By Gary Hatigeva
PARLIAMENT has on Thursday completed all debates into the Electoral Bill 2018 and has voted for it to be committed down to the Committee of the Whole House for thorough scrutiny.
With over 100 pages and around 12 Parts, the Bill accompanies the Constitutional Amendment Electoral Reform Bill (Act), which was passed on Wednesday, and was in doubt after opposition and independent groups vowed to vote against because of certain amendments it initially proposed.
Disagreements came from the group over certain sections within the proposals, which most members from the other side of the house thought were irrelevant and have no local contexts, making the bill to appear premature in almost all its aspects.
Others thought the changes proposed will weaken the intentions of establishing institutions like the Political Parties Commission that was established with hopes, to bring political stability and good governance.
Disagreements on that was in relation to intentions noted in the bill for the merger of the Political Parties Commission and the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission, and the creation of a new Commissioner’s post, Commissioner of Elections, that was designed to manage all affairs of elections in the country.
All these turmoil had forced a number of suspensions and adjournments to the proceedings and deliberations into the bill, where several meetings were held based on suggestions and recommendations for thorough discussions amongst the three groups, over both the Constitutional Amendment Electoral Reform Bill and the Electoral Bill.
The meetings have actually worked and the dust settled as all parties agreed to include recommendations and support both bills.
Today, parliament is expected to resolve into the committee of the whole house to thoroughly begin its proceedings into bill, and the collaborative approach taken have received positive feedbacks from all benches of the house, which gives hope for its passage.
The Electoral Bill according to its objectives aims to, repeal and replace the National Parliament Electoral Provision Act (Cap 87), at same time improve the registration system of electors through regular reviews of the register, out of constituency registration and registration of persons between the ages of 17 and 18, in preparations for an election.
The bill also looks to further regulate nomination process of candidates, with proposals to increase the nomination fees for candidates, to clarify the nomination process and other related areas, including processes into voting and importantly, ensuring arrangements are in place to help people with special needs express their rights to vote.
It also aims to ensure there is a comprehensive range of electoral offences with appropriate penalties, which according to many who contributed during the debate session on its general principles, gives hope for fairness, transparent and clean elections, which many are confident, will lead to good governance and sustainable development for the country.
Many supported the bill indicating excitements over what they have described to be timely and acceptable changes especially, to the changing nature of the country’s political arena.
The MP for Gizo-Kolombangara, Lanelle Tanaganda who was the last to debate the bill, pointed out in her speech that the amendments in the highlighted in the bill gives a new face to the electoral laws, with its inclusive nature as it will also display a whole new dimension in the political culture of Solomon Islands.
The MP for East Guadalcanal and Minister of Mines, Bradley Tovosia in his intervention statement also pointed out that the bill contains the fairness of what is needed to be done in the election system of the country.
Many from both the government and opposition groups including the independent bench however stressed that while the bill may not be the solution to all the problems continued to be highlighted before, during and after elections, but at least it gives hope for the beginning of clear indications and direction towards better election future for the country.