Aside from its long-term effects on the global economy, the COVID-19 pandemic has also affected the conduct of politics in various democracies around the world. Due to health and safety concerns, governments were forced to suspend the majority of their services, which affected essential processes such as legislative hearings and elections. According to a recent study by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), two in three countries scheduled to hold elections this year have decided to postpone them. Among more than 50 countries that have proceeded to hold elections during the pandemic, nine are in Asia.
In the Philippines’ case, several members of the House of Representatives have called for the suspension of the 2022 national elections. However, top government officials have rejected the proposal, noting that politicians cannot use the pandemic as an excuse to stay in power beyond their fixed term. Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Panfilo Lacson have also questioned the proposals, emphasizing the importance of the elections to the continuity and quality of the country’s governance and democratic development.
Elections in the Philippines have always been an important component of the country’s democracy. It enables Filipino voters to choose their leaders and hold them accountable for their office performance and accomplishments. At the same time, it also allows them to demand transparency and guarantee the Philippine government’s responsiveness to the will of its people.
For these reasons, the Stratbase ADR Institute organized a virtual round table discussion with Philippine, America, and Estonian election experts and advocates to talk about the importance of inclusive and credible elections despite the pandemic. One of our main speakers, Commission on Elections Director James Jimenez, in addition to discussing their efforts to COVID-proof the elections, also reiterated the Commission’s strong stance on continuing with, what he called, 1st Presidential Elections of the pandemic era in 2022.
Filipinos have a right to health and the right to vote. Those in power should not use one to suppress the other. Instead, our political leaders should take this opportunity to call for election bodies and political parties to adopt healthy campaign and voting day policies and push for the use of innovative technology, such as trusted automated election systems, to ensure the credibility and legitimacy of our upcoming elections.
Prof. Dindo Manhit
Stratbase ADR Institute