The right to health versus the right to vote. The Catalan elections called for February 14 with the third wave of the pandemic in full swing, once again put on the table the collision of fundamental rights experienced by the Basque and Galician governments last year, when they had to choose to postpone the elections from April to July .
A mirror before which the Government and the Catalan parties are now looking. The Executive is committed to setting the new date in the second half of May and the PSC is the only formation that defends maintaining the current calendar. The decision will be made tomorrow Friday.
Although the situation and knowledge about the virus was different between April last year and now, the Galician and Basque experiences seem not to have been enough to avoid a postponement in Catalonia, which is gaining more credibility every day.
Both the Government and the parties had always insisted that the final decision will respond to sanitary criteria, and the official report, delivered last Monday, shows that the peak of infections and the healthcare pressure would overlap with the campaign.
The most benign scenario for F-14 points to 3,000 new cases a day and 610 patients in the ICU, bordering on collapse. If there are no last minute changes, and according to sources from the Government, the Catalan Executive will defend the postponement until the second half of May, no later than the first week of June.
The parties could well propose another date or accept this as good. Until now the debate has focused on the epidemiological consequences that the elections would have.
Experts such as Magda Campins, head of Epidemiology at the Vall d’Hebron Hospital or Antoni Trilla, her counterpart at the Hospital Clínic, have been insisting for days that the risk is high and they find it difficult to vote.
“If there is contact, there are contagions”, summarizes Dani López, biophysicist of the research group of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia that calculates the evolution of the virus for the Generalitat. These data show that between 100,000 and 200,000 people would be infected or confined due to being close contacts on F-14.
There is a basic problem and that is that the possibility of postponing elections that have already been called is not included in the organic law of the electoral regime, recalls Alba Nogueira, professor of administrative law at the University of Santiago de Compostela.
In these months, he regrets, the legislator did not make any changes to provide a legal basis for the situation that occurred. Hence the effort, then and now, of the autonomous governments to try to find political consensus and have some shielding.
It is the regional president who convenes, but the approval of the Central Electoral Board is necessary, which despite being the authority in the field, according to Nogueira, adds more powers that “are illegal.”
Nogueira and Braulio Gómez, director of the Deustobarometer, recall that hundreds of people with covid-19 could not vote in July because they were confined, violating a fundamental right . “It was not a guarantee process,” Gómez complains, explaining that the decision to prevent participation was administrative, without any type of judicial endorsement to justify the ban.
The Catalan Executive imposed the condition that everyone’s vote be guaranteed. Among the changes introduced, it is worth mentioning that voters could take their ballots from home, use better ventilated pavilions, suggest voting time slots for those infected or give individual protection equipment to the members of the polling stations.
The PSC has been left alone defending “confidence” in these measures and in maintaining the elections on 14-F, with the rest of the groups accusing him of acting thinking of shielding the candidacy of the Minister of Health, Salvador Illa.
Socialists only see a postponement justified if there is strict confinement. Citizens, the CUP and the commons are opposed. The acting president , Pere Aragonès, did not want to show what his proposal is, but yesterday he said that the collapse of the health system is another “red line.”
Organizing an election in Catalonia costs about ten million euros. Furthermore, postponing them may imply, as happened in Galicia and the Basque Country, that the electoral process has to be restarted, in order to protect passive suffrage rights.
It takes at least 54 days to, for example, update the electoral roll and parties will have to present their candidacies again. With the calendar in hand, this would be in the second half of May. Sure, if the pandemic situation allows it.