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SADC develops guidelines for election observation during pandemics

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The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is developing Guidelinesfor observation of elections in the region under public health emergencies, including conditions occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected the socio-economic and political spheres of the entire globe.

The SADC Guidelines for Election Observation Under Public Health Emergencies will, address the potential risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus and other such diseases during elections, by providing elaborate mitigation measures and steps on how to manage and observe elections amidst pandemics with relative safety.

The draft guidelines were considered by the Ministerial Committee of the Organ (MCO) during its extraordinary virtual meeting held on 15th September 2020. During the meeting, the SADC Executive Secretary, Her Excellency Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax said that the impacts of the pandemic in the socio-economic and political spheres of society has created conditions that require innovative ways to sustain the region’s overall objective of fostering peace and security, and the consolidation of democracy.

Dr Tax added that 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).

In his opening remarks, Hon. Dr. Lemogang Kwape, Minister of International Affairs and Cooperation of the Republic of Botswana, and Chairperson of the MCO highlighted that the Guidelines were critical in providing modalities for safeguarding the health of SEOMs deployed to Member States holding elections; and in ensuring that the integrity of national elections was upheld despite the impact of COVID-19 and other pandemics that may emerge in future.

Elections involve large gatherings and movements of people during the pre-election, voting and post-election periods, thereby presenting complex challenges in managing public order and adherence to established health protocols during Public Health Emergencies.

The SADC region has noted that the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges on politics and governance which required the development of customised mitigation measures to address not only the COVID-specific imperatives but also more broadly, the effects of other such pandemics on the region’s efforts to consolidate democracy in line with the provisions of the SADC Treaty (1992) and the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation. Noting further, that the Region was largely unprepared to deploy Electoral Observation Missions during the COVID-19 pandemic, in June 2020 the MCO directed the SADC Secretariat to develop Guidelines to complement measures to mitigate the further spread of the disease. The Guidelines are expected to strengthen the interventions by the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation in respect of disaster preparedness, disaster risk reduction and management, and strategic responses to pandemics in line with the relevant provisions of the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation of 2001.

Noting the progress in the formulation of the guidelines for observation of elections in the region under public health emergencies, the Extraordinary MCO approved virtual engagements with stakeholders and virtual follow up for the upcoming elections in the Republic of Seychelles and the United Republic of Tanzania.