Holding the elections or postponing them due to the incidence of the coronavirus is a decision that, before Catalonia, many other countries have had to face. In the first wave of infections, between March and June of last year, the vast majority of states chose to suspend them and change them from day to day. The closest case was the regional ones in Galicia and the Basque Country. Then, the covid-19, unknown and with a high mortality rate, was the argument for postponing some fifty elections, many of which have ended up being held in the middle of the second wave of the virus, starting in September. In fact, the situation has changed radically and in the last four months at least 64 countries have chosen to carry out up to 75 electoral processes.
In September elections were held in the German lands of North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony and Brandenburg; in Italy the referendum was voted, which had been postponed on May 29; in October Lithuania held the legislative; in November it was the United States that elected president; Ghana held general elections in December, and in January, for example, presidential elections have been held in Kyrgyzstan.
But not everywhere they have been so clear. Despite having been one of the world examples in the fight against covid in the first wave, New Zealand postponed the presidential elections that were to be held on September 19 due to the effect of the pandemic. He placed them a month later, on October 17, and Jacinta Ardem revalidated the position of prime minister without problems. Brazil also postponed the state ones from the beginning of October until the end of November, despite the fact that in the country the virus has not been much less controlled at any time, and Bolivia did the same with its generals, who went from September 6 to October 18. Paraguay and Hong Kong have preferred to move to 2021 those that were planned for the final part of 2020.
In Africa there are examples of all kinds. Zimbabwe is another of the countries that has postponed the parliamentary elections scheduled for December due to the increase in infections, which in January have not been mitigated. This Wednesday the Ugandans will vote, who have maintained the presidential elections in which the candidate, Bobi Wine, tries to overthrow the eternal Yoweri Museveni. In total, there are five cases of deferral in America, four in Africa, three in Oceania and Asia and only one in Europe, despite the fact that this has many nuances.
The European example
So far the only European case in which the postponement has been opted for in this second wave is that of Bosnia, which passed the local elections from October 4 to November 15. Now, the coronavirus was not the direct cause, but the lack of funding: the Electoral Commission requested the postponement to give the government room to provide the necessary resources to cover the 4 million euros that the elections cost. The behavior of the covid, in fact, did not help to understand that decision – criticized by opposition leaders – because, curiously, after a stable September, with less than 10,000 active cases in the country, the peak of infections arrived in mid-October with almost 35,000 and the incidence of the pandemic remained around this figure until election day. It was possible to vote with rules of social distancing and a mandatory mask for all voters, who, in addition, had to take their temperature before entering the schools and wash their hands with hydroalcoholic gel. Unlike Catalonia, Bosnian electoral law did allow mobile ballot boxes to be moved to the houses of confined people to guarantee everyone’s right to vote.
It is difficult to determine whether or not elections can contribute to increasing contagion taking into account, on the one hand, protection measures and, on the other, the limitation of rallies and electoral events. In the case of Italy, for example, the constitutional referendum was held on September 20. That day 1,500 new infections and 15 deaths were registered. Two weeks later – the approximate estimate during which the disease can manifest itself – daily cases had increased to 2,500, but the peak of the second wave was registered on November 13 with more than 40,000 cases. In Italy, voting was done with a mask, everyone’s temperature was taken, and safety and hygiene distances were required in the hands. And it was also allowed to collect the vote at the home of infected or quarantined people.
The excuse that lasts since 2015
The pandemic has also become an excuse, or at least a not very credible argument, that some leaders have used to postpone elections. The case of Chad is one of the paradigmatic ones. The legislative sessions that were to be held last December have been moved to October, with open criticism from the opposition. The problem is that it is not the first time, nor the second, nor the third that happens. The elections have been postponed for one issue or another since 2015.
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