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By Joseph Sangosanya

If the statement credited to the World Health Organization (WHO) that COVID-19 pandemic will probably stay with us for the next two years, or even longer, unless a vaccine is developed and until the vaccine can be administered is true, then, it would mean that we have to get used to our new ways and methods of doing things, different from the ways we were accustomed to doing things before.

This particularly includes our electoral processes. The registration process, the party candidacy normination, campaigns, the voting, counting, collation procedures and election tribunal matters would have to be “COVID-19 proof”, “physical distancing friendly”, health conscious, or even a little germaphobic. We might see queues with people at least, a meter apart. We might see alcohol sanitizer and other hygiene materials being among the election paraphernalia.

It will not be easy, but it can be done! We still have about five to six months from now till September 19th, 2020 for the governorship election in Edo and October 10th, 2020 for the governorship election in Ondo. The Independent National Electoral Commission will have sufficient time to prepare and explore many possible and available options. It should include out-of-the box alternatives or options outside of the usual template that we are familiar with, considering that the elections will be conducted in an unfamiliar environment.

Civil Society organizations, Organized labour Unions, and politically exposed private citizens should also pitch in by helping think of ways on how our right to political participation can be exercised while keeping ourselves safe and healthy. We can ask ourselves objective and germane questions: How should we prepare, method to vote and distribution of non and essential materials? How would campaigns look like? How should we educate the electorate and find out what the candidates stands for? How do we monitor and observe the voting, sorting, counting, and tabulation process?
Recently, South Korea showed us how to hold election under COVID-19 circumstances and unfavorable conditions last April 15. Their election was fantastic and registered a record turn out. This shows that it can be done. While of course, the situation in South Korea may be different from ours, we still have five to six months to make it work like how it worked there.

May we never allow the thinking “Public health or Democracy” to prevail. It is a false dichotomy. Public health can be protected without sacrificing our basic right as sovereigns to choose who our leaders should be. We only need to plan, transparent and accountable for, and work on, the time to start is NOW. It is going to get more difficult if we delay and take our time. It is never too early.

Our Constitution and Electoral Act stipulates the period and methods of our elections. Let us help protect our elections and democracy from being infected and a victim of COVID-19. The vaccine for this will be harder to find.

Joseph Sangosanya is the Chair of Christian Foundation for Social Justice and Equity.

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