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Much longer delay unlikely regarding conducting elections

7 May 2020 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Social distancing, wearing face masks and the use of hand sanitisers form the basis of these guidelines covering the entire gamut of the electoral process  (AFP)

 

Amidst arguments being hurled back and forth regarding the possibility of conducting the General Elections on June 20, the Election Commission and the health authorities have initiated steps to work out modalities to take polls in conformity with health precautions despite the COVID-19 crisis.

 
The political parties have embroiled themselves in a debate on the possibility of conducting the polls on June 20 as announced by the Election Commission. The matter has even been taken before court by interested parties. In the real sense of the word, it is a debate driven by pure political motivations though the language used in the process has carefully been selected to give the impression that it is done in the greater interest of society. 


The governing party is all for concluding the elections as soon as possible whereas the opposition wants the process be deferred to an indefinite date. Both sides undeniably have political interests more than anything else in firming up their positions in this respect. 


Be that as it may, the Election Commission’s latest move in evolving health guidelines clearly indicates that it is keen on conducting polls despite the coronavirus threat without keeping things in suspense for an indefinite time. The Commission has obviously taken such a stand because it cannot wait long till COVID- 19 is totally eradicated, a task possible only after the development of a vaccine. 


Now, the Commission has declared June 20 as the day of polling. As of now, it is difficult to see whether it is possible to conduct polls on that day. The country is yet to return to normal despite the outbreak of COVID-19 being restricted to a few identified clusters. But, the commission appears to be thinking that the elections cannot be postponed for an indefinite period, albeit the inability to complete the task on June 20.


If not for June 20, the next best option is to have the elections on another day with safety precautions. The postponement of the elections for the second time may happen. Even if it happens, it won’t be for a longer period after June 20. The Commission may be acting quite fast to work out health guidelines before deciding on re-fixing a fresh date if needed. 


Already, a couple of meetings have taken place between the officials of the Election Commission and the 
health sector. 


The health officials submitted a draft containing basic principles to be adhered to in the conduct of the process amid the corona threat.  Social distancing, wearing face masks and the use of hand sanitisers form the basis of these guidelines covering the entire gamut of the electoral process. When turning up at polling stations, people should stand in queues with one metre apart from each other. Officials to be deployed for election related duties should also follow the same social distancing guidelines.


Voters are requested to bring their own pen to mark ballot papers to avoid getting infected by the use of a common pen provided by the election authorities otherwise. Voters tend to touch the tables on which ballot boxes are placed when marking their ballots. This leaves scope for the coronavirus to transmit from person to person. 


As a result, the initial draft, handed over to the election authorities, suggests the spread of a paper on tables. After each voter casts his or her ballot, this particular paper serving as the table cloth should be replaced with a fresh one. Or else, the same table cloth can be recycled after disinfecting. Or else, voters should be provided with basic facilities for hand sanitising when coming out of their respective polling stations. With regard to the conducting of election rallies, the political parties in the fray are encouraged to have pocket meetings with social distancing instead of mega public rallies. 

 

The Election Commission’s latest move in evolving health guidelines clearly indicates that it is keen on conducting polls despite the coronavirus threat (AFP)

 

Now, the Commission has declared June 20 as the day of polling

Voters are requested to bring their own pen to mark ballot papers

The commission will, however, meet on May 12 to take stock of things and decide on the elections

 

These are preliminary recommendations. Depending on the COVID-19 situation in the country, the Election Commission will decide how strictly these measures should be applied during the electoral process that involves a whole lot of administrative and logistical operations. According to Commission’s chairman Mahinda Deshapriya, at least five weeks are needed to conclude the elections. If it is to take polls by June 20, the Commission will have to start work next week on wards. The candidates in the fray should be assigned preferential numbers at least by May 15 to start propaganda activities. If the  elections cannot be concluded on June 20 given the country’s situation, the commission should declare a separate date. And, it should be a date falling 14 days after June 20 in terms of the law governing the parliamentary elections. In that sense, July 4 is the nearest date available for the Commission for taking polls if the elections are to be postponed for the second time.


The commission will, however, meet on May 12 to take stock of things and decide on the elections. Also, the country will resume economic and other normal activities on May 11. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in his meeting, with the secretaries to the respective ministries, discussed relaxation on some curbs on public life and to prop up the industries damaged by the pandemic. Normalisation, if not for any sudden, unexpected spike of COVID  -19 cases, will take place after that. Then, it will facilitate the   Election Commission in deciding on the day of polling. 


The coronavirus has threatened the electoral process not only in Sri Lanka, but also in some other countries such as Poland . In Poland , the government is planning to conduct polls on May 10 despite the opposition asking for a delay.


The elections were conducted in South Korea amid the coronavirus threat. The presidential elections are scheduled to be held in November in the United States no matter how serious the pandemic is over there.

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