Exclusive: AU agrees not to send polls observers to countries holding elections


African Union Headquarters in Ethiopia. Courtesy.

https://bit.ly/corona-TND

On Thursday, a virtual conference of the Permanent Representatives Committee was chaired by H.E Ambassador Xolisa Makaya who’s the South African Permanent Representative to the African Union. in that meeting, a number of important issues affecting the continent were discussed.

Among them, and very key was Africa Union’s briefing on impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on elections in Africa.

In a brief read out by H.E Amb. Minata Samate Cessouma, a copy of which TND News has since got, COVID-19 pandemic has direct impact on elections as “it presents both health emergency and humanitarian crisis which has stressed Africa’s governance, peace and development challenges”.

Amb Cessouma is a Commissioner for Political Affairs with AU.

In that perspective, the report further notes that African Union (AU) will not be sending her squads of polls observers to respective countries going to hold elections until the threat by the novel coronavirus disease is contained.

About 23 member states are scheduled to hold national elections this year 2020 with Burundi and Malawi going to polls on 20th May and July 2nd, 2020, respectively.

However, Commissioner for Political affairs opines that organizing elections in the COVID-19 pandemic context poses three overarching dilemmas: constitutional, legitimacy and financial.

“This is so because a government that continues operation after expiry of its tenure and or conducts elections during COVID-19 and registers low voter turn up would be illegitimate and unconstitutional, respectively,” she added.

In response, Ambassador Rebecca Amuge Otengo, who’s the Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the African Union (AU), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) as well as UNECA noted that the common challenges posed by COVID-19 is an inevitable bottleneck given a drastic shift in World’s social order since COVID-19 was declared global pandemic.

Ambassador Otengo who’s also Uganda’s envoy to Ethiopia and Djibouti further noted that there is need to balance the rights to elections and public health.

“It’s important that we strike a balance between the rights to vote and the rights to health. Every country presents a unique battle with COVID-19. Countries must be allowed to make a judgement call on elections regarding the prevailing circumstances of its people,” Otengo added.

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Ms Otengo called upon African Union to encourage case by case analysis and continued consultation on the surge of COVID-19 within member states to inform decisions on elections, adding that it would be unfair to conduct an election when majority of one’s population is dying.”

Her submission was supported by Chair Amb. Makaya who directed that elections are sovereign responsibilities of each member states who are at liberty to conduct so in as far as its circumstances permits.

Reactions

Following AU sanction, TND News on Friday put questions to senior politicians and a former Minister in Museveni’s government, including an NGO executive on the decision.

Asked if this is fair for African democracy and the relevance of AU polls observers, below were their reactions.

Ms Claudia Apio, the Executive Director Lira NGO Forum who is so passionate about accountability and rule of Law, said, “First of all, it’s good for us to understand why people vote. For any government to be instituted, there must be the will of the people freely and fairly expressed periodically to show the legitimacy of the government.”

“If they have decided they are not coming, we need to look at the consequences,” she added.

According to Apio, there is no divergent views in the reports of the elections observers, adding: If their decision is based on COVID-19, do they have enough finance to observe elections? “What have been their importance in observing and monitoring polls?” she asked.

Daniel Omara Atubo, a former Member of Parliament Otuke County in Otuke district, answered: “It is now globally accepted as a principle of democracy that for an election to be credible, it must be seen to be free, fair, transparent and peaceful. Those to see the credible electoral process are independent bodies such as Africa Union. Failure to allow international monitors will render the election undemocratic.”

Ishaa Otto Amiza, a political commentator and former Oyam South MP, said: “First, the African Union is a mere chart body for her membership, the Presidents that subscribe to them. Secondly, AU has no capacity to monitor elections independently to provide authoritative report on elections in Africa. Their pull-out is insignificant.”

23 African countries having elections this year – 2020. Source: Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa

Country Election Date
Burkina Faso President & National Assembly Due Nov 2020
Burundi President
National Assembly, Local, Collines Senate (indirect)
Due 20 May 2020

Due 7 Jun 2020
Cameroon National Assembly, Senate & local Due to 9 Feb 2020; postponed from Oct 2019 and late 2018
Central African Republic President 27 Dec 2020 (runoff 14 Feb 2021)
Chad National Assembly & local Due Feb 2020 postponed from late 2019
Comoros Parliamentary Due 19 Jan 2020 (runoff 23 Feb 2021)
Egypt House of Representatives Due Apr-May 2020
Ethiopia House of People’s Representatives, Regional State Councils & local House of the Federation (indirect, by Regional State Councils) Due May 2020
Gabon Senate Due Late 2020
Ghana President & National Assembly Due 7 Dec 2020
Guinea National Assembly Due 16 Feb 2020; postponed from Jan/Feb 2019
President 2020
Ivory Coast President Due 31 Oct 2020
Mali National Assembly Due May 2020; postponed from 30 Jun 2019
Namibia Regional Councils & Local, National Council (indirect by Regional Councils)

Due Nov 2020

Niger Local , President and National Assembly 1 Nov 2020
Due 27 Dec 2020 (runoff 21 Feb 2021)
Tanzania President, National Assembly, Zanzibar House of Representatives & Zanzibar President & Local Due 4 Oct 2020
Senegal Local Due Late 2020 (from December 2019)
Somalia House of the People Due Dec 2020
Somaliland (autonomous region) House of Representatives & Senate Due 2020; postponed from late 2019 and Mar 2019
Seychelles President Due Dec 2020
Sudan Presidential & National Assembly Due Feb 2020 postponed from late 2019
Togo President Due 22 Feb 2020

Holding Uganda’s 2021 general polls also seems to be in doubt due to coronavirus strike. Whereas country’s elections planner, the Electoral Commission is yet to publicly announce they are incapable of guiding and organising next general polls due to the virus surge, President Gen Yoweri Museveni gave some hints.

President Yoweri Museveni said it would be wrong to hold a presidential election due early next year if the coronavirus persists, an indication polls could be postponed for the first time.

“The problem will be having elections when the virus is still around. It will be madness for people to gather,” Museveni said, in an exclusive interview with NBS TV recently.


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