Polls In Pandemic

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The argument for putting off civic elections does not hold

IN a surprising decision the State Election Commission has postponed the general elections to the 11 municipal councils by another three months. The SEC has also postponed the polls to the Corporation of the City of Panaji which were due this month. The elections to the 11 municipal councils were due in October but were postponed in view of the pandemic situation. They have been postponed again. The term of CCP corporators is going to end on March 12. The government had proposed elections to the CCP on February 28 along with polls to the other councils. According to the announcement made by the SEC, the elections would now be held in April. The SEC has cited the prevailing COVID-19 situation in the state as the reason for putting off the civic body elections and by-elections to panchayats. The postponement of elections took people living in the 11 council and CCP areas by surprise as they were preparing to elect new councillors.

Is the pandemic so widescale in Goa as to warrant postponement of elections to the municipal bodies? The data provided by the government authorities on a daily basis does not indicate that there was an abnormal rise in coronavirus positive cases in Goa. And it was only over a month ago that the state held elections to two Zilla Panchayats, ignoring suggestions for its postponement owing to the pandemic. The state has witnessed a consistent drop in coronavirus positive cases for more than two months now. For most Goans, life has returned to normal as can be seen from the human activities all over the state. People, including the streams of tourists, have been ignoring the guidelines issued by the authorities and despite norms not being followed Goa has not witnessed any abnormal increase in COVID-19 cases. The government and law enforcement authorities have been ignoring the violations by the citizens of the state and tourists alike with regard to the protocols to be observed in the wake of the pandemic. Yet they have chosen to put off civic elections.

Eyebrows have been raised over the delay in holding the municipal elections, with most in opposition claiming that they were deferred to allow the government to set the recruitment process in motion and complete works to show performance to help it win polls. The government had informed the SEC to hold the elections to civic bodies simultaneously in order to curtail the period of the Code of Conduct, which normally results in bringing developmental works to a halt. The SEC in deciding to defer polls apparently went by a submission of the urban development department which raised concerns about congregation of crowds during the campaign period, which could have implications on the management of COVID-19. There were no such apprehensions expressed by the government for the zilla parishad elections. It is worth noting that there are hardly any congregations during campaigning for polls to local bodies. The argument for deferring the civic elections therefore did not hold.

The postponement of elections to the civic bodies means that they would continue to be run by administrators, whose term is now expected to be beyond six months. Holding elections in April may not be appropriate for the civic bodies as new councils will have little time to deal with pre-monsoon works. And single administrators might not be able to cope with daily administration and looking after developmental works at the same time. Developmental works are best carried out by elected representatives and they should be elected at the earliest. The government and the SEC should do a rethink on holding civic elections sooner than later. Much like the rest of the country, the state would not be come out of COVID situation in the next few weeks or months, so elections need not be put off indefinitely. When elections to the Bihar Assembly, which saw participation of lakhs of people in rallies and campaigns could be held without there being any abnormal increase in coronavirus cases, why should Goa postpone civic elections, especially when the pandemic situation is under control and there is vaccination drive going on too.