Pan African Lawyers Union (Palu) has moved to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights in Arusha to seek advice on how to handle elections scheduled in 21 African countries, citing the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Palu, whose membership is drawn from individual lawyers and national lawyers’ associations on the continent, filed the request on June 2, and wants the court to issue rules and standards to govern elections during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Lawyers want the court to advise the African Union, African states and citizens on the legal obligations and applicable standards, whether they decide to proceed with elections that were scheduled during this period, or should they opt to postpone them.
“Elected governments will only be considered legitimate by their citizens if elections are transparent, inclusive, and credible,” said Chidi Odinkalu, a senior legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative.
“African governments must ensure the health and safety of voters during this unprecedented health emergency while also protecting the integrity of the democratic process,’’ he said.
Across the continent, 21 elections are scheduled between for this, — including 11 for the presidency or office of the prime minister — and 13 elections are scheduled for 2021.
Palu’s petition is based on the premise that while many AU member states have opted to adopt their own practices in handling elections amid the pandemic, there are growing calls for a harmonised approach that will safeguard the right to effectively participate in civic duty as enshrined in the key legal instruments of the AU and of the Regional Economic Communities.
In the region, Burundi went to polls on May 20 and Tanzania is scheduled to hold a general election in October.
In March, Guinea, Cameroon and Mali held legislative votes. In April, Mali held its second round legislative polls. And in May, Benin went ahead with local elections.
The Gambia, Nigeria, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe have all suspended sub-national elections.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to indicate that the Pan African Lawyers Union is seeking court advice on how to handle elections scheduled in 21 African countries during the Covid-19 pandemic.