Election observation during the pandemic

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Political analyst and NORCAP expert Øyvind H. Seim was supposed to be in Myanmar for the general elections this fall. But with the Covid-19 travel restrictions, election observers have to find new solutions. “It is still uncertain whether I will be able to join the team in Myanmar in time for the election", says Øyvind Hvenekilde Seim, who is used to being in the field when he is on mission for NORDEM.

As an experienced long-term election observer and political analyst, he has worked through NORDEM in countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Bosnia, Moldova, Turkey, Malawi, and Kyrgyzstan.

Right now, he was supposed to be in Myanmar observing the campaign for the general election in November. Due to covid-19 restrictions, he is working remotely instead.

“It is challenging to work from home, but it feels important to be part of this now”, Seim says.

Covid-19-restrictions can limit democracy

NORCAP's democracy and human rights experts in NORDEM (the Norwegian Resource Bank for Democracy and Human Rights) normally travel around the world to observe elections.

They ensure an international presence and make independent assessments whether the elections follow international democratic principles and obligations. In addition, they give recommendations on how to improve the election process.

But due to the pandemic, many elections are not happening as planned. Some governments have postponed or cancelled elections. NORDEM’s experts worry that in many countries, restrictions to help control the virus, are also limiting basic human rights.

“My job as an inclusion analyst is to observe how different social and ethnic groups are included in democratic processes and whether they have the same access. In this situation, it is also interesting to see how people with health concerns in high risk groups are facilitated”, Seim says.

Activities are moved online

He is working on an international election observation mission with The Carter Center, in what can be described as an innovative observation mission model. National observers in Myanmar will help the observation efforts and provide information to the team of international experts which are still predominantly working remotely, thus securing what may be the only international presence during these important elections.

In Myanmar, social distancing and restrictions on large crowds make the election campaign complicated. Seim says that the political parties are now moving many of their activities online. Therefore, The Carter Center has established a social media monitoring unit, particularly focused on Facebook.

“The situation is constantly changing, so in one way it is much more exhausting to do everything online than actually being on the ground. Our head of mission is now in the country. Next week we are planning to train up to 30 locally recruited long-term observers online”, Seim explains.

He is still hoping to be in Myanmar by November.