Tackling COVID-19’s threats on democracy: an informed response

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By Fabio Bargiacchi

As the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has put the world on a standstill, world governments and institutions have faced some unprecedented challenges. On the medical and economic fronts first of all, but also on the democratic and institutional ones.

Together with its impact on health systems and economies, the COVID-19 crisis has borne lesser known long- and short-term consequences for elections, democracy, and countries’ security, all of which are at the spearhead of the European Centre for Electoral Support’s (ECES) action around the world.

In 2020, more than 70 national elections were scheduled to take place around the globe. However, the global pandemic has put a question mark on whether some of these elections will be held on time — if at all. As of 25 August 2020, at least 65 countries and 8 territories had decided to postpone their national and subnational elections due to the pandemic.[1]

This political vacuum has opened a Pandora’s box for a myriad of mal-intentioned actors, leaving the public arena prey to anti-democratic, unethical unregulated, and potentially violent parties.

Whilst acknowledging the gravity of this situation, ECES believes that this challenging moment can constitute an opportunity and a unique momentum for democracy and electoral support around the globe.

COVID-19 has opened the door to new opportunities for discussions and exchange between stakeholders, which have led the way to new solutions to common challenges. Most specifically, this pandemic has given ECES the space to set up a platform where partner countries, donors, beneficiaries and many other actors involved in the electoral and democratic processes can develop common expectations with respect to electoral roadmaps and how to better achieve conditions for fair and credible elections.

Additionally, the pandemic has created spaces for longer and more solid periods of capacity development electoral knowledge advancement by Electoral Management Bodies staff and other electoral stakeholders.

Although much remains uncertain, we are all learning as we go.

At ECES, we have made use of our extensive field experience and well-established network in over 90 countries to address this new conundrum, notably by developing and bringing innovative solutions to deliver support to our beneficiary countries and partners amid the health crisis, while honouring our donors’ values and requirements.

We created INNOV-ELECTIONS[2], a hybrid approach to training delivery that offers a flexible menu of training curricula, while delivering remote solutions to mitigate the challenges imposed by the confinement and teleworking working mood adopted by many institutions and organisations. Thanks to ECES long-lasting partnership with the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies (SSSA)[3], INNOV-ELECTIONS also contemplates the possibility to enrol in several modules of the prestigious online Master in Election and Public Administration (MEPA), the only advanced learning programme focusing on electoral policy and administration in the world.

Through our copyrighted strategy “European Response to Electoral Cycle Support (EURECS)”[4], we have strived to offer the European Union, its Member States, other European donors and beneficiary countries an innovative delivery mechanism for electoral and democracy assistance to implement projects and programmes that are consistent with European values and EU policies.

Aware of the pandemic’s impact on elections, conflicts, transitions and peace processes, we have ensured that this strategy be built to help prevent, mitigate and manage electoral related conflicts in line with international standards and obligations.

[1] IFES — International Foundation for Electoral Systems, “Elections Postponed Due to COVID-19”. Available at: https://www.ifes.org/sites/default/files/elections_postponed_due_to_covid-19.pdf

[2] Delivering Electoral and Democracy Support under COVID-19: ECES Preparedness and Responses: https://www.eces.eu/en/posts/eces-responses-to-covid19-28052020

[3] The Partnership between ECES and SSSA: https://www.eces.eu/en/posts/eces-sssa-on-mepa

[4] European Response to Electoral Cycle Support: https://www.eces.eu/en/eurecs-strategy

Views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.

Fabio Bargiacchi is the ideator of ECES and its co-founder, together with Abbot Apollinaire Malu Malu.

He is a member of ECES Management Board and has been serving as Executive Director of ECES Management Unit since July 2011. Over his 10 years in this position, he -together with his colleagues- has led ECES to become one of the three most important electoral assistance providers for projects funded by the EU and recognised as one of the most important actors in the field globally, along with UNDP, IDEA, IFES, NDI and IRI.

He managed to lead ECES to be TRACE[1] and ISO 9001 certified[2] for its finance and quality management, signing more than 80 contracts to implement activities in more than 50 countries mostly, but not only, in Africa and Middle East, and with funding coming mainly from the EU and its Member States. Fabio also led ECES in obtaining eight copyright certificates[3] for the innovative methodological tools developed to implement ECES strategy, called European Response to Electoral Cycle Support,[4] of which he is the main author.

Fabio has been working in the elections field since the beginning of the 1990s. From 1997 onwards, he has continuously extended his expertise in the field of electoral support at international level. In the period 1997–2004, he held a variety of posts in the field of electoral assistance and observation with the EU, the UN and the OSCE.

Fabio also developed a deep knowledge in project cycle management, particularly in the Democratic Governance field as explicitly shown by his experience working for the European Commission at the level of the Delegation of the EU in Maputo (Mozambique) from 2001 to 2003 and at the EU Headquarters (European Commission, EuropeAid) in Brussels between 2004 and 2006 as Election Specialist.

[1] Trace Certification: https://www.eces.eu/en/trace-certification

[2] ISO 9001 Certification: https://www.eces.eu/en/iso-9001

[3] ECES Copyrighted Methodologies: https://www.eces.eu/en/copyrights

[4] European Response to Electoral Cycle Support:

http://eces.eu/template/EURECS_A_European_Response_to_Electoral_Cycle_Support.pdf

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