SADC gears for polls during COVID-19

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Windhoek – The public health emergency caused by the new coronavirus will not stand in the way of the Southern African Development Community’s determination to ensure elections in the region are held in a free, credible and democratic manner.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made observation and monitoring before, during and after elections tougher due to restrictions on physical movements and interactions.

Since the pandemic made landfall in Africa early this year, Malawi has held a presidential election without foreign observers, managing that poll in a manner that has been lauded by the international community.

However, SADC is keen to ensure subsequent polls in the region are observed.

This year, Namibia holds local government polls in November; Tanzania has a general election in October; and Seychellois will vote for a president in December.

The regional bloc has come up with draft SADC Guidelines for Election Observation Under Public Health Emergencies.

The draft guidelines were considered by the Ministerial Committee of the Organ (MCO) on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation during its extraordinary virtual meeting on 15th September 2020.

SADC Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Tax told the MCO that the pandemic necessitated innovation for the sake of fostering peace and security, and the consolidation of democracy.

“It was important for the SADC region to consider various risks associated with every stage of the electoral cycle, in coming up with measures to safeguard the health security of citizens during elections and promote conducive environments for democratic free and fair elections to occur. The guidelines would mainly be a blue-print for the region to observe elections under new public health protocols to govern all of SADC’s Electoral Observation Missions (SEOMs),” she said. 

Dr Lemogang Kwape, Minister of International Affairs and Co-operation of Botswana and Chairperson of the MCO, highlighted that the guidelines were critical in providing modalities for safeguarding the health of SEOMs.

He said the guidelines would ensure the integrity of national elections was upheld despite the current pandemic and future emergencies.

Dr Kwape also pointed out that the guidelines were in harmony with the SADC Treaty and the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation.

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