It begins this week

THE lengthy process for the long-awaited event which occurs only once every four years has begun.

Officials engaged by the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission are scattered right across the nation’s length and breathe recording names of young people who will be casting their votes for the first time.

The 2019 National General Election (NGE) is due to be held during the last week of March. That date remains secret until December 5 this year when the Governor General Sir Frank Kabui announces that day of reckoning.

It is refreshingly encouraging to note the stance taken by the Electoral Commission after concerns about alleged vote-rigging, illegal voting and the like. The distinction which the Commission is trying to make between awareness and election-campaigning is interesting. Heavy penalties await those who knowingly cross the red line.

It reminds of the Chinatown riots of 2006. I was having coffee with a friend of more than 40 years when he received a telephone call that the mob, unhappy about the election of Hon Snyder Rini as Prime Minister, has descended on Point Cruz, leaving a trail of destruction behind.

The mob of largely young men was on their way to Chinatown.

As my friend and I looked out the window, buildings around us were going up in flame. It was frightening. There were men running around with machetes in hand slashing bags of rice, sugar and flour and emptying their contents along the road.

Members of RAMSI responded to calls for help except this. Armed members of RAMSI blocked entries to Chinatown – from the Lawson Tama end as well as from the upper Mataniko Bridge end. The destructive force inside Chinatown was a having a good time destroying whatever they laid their hands on.

What RAMSI members did not realise was that they had locked up the group destroying Chinatown inside Chinatown. Several members of the unarmed Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) managed to fan out into Chinatown, but there was little they could do.

Some of the areas the Electoral Commission has identified potential area(s) for questionable activities during the next election. Those areas would be watched closely.

By locking up Chinatown at both entrances, the troublemakers were left to their own devices. In the same way, these newly-introduced rules,(which is good by the way) do not seem to give us any real hope that the troublemakers, already locked up in the system, are being dealt with decisively by the force of the law.

So many of the concerns voters have raised over the conduct of the election remain areas for concerns.

Take for example how the election was conducted in one Constituency on the eastern seaboard of Malaita during the last election.

There are many accounts. I will use two here as examples in the hope that the Electoral Commission doubles up their supervision effort of election, particularly in Constituencies with activities designed to yield a certain outcome at the election.

In the case of the Constituency being cited here, one man voted 17 times – yes 17 times. The man simply walked to three adjoining polling stations where he cast a total of 17 votes.

But there is worse.

One MP, currently a senior government minister, allegedly printed his ballot papers prior to the election, pre-stamped and had his henchmen carry about three boxes to the Constituency.

On Election Day his men walked into the polling booth on the pre-text of preparing boxes for the election. A policeman was kept busy with mundane things outside. This was when supporters inside the polling booth pulled out the pre-stamped ballot papers and started filling their candidate’s ballot box.

This information was gleaned from individuals who actually took part in this corrupt practice. They have decided to disclose the information because the MP had failed them.

He promised to pay each one $5, 000 after winning the election. As it turned out, he won the vote but never paid the money. Now the once loyal supporters have decided to turn the table on their MP.

The Electoral Commission ought to take a special interest in this.

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