and donations, holding the 2020 elections at a time when the virus is still prevalent, may imply a tacit acceptance to divert human and material resources, from more urgent activities of fighting to contain the Covid-19. This may deepen the derogatory, but sometimes deserving terminologies of the people, that tend to label politicians as self-seeking, self-perpetuating and self-aggrandizing cabals. This may certainly not make the people, particularly the undecided floaters, enthused about the elections.
The brief analysis above shows that we are confronted with risks on both sides of one coin. Through elections, the citizenry gets the opportunity to either renew or abrogate their social contract with their elected leaders. The people must have the right to decide whether they want to maintain the current government or kick them out through the 2020 elections. A postponement of the election may amount to the risk of suspending the political rights of the citizenry. This in political theory is almost coterminous with a denial of man’s right to life.
Going on with the elections, also risks several challenges that may undermine public health and lead to “voting without choosing” as well as the conduct of an election, whose legitimacy may be in severe doubt.
What we must do as a nation, is to begin to prepare and dialogue around the above issues, even as we fight to contain the Covid-19. We must eschew the needless pettiness of proving and disproving who built which hospital, (when and how), and work together beyond partisanship, to deepen education on compliance with our Social Distance Protocols, among those who still believe the disease is only for the affluent in society.
My very personal inclinations and belief, not backed by any scientific evidence, suggests to me that, if we are able to discipline ourselves and ensure total compliance with the Social Distance Protocols, Covid-19 would not be an issue for Ghana by December 2020. Hence, we may be able to hold our elections without much issues with public health and safety.
If so, then, given the timing of our current situation, I dare say that, there is no longer the need for a debate, as to whether we need a new voters register or not. The Electoral Commission must work with its key stakeholders to decide on the modalities to carry out its intention, in the wake of the spreading of Covid-19.
However, it is plausible to also reason that, Covid-19 constitutes enough force majeure, that makes a compelling case for abandoning the intention to compile a new voters’ register.
If the latter is the case, then the Electoral Commission must quickly think through a contingency plan, to re-psyche and whip up public confidence in the old register that has been bastardized through the utterances of Commission itself, and other stakeholders.
Happy Special Easter to all of us. May God bless our homeland Ghana and help us learn all the lessons of Covid-19, including humility, respect for common humanity, Social Distance and Personal Hygiene, throughout the period of our Special Easter, for a quick restoration of normal socio-economic and political life.
PAV Ansah Street
Suro Nipa House