Elections in times of pandemic: necessity, risks, scenarios, solutions. IPN debate

The presidential elections that are to take place in the Republic of Moldova on November 1 are a big opportunity, but also a big danger. They are a big opportunity because this democratic exercise can and should engage the citizens in the process of taking decisions that refer to the country’s fate and each citizen’s fate. The big danger derives from the fact that this democratic exercise implies a number of individual and collective activities, more communication and contacts with the involvement of a large number of people. The unprotected contacts between people are practically the main source of transmission of COVID-19. The participants in IPN’s public debate “Elections in times of pandemic: necessity, risks, scenarios, solutions” discussed how Moldovan society can use the opportunity of electing by avoiding risks.

Igor Boțan, the standing expert of IPN’s project, said that when they speak about the pandemic, they refer to an infectious disease that is spread worldwide and that achieved particular proportions. In the Republic of Moldova, there are now 19,000 active cases of COVID-19, which means that about 1% of Moldova’s population is infected and many more people are asymptomatic. The danger is real, persistent and this thing should be taken into account.

In another development, the expert said the elections are a procedure for electing persons to public posts. The elections in democratic societies are held under electoral systems that cover all the aspects of preparing and conducting the process of identifying and choosing persons to posts. The right to elect and be elected is a basic one enshrined in the Constitution. So, the authorities in any situation, when they prepare the elections, should ensure the realization of the people’s right to elect and be elected. In times of pandemic, this process is much more difficult. On the one hand, there is no experience as to how to efficiently fight the effects of pandemic. On the other hand, it is not clear how to ensure the right to elect and be elected in the proportions indicated in the Constitution.

The expert noted the Moldovan authorities, despite the upsurge in the number of cases of COVID-19 and the election campaign conducted in parallel, are obliged to offer the citizens the possibility of voting.

Jurist Pavel Midrigan, ex-member of the Central Election Commission, said the elections should be held not only freely and fairly, but also in the set time limits and this is an element of democracy. This time, the necessity of electing the power coincides with the pandemic. That’s why, even if there are particular risks to developing democracy, to organizing the activities of society, elections have to be held in such conditions, surely by taking a series of precaution measures. “That’s why the elections should take place and should be free and fair,” stated Pavel Midrigan.

Public health expert Ala Tocarciuc noted that elections of different levels were planned this year in over 50 countries. Two in three countries put off the elections. Moldova is among the countries that didn’t postpone them. Moldova already knows to hold elections and knows how many electoral  districts should be established. It is known how many persons will work there and how many people will predictably vote.

“Therefore, the task from political viewpoint is to organize correct elections and to ensure the voter turnout. On the other hand, the effects of the pandemic should be taken into account as these will prevent us from holding the elections as we want. The risks to the life and health of people will influence the free and fair character of the elections. That’s why some of the technical moments in the organization of elections should be reviewed. For example, some of the countries extended the voting time so that all those who want could vote. The older persons are exposed to bigger risks and special hours can be set for them to vote. Many countries offer masks, gloves and pens or ask the voters to come with such things from home. There are also the persons who quarantine and cannot vote at polling stations. Sufficient mobile teams should be provided to cover this segment,” stated the expert.

The public debate “Elections in times of pandemic: necessity, risks, scenarios, solutions” was the 157th installment of the series “Developing political culture through public debates” that is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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