Registration chaos at Saint Barnabas Cathedral as Solomon Islands Electoral Commission extends hours

IN a surprising turn of events on Friday last week, the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission (SIEC) found itself in a chaotic situation as they extended the voter registration hours at the Saint Barnabas Cathedral in Central Honiara.

The decision to prolong registration led to a tense standoff with frustrated citizens, who accused the SIEC of altering the schedule after the 5 pm deadline.

Chief Electoral Officer, Jasper Highwood Anisi, clarified that the official policy stipulates registration concluding at 5 pm.

However, he emphasized that there is room for flexibility based on the situation’s context.

Anisi denied any political influence behind the decision to extend the registration hours and asserted the importance of ensuring that eligible Solomon Islanders are included in the electoral roll.

“It’s registration day, and we want eligible Solomon Islanders to be on the Electoral roll. To have a voice in the election, you must be on the roll. If you’re not on the roll, you cannot vote,” Anisi stated.

Despite the policy, the Cathedral registration center witnessed an influx of approximately 300 eligible voters from the Malaita Outer Islands settlement at Mamana Water. These individuals were unable to travel to their respective constituencies for registration and thus requested an out-of-constituency registration center in Honiara and Auki.

However, Anisi revealed that the Electoral Commission had previously decided against creating out-of-constituency registration centers to maintain the integrity of constituency-based registration. This decision was intended to discourage cross-border registration. Even the request from the Caucus to open out-of-constituency voting booths for students in Honiara was turned down by the Commission.

Consequently, many individuals rushed to Saint Barnabas Cathedral to register at the last minute.

Anisi explained the challenges faced by the registration center, stating, “On our record since registration began, the fastest rate we could process registrants in a day is 180-200 people, and that’s for the quickest cases. If processing is slower, it’s around 150-180 people a day. So when 300 people showed up, we had to mobilize extra staff.”

As the clock neared 5 pm, Anisi received reports of more people still waiting in line for registration. He made several visits to the center throughout the day to assess the situation. “I saw 200 people still in line at 5 pm. So, as they were already there, we decided to add three additional data officers to speed up the process,” Anisi said.

However, as time passed, tensions flared, with some individuals reportedly associated with prospective candidates expressing frustration. Concerned for the safety of his staff, Anisi took a decisive step. “If we had closed down at 5 pm, those waiting in line would have protested. It was going smoothly until it became tense. Worried about my staff’s safety, I instructed the Police Officer of the Central Police Station to close the registration at around 10 pm,” he added.

Anisi concluded by announcing that the final registration list would be released on January 14, 2024. The extended hours and the commotion at Saint Barnabas Cathedral serve as a stark reminder of the challenges faced by the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission as it strives to ensure a fair and inclusive electoral process in the upcoming elections.

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