My alma mater, UG Law School just ended a webinar. For the benefit of those who wanted to join but couldn’t, here is a summary of my contribution.
The mandate of the President and Vice President automatically terminate, by operation of law, after the four-year mandate, i.e January 6, 2021. The Constitution does not allow for an extension of their mandate except through elections. It is automatic. There are no exceptions, not even war or state of emergency.
Now, what happens after their tenure has expired is uncharted territory, meaning, it is a minefield for legal and judicial gymnastics. It becomes a matter of opinions. Now, you have to ask yourself, do you want the rule of law, or do you want “the rule of Lawyers”, as H Kwasi Prempeh puts it?
Now, know that human beings are not angels, so you cannot expect to create a minefield for legal and judicial gymnastics and hope that it turns out exactly as you want it to. It may or it may not. Again, uncharted territory.
Which is your best case scenario and which is your worst case scenario?
My view is this: We must rally round our country and our democracy at this point. Yes, we do not have a perfect democracy, but so many people sacrificed for what we have now. Others paid for it with their lives. So in spite of our differences, lets hold what we have – our country and our democracy.
What do I think?
We know the Covid-19 protocols. So it is neither impossible nor impractical to have elections while observing these protocols and keeping our people safe. A few quick suggestions:
1. We must prepare for worst case scenario – that the pandemic may not be over or may have worsened.
2. We must rally round our country in spite of our differences with one aim – have our elections.
3. All democracies are faced with the same Covid-19 problem, so we can see how others are preparing, and modify according to our own unique circumstances with one aim: hold the elections, and ensure that election 2020 is free, fair, accessible, and secure.
4. This is time the EC can start building consensus and eliminate unnecessary friction where this can be done without and affecting its job
5. Maintain the old register and revise same. Time, logistics, numbers etc are the key determining factors. So let’s not start comparing apples and oranges.
6. Do limited registration – a lot of the people who will be subject to limited registration are likely to be first time voters. A significant number of these first time voters are computer babies who have mobile phones. See how to work with the NIA, Passport office and any other state institutions who have biometric data of people and make provision for online registration where feasible. I am no IT person, so I leave this to our talented IT citizens to see how this can be done.
7. Polling stations must be open for those who cannot have access to online registration. So we must discuss how to make polling stations open and safe for voters and election workers alike, and they should take steps to guard against long lines and mass confusion.
8. Polling places should be equipped with soap, water, and drying materials and an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, etc. Get the Health professionals involved on how to do this.
9. Modify polling place siting decisions to account for Covid-19, etc
10. Plan for vulnerable communities and disabilities
11. Sanitize polling stations to prevent transmission of the virus. This to be led by health protocols
12. Have election month
13. Aggressive public education
14. EC to look into its CIs to see if it needs to pass a CI to cater for the election in the event the pandemic is not over.
15. Expand polling stations
16. The Courts to be ready to deal expeditiously with election related disputes
17. Add your own in the comment section
Conclusion: Everyone has had to change plans and make adjustments on the account of the pandemic. EC must do same to ensure it carries out its sacred constitutional mandate. This is where all sectors come together to work together to deliver a common result – free, fair, accessible elections in spite of Covid-19.
Clara Beeri Kasser-Tee is Managing Partner, Kasser Law Firm and Lecturer at GIMPA.