By Gary Hatigeva
WITH its passage in parliament last week, the government together with the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission (SIEC), are working to have certain sections of the act enacted to be used in the upcoming 2019 National General Elections (NGE).
This was revealed by the SIEC Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Mose Saitala, during his meeting with the local media last week.
Amongst those revealed are the provision for a campaign period, pre-polling for officials who will be on duty during election, provision allowing electors to register and vote in constituencies other constituencies if they fulfil the definition of an ordinary residence in the new act.
Otherwise, most of the included sections to be enacted are administration matters, which will deal with how the electoral commission is operated including powers and functions of certain heads within the institute, and conduct of election.
According to his presentation on the changes and additional sections made in the new electoral act, the new Commission requires a Chairperson to be an eminent person appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the JLSC.
The commission will now have four members that include the Chairperson, two members plus the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), who based on the new act, does not have voting right when the Commission makes decision.
Others include the status of a candidate, whom according to the new act, must be a registered voter in order to be a candidate to contest election for the National Parliament.
Nomination fee to be a candidate is $5,000 – non-refundable, and Filing of nomination must now be done in person because their (candidates) facial photo will be taken when filing nomination
Since independence, candidates were allowed to maximise their spending up to $50,000 but parliament has passed for all campaign expenses be increased to $500,000, which went down well with most members who agreed that costs involved in all aspects of preparing and movement have also increased, and the amount, though small, some said, but at least it is reasonable for now.
A few amendments were passed for the election ballot paper, and that will include candidate’s name, facial photo, symbol and the square box where the voter will tick to indicate his/her choice from the candidates.
The amendments also included the status of symbols on the ballot paper, where parliament through the new act, where allocation for independent candidate will still be optional.
“No symbol will be allocated if the candidate does not want it,” the SIEC CEO added.
However, in the case of a political party candidate, it is compulsory for the political party symbol to be used alongside the candidate’s name, but the SIEC CEO explained that based on parliament’s agreements for the 2019 NGE, candidates can use another symbols, but has to be approved by their party executives.
CEO Saitala then revealed that the Commission is now working on making arrangements for persons with disabilities, and that several measure are being put in place to help disabled voters to access polling stations.
However, the Commission is working on proposals to have separate polling booths for people with special needs, which is looking to have it approved in the next house, for the 2023 national general elections.
Another area the commission said will be enacted for the 2019 National General Election is on voting hours, which has been a big concern for both candidates and voters who in many cases, denied their rights to vote, where ques or lines are turned away after closing time.
The new act maintains the original opening and closing timeframe for voting, which runs from 7am to 5pm, and parliament has amended and agreed that those already waiting in the line to vote will be allowed to vote, but has to be within the polling premises or compound.
“Nobody should join the line after 5pm.”
On the issue of announcing election results, the new act has maintained that any announcement of result of an election is still a function of the Returning Officer for individual constituencies, the announcement of result nationwide will however, be done by the Electoral Commission and not by the Governor General, as it has always been since independence, but will only be provided with the final list of winners for his assent.
A controversial provision was also inserted and approved by parliament, for the republication of final list of voters but no later than 30 days after the national election results were gazetted, and this according to officials, will indicate who actually cast their votes.
Based on this, the SIEC CEO assured that with the new measure used on the status of the ballot paper, no candidates or officials will be able to know who electors have voted for.
Another assurance in the new act was on the timeframe given to deal with petition cases from elections, which provided for the Courts to decide on any election petition within 12 months from the date the petition was filed, and this will surely ease the frustrations on petitioners, many of who their cases have been dragged on for almost a whole life span of parliament house.