Parliamentary elections in North Macedonia have been postponed as a result of the Covid-19 virus. The polls were set for April 12th. The election observation mission from OSCE/ODIHR had already been withdrawn from the country.
The election was called by former Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in response to the decision by the EU not to formally open accession talks with his country. French President Macron was believed to be behind the decision to halt the process.
Parties in North Macedonia must now hammer out a deal to decide when and how the elections can be re-scheduled.
With around 70 elections scheduled to take place this year, there will be many debates as to what is right for each particular circumstance. As the US primaries show, even if the main election is not due until much later in the year, problems now can still have a major impact
A paper by International IDEA discusses the challenges faced by those trying to hold elections at this time. They cite the need to balance public (and poll worker) safety with the curtailment of democracy if elections are suspended. But even if elections are pushed through, there is a high risk that many people will not risk going to vote and these may be disproportionately from certain groups. Using new technologies (or even old tech such as postal voting) is certainly on the table, but is very expensive to implement, requires high levels of voter education and opens a much greater risk of fraud.
The UK has taken the decision to delay local and mayoral elections by a whole year. Other countries will seek to delay for a much shorter period – perhaps hoping that circumstances will allow them to proceed in the autumn. Two other options might be to bring ruling parties and opposition together in a government of national unity for the period of the outbreak or to hold elections now, but recognise that these might not be fully representative and hold a fresh election in a year’s time.