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COVID-19 is not only influencing the daily routines, finances, and healthcare of individuals the world over. It is having a significant impact on global politics, elections, constitutions, governmental views on nationalism, and personal rights. The way governments respond to the crisis will have lasting, far-reaching ramifications that could be crucial to both the ongoing fight against the pandemic and to any subsequent recovery. Specifically, international political strategist Aron Shaviv notes that COVID-19’s effects will be felt most acutely in terms of the timing, technology, and constitutional crises associated with elections.
COVID-19’s Effect on Election Timing
Most incumbents are enjoying a rise in approval ratings across the board, regardless of how they have managed the outbreak. Due to this fact, incumbents have an incentive to capitalize on their gains as soon as possible. In other words, it is in their best interests to run for reelection before the full damage of the crisis is realized. “The smart ones will aim to cash in early and attempt to convert their heightened popularity to electoral gains in as short a time frame as possible, both in terms of timing (as early as possible) and duration (as short as possible),” Shaviv writes. “Most importantly, they will have to stand for reelection before the full brunt of the economic downturn will be felt.”
The two standout examples of this are illustrated by Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. According to an Ipsos poll, Vučić has a 92% rating, 12% more than the poll conducted pre-crisis. He has called for snap elections at the end of Jun
e 2020. As for Moon Jae-in, his pre-pandemic approval ratings were at 39% after two years in office, but by the end of March, his ratings shot up to 52.5%. The parliamentary elections held in April ended with a landslide victory for his party.
COVID-19’s Effect on Technologies Used in Elections
Traditional approaches to voting are being challenged by COVID-19 since the physical casting of ballots is now problematic. When South Korea held elections in April, officials implemented strict safety measures, including having everyone wear masks, gloves, and observe social distancing protocols. In Poland, presidential elections were called for May 10, and the ruling party was determined to see them through despite pressure from the opposition and healthcare workers. However, four days before the elections, a series of data leaks and security breaches in the electoral register forced the ruling party to postpone elections. Legislators are now working on a way to enable voting via the postal service.
As the pandemic continues with no end in sight, governments are being forced to develop remote and electronic voting solutions. It will be easier to facilitate in some countries than in others. In the United States, for example, early voting in 2016 accounted for 30% of the votes, meaning that the architecture for remote voting is already in place, but it just needs to be expanded.
The cost of creating remote voting solutions for countries that do not have a system in place will be expensive, despite being technically simple. It will also require more advance preparation since votes will need to be cast early in order to be tallied on time. This will impact how candidates pace themselves throughout their campaigns.
Shaviv predicts that the expansion of remote and digital voting will see the introduction of blockchain technology into the electoral process, since blockchain allows for anonymity, a crucial component of voting.
Constitutional Crises Resulting from COVID-19
The novel coronavirus has led to health, financial, and education crises, leaving it as no surprise that it has also led to constitutional crises around the world. To date, at least 20 countries have postponed national elections and referendums due to health concerns. Countries with laws that do not allow postponement face legal issues involving deadlines, voter registration, and more. These countries have several options: seek a reinterpretation of the constitution, declare a state of emergency, or hand over power to caretaker governments until elections can be held. Each option has its own challenges.
A Global Approach vs. A Domestic Approach
While many countries have been focusing on domestic issues surrounding how to deal with the pandemic, Philippe Dauba-Pantanacce, an economist and global geopolitical strategist, argues that this is exactly the time to think differently. “Strong global initiatives are required to trace and detect cases, fund not-for-profit scientific research into vaccines and cures, and achieve a balance between travel restrictions and necessary trade,” he wrote.
To the continent’s detriment, Europe has been unable to form a unified response to the crisis and has not been able to properly coordinate a border-control policy. Dauba-Pantanacce contends that it took too long for European countries to agree on a 30-day closure of their borders, which was finally accomplished on March 17. The UK reacted differently than most European countries and did not impose restrictions or lockdowns. It made an attempt to build up herd immunity, a move that was later shown to be ineffective for dealing with COVID-19. In order to better combat the pandemic, countries must have a more unified response.
A Threat to Democracy
COVID-19 has proven itself to be a threat in many more spheres than just health. As governments around the world have been struggling to get a handle on the virus, they have been expanding the scope of their power. Lockdowns, inquiries into personal information, and even digital tracking are all methods that governments have used or are using to “flatten the curve.”
Some may argue that such measures are necessary in order to deal with an emergency situation. Others, such as Michal Simecka, a Slovak MEP from the liberal Renew group, say that once such authority is given to the government, it can be hard to take back. “These kinds of extraordinary powers tend to be sticky,” he said. “When politicians have these powers, they might be reluctant to go back to the messy, longer democratic processes. We must be vigilant.”
Government Responses Are Crucial
As COVID-19 continues to change the everyday lives of so many individuals and to wreak havoc on economies, the impact of the crisis on global politics cannot be ignored. Political strategists like Shaviv and Dauba-Pantanacce astutely point out just how far-reaching the effects of the virus can go, whereas politicians like Simecka wisely caution against allowing governments to exert too much power. It is ultimately up to individual governments to act quickly, implement policies to contain the virus, and to uphold a stable governing body to the best of their abilities. At the same time, if governments are to focus solely on domestic policies while moving away from global cooperation, they risk stunting the efforts to manage the virus.