The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted planned events across the world; sporting activities postponed indefinitely, UN climate conference put on hold, and elections in many countries delayed.
But in Somalia, leading opposition parties are demanding for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held on time, without considering whether the country can manage an election in an era of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The Forum for National Parties (FNP), an alliance of six political parties, including two parties led by former presidents, Sharif Ahmed and Hassan Mohamud, accused the government of ‘overlooking the urgency of implementing the multi-party system in the country, and interfering in the activities of a joint parliamentary committee on elections, leading to suspension of its work drafting and completion of an electoral law, saying those are tactics to delay the polls.’
Somalia is scheduled to hold both parliamentary and presidential elections in late 2020 and early 2021 respectively. Although an electoral law has been passed, it is still unclear whether the country will go for a one person, one vote election or maintain the status quo where clan elders will pick members of parliament who will in turn elect a president.
Should Somalia delay its election?
Kenya is delaying five by-elections because of Covid-19. The country has so far recorded close to 200 cases and four deaths.
Ethiopia announced postponement of its parliamentary elections, and in the US, States have put off presidential primary votes.
Elections have been rescheduled before. In 2018, the Democratic Republic of Congo delayed the presidential poll because of Ebola. In 2001 the UK general election was held off because of the spread of foot and mouth disease across the country.
The most important reason for postponing an election is the health of everyone involved. It will be difficult to hold an election without exposing those involved to the risk of contracting the new coronavirus.
Although coronavirus cases in Somalia stand at seven, people should not take chances, and must abide by government directives and scientific advice in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.
An election is the opposite of ‘social-distancing.’ It is a public event that deliberately bring together people to exchange ideas about the future direction of their country. It involves candidates and their supporters holding campaign rallies and events.
Elections are also supposed to be a time for talking. Simply holding an election is insufficient because citizens should actively consider their interests and the issues; weigh up competing arguments made by candidates; and discuss them around the dinner table, and in coffee shops.
Then, on election day, citizens, in this case, MPs, if Somalia doesn’t hold direct elections, turn up to polling stations (and airport hangars) and are handed a ballot paper. Election staff, who work extremely hard to keep Somalia’s democracy moving, will also be affected.
Elections do bring a lot of people together. Somalia’s election involves people and candidates coming in from Europe and the United States, the current epicenter of the novel coronavirus, unknowingly bringing the virus with them.
However, postponing an election could result in leaders, both at the legislature and the executive, remaining in office longer.
Postponement should be the last resort, but if the coronavirus does not go away in the next few months, political stakeholders in Somalia should reach consensus on a clearly agreed timetable for rescheduling is crucial. Democracy relies on a responsible government and political parties, who should put the lives of fellow citizens first before their interest.