On Friday, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that Hong Kong’s legislative elections will be postponed in light of the coronavirus outbreak. The city has seen a surge in infections in recent weeks, though recent polls suggest the pro-Beijing camp would also face a battering at the ballot box in September following a year of protest.

Democrat primary election
Photo: Studio Incendo.

In April, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association Clément Voule said in a statement that – despite the pandemic – democracy cannot be indefinitely postponed, adding that freedom of association and assembly online – as well as freedom of expression – should be ensured.

Despite this, Hong Kong is not alone in its decision. Ethiopia, Italy, the UK, Somalia and the Solomon Islands postponed local and national elections this year, whilst Spain and Syria pushed their elections forward from April to July. However, many other countries – rich and poor – managed to roll out special measures and organise polls during the Covid-19 pandemic. HKFP examines how.

France – March

The first round of France’s municipal elections took place as scheduled on March 15 but its second round was postponed from March 22 to June 28 after the country declared two months of sanitary emergency. Voters were asked to bring their own blue or black pens for hygiene reasons. Polling times were also extended in view of possible delays whilst measures were taken to avoid too voters gathering for too long. Sanitary gels were provided at entrances and exits of the stations, which were cleaned after each round of voting.

Israel – March

The legislative elections on March 2 generated a coalition government of centrist-right Likud party and liberal Blue & White party in Israel. The country saw few confirmed infections in March with the first case recorded on February 21, but it has accumulated over 70,000 confirmed cases and more than 500 deaths as of July.

Germany – March

In Bavaria, the first round of municipal elections took place on March 15, Voters were requested to comply with hygiene codes including hand sanitisation and keep a minimum distance from one another. The second round of the election on March 29 went ahead as scheduled but was conducted entirely via postal ballots. Other German states pushed their municipal elections scheduled in April and May to the earliest anticipated date in November.

South Korea – April

South Korea held its legislative elections on April 15. Multiple anti-pandemic measures were in force: voters were asked to stand a metre apart from each other and cast their ballots after using hand sanitisers and gloves. Their body temperatures were taken – those above 37.5 degree Celsius were asked to cast their vote at a special booth and patients under quarantine mailed their ballots in.

Burundi – May

Burundi held its presidential and parliamentary elections on May 20. However, according to Voice of America, many voters stood closely in long lines at polling stations whilst others failed to don face masks.

Iceland – June

Icelanders re-elected their incumbent president Gudni Johannesson with 92 per cent of the votes during the June 27 poll. There have been 1,800 confirmed cases and 10 deaths in the sparsely populated nordic country of 364,000 citizens. Light social distancing measures have been in force – shops and restaurants remain open and inbound travellers may opt for either a 14-day quarantine or taking a Covid-19 test. No special measures were enforced during the election.

Serbia – June

Serbia held its parliamentary elections on June 21 as the country recorded more than 200 deaths within three months ahead of the polls – a figure which was challenged for its accuracy, according to Euronews. Critics said they believed that a plunge in official figures of confirmed cases would enable the government to push forward with the elections, all amid allegations of vote rigging.

Mongolia – June

Mongolia held its legislative elections on June 24 when the post-communist Mongolian People’s Party won a landslide 62 out of 72 seats in the parliament. Voters were asked to wear face masks and gloves at polling stations.

Dominican Republic – July

The general elections generated a new president and dozens of senators in the Dominican Republic after the polls were postponed from May 17 to July 5. But the country soon saw a surge in the number of infections – with over 1,000 daily confirmed cases – soon after, despite voters being requested to put on face masks and sanitise their hands before casting their ballots.

Singapore – July

Singapore held its general election on July 10 to generate members of parliament. Morning hours were reserved for senior voters above the age of 65 as a means to avoid congestion at the 1,000 polling stations. Inbound citizens issued with stay-home notices, patients who displayed respiratory symptoms with medical certificates, and persons whose body temperatures were higher than 37.5 degree Celsius were asked to vote at a specially allotted voting hour from 7pm to 8pm.

Poland – July

The first round of voting for the presidential elections in Poland was postponed from May 10 to June 28. The second round of voting took place on July 12 and voters were able to opt for casting their ballots at a polling station – where they were requested to put on a face mask – or via postal ballots. Some overseas voters, however, said their ballot had arrived too late due to Covid-19. Incumbent President Andrzej Duda won the race in a near-tie – 51 per cent – with opponent Rafal Trzaskowski. The latter is currently challenging the election results, France 24 reported.

Croatia – July

On July 5, parliamentary elections took place in Croatia. The Balkans country has recorded 141 deaths and confirmed nearly 5,000 infections due to Covid-19. Balkan Insight cited a local election watchdog as saying that there was a disregard of social distancing rules and polling station staff were not wearing face masks during the poll. The country saw a drop in infection figures with strict social distancing measures during the early stages of the pandemic, but saw a surge following the relaxation of measures in mid-March.

Several other countries also have elections set for 2020. Belarus and Sri Lanka will go to the polls in August, followed by New Zealand in September with its incumbent Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – whose effort to tackle the pandemic has been internationally praised – vying for reelection. In October, Tanaznia will vote, whilst the US, Belie and Romania will hold elections in November. Ghana votes in December.

Additional reporting: Tom Grundy.

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Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.