In this Sunday entry, columnist Mallick Mnela suggests that proceeding with the electoral process as directed by the courts in the wake of the COVID-19 is a public health danger to the citizenry. He argues that while the democratic right to vote can be delayed, flattening the curve can only be delayed to the detriment of the country’s public health as it’s guaranteed people will die. He writes that this path could lead to either electoral martyrdom or apathy. In the end, COVID-19 would have defeated our democracy, something unlikely to occur if caution and taking heed of public health advice can be prioritised without regard for political inclination.
It still appears like a dream. But its reality beginning to sink in. The COVID-19 is finally home. Unwelcome. Yet it’s in our midst.
What remains critical is adhering to the principles: stay at home. Maintain social distance. Wash your hands with soap and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer as frequently as possible if you’re busy handling stuff. If you’re feeling sickly with a fever, sour throat, a cough and a running nose, isolate yourself and reach out to medical help without endangering anyone.
Following through on this advice will make sure Malawi has the least number of cases and will help the country return to normalcy sooner than later. Imagine how it would be like if Malawi would turn into the epicenter- isolated from the rest of the world. That would be catastrophic.
Meanwhile, only two family compounds are on lockdown – one in Area 9 in Lilongwe and another one in Mpingwe, Limbe in Blantyre. This is welcome. But any further spread would prompt a large scale lockdown thereby causing untold misery for the majority who depend on a daily wage for daily sustenance.
While we are at it, the voter registration has started. During a press briefing held in Lilongwe on Saturday, I couldn’t help but interject the minister of health Jappie Mhango to ask him about his role in containment of the COVID-19. Is the country seriously considering to proceed with the polls in the wake of the pandemic?
He was evasive in his response. I pressed on. Still, the response was politically warped.
My brother in the profession Suzgo Chitete came to my rescue to press for an answer. Fortunately, Principle Secretary in the ministry Dr. Dan Namarika came to the minister’s rescue. He explained that he had personally written a paper cautioning against the decision to proceed along such a trajectory.
Dr. Namarika said in the report, he talked about the right to life, right to health and political rights need to be defined within the context of the COVID-19. He stated that at a time Malawi is anticipating an unprecedented public health crisis, it would be prudent to suspend the idea for the election in the interest of protecting the citizenry.
He did not stop there. He argued that about 4,500 are in self-quarantine. These citizens will be deprived of their right to vote. And, even if allowed to do so, they would endanger the lives of electoral workers and the larger population in general.
This makes sense. The Kuunika Mathematical Model of prevalence of the COVID-19 cautions that as many as 50,000 could die of the disease in Malawi if prevention measures are not deployed timely and enforced seriously.
There are ways to prevent a crisis of public health from becoming a crisis of democracy. Because of the sensitivity of the elections issue judging on the protracted battle for the last 9 months, one can understand why President Peter Mutharika may be avoiding this issue for now.
As someone with vested interest in the elections (and the delay!), it would somewhat sound political. But someone needs to say it. And all whom it may concern should equally extend the debate, feeding in as diverse opinions as possible. Fast.
We are facing a challenge that our economy cannot fight. We have watched bigger economies literally coming to their knees in matter of days.
These are very difficult days. We cannot stand on the podium to preach social distancing yet, out of our proclivity for political correctness, prioritize fulfillment of tenets of democracy.
We can honour our democracy by fulfilling the citizens’ right to vote. However, it is a fallacy to imagine that our leaders’ duty to ensure the holding of free and fair elections should be done at the cost of disruption of attempts to flatten the curve.
Our democracy will not be a good democracy if it seeks to aggravate a public-health crisis that threatens to kill citizens.
I ask those that disagree with my view: would you rather we die of COVID-19 because of our right to vote?
As a person with a passionate for life, I do declare outright apathy to a notion of democracy that endangers my life. I am afraid, I wouldn’t be comfortable to vote in the fresh elections especially now that COVID-19 could be out there. I don’t know who could infect who. Actually, it could be me infecting others.
If there are several hundreds harbouring such apathetic views and we know 4,500 of potential voters are in quarantine, would the elections held now have their legitimacy to be free and fair?
Remember, the fresh elections were ordered by the courts. It’s not like further delaying the polls will contravene the Constitution. There has to be a way both government and the opposition must approach the courts to redefine the parameters of the fresh elections in the wake of the COVID-19.
The judges want our democracy to thrive. But I am certain they wouldn’t want the beneficiaries of such a democracy to do so at the expense of their own lives or that of their loved ones.
Alternatively, let the authorities ensure that the electoral process proceed but have to ensure that the principles of isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings are factored to ensure no one is left behind.
Leaving some behind is impossible. I doubt the applicability of the latter proposal. Perhaps it would have being ideal if we had the capacity for e-Voting. Given our precarious situation, we can’t have COVID-19 and an election at the same time. It’s a recipe for disaster!
I pity those that would be in isolation or in quarantine at the time of the electoral process will be in motion. They will be less citizens of a system that purports to be championing the interests of a majority. I also pity cowards of the COVID-19 like myself, who would prefer the preservation of a COVID-19 free Malawi that thrives to perfect its democracy sometime later in the not-so-distant future, Insha Allah!