The spread of the Coronavirus pandemic is expanding across the world. Together with its known impact on health systems and international economy, its long and short-term consequences on elections, democracy, and security are less evident at the time being. However, International IDEA has indicated in its published paper ‘Global overview of COVID-19: Impact on elections’ that more than 70 elections were scheduled to take place in 2020 but COVID-19 is putting into question whether some of these elections will happen on time or at all. Until 15 April 2020, at least 50 countries and territories across the globe have decided to postpone national and subnational elections due to COVID-19.
At regional, national and local levels, important discussions are taking place on key issues mainly related to risks and implications of postponing elections, alternative solutions when holding elections, the importance of inclusive decision-making processes, and the safeguard of democracy. Nevertheless, much remains uncertain.
Africa’s 2020 elections were clustered in West Africa (with 6 elections), the Horn (Ethiopia and Somalia), and the Great Lakes (Burundi and Tanzania). As noted by the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies, 10 of the 12 elections are scheduled for the latter of the year. Underscoring the stakes at play, most African elections in 2020 will be held in countries confronting or emerging from conflict, including Burkina Faso, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Niger, and Somalia. These countries face crises sparked from previous exclusive power structures, militant Islamist insurgencies, and the challenges of building inclusive national visions from polarized polities. To these security-related challenges, one must add the COVID-19 pandemic, and the fact that ongoing election processes might be eroded by discussions on the legitimacy to postpone, or even, to hold an election.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic created spaces for longer and more solid periods of electoral knowledge advancement by election management bodies staff and other electoral stakeholders.