By Gary Hatigeva
THE Solomon Islands Electoral Commission (SIEC) says awareness is a different form of activity compared to that of campaigning, whether it is the national or provincial elections, but warned that that campaigns must be done within the legal timeframe as stated in the new act.
Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of SIEC, Moses Saitala explained this during a press conference held at the Commission’s Headquarter on Thursday last week.
This also comes following reports of such activities is said to be on the rise, in Honiara and in constituencies throughout the country.
Now that it has been passed and waiting on the Governor General to assent it, which according to Mr Saitala, should be done within this week, the legal campaign period starts after the GG’s announcement date for election and ends 24 hours before the election day.
Based on the CEO’s explanation, intending candidates are expected to highlight the importance of getting electors to vote, why they needed to vote and how they can vote and other related areas, and this according to officials, is very much playing the role on behalf of the SIEC.
That according to CEO Saitala is what awareness should be about and not trying to influence or force electors to vote for one particular candidate, and added that the two terms must not be mixed up.
Saitala further added that there are certain candidates who are actually campaigning under the guise of awareness talks.
He said to hold awareness talks is not a problem, however, the nature of the awareness program is always the case that indicates obvious campaigning, and that according to the SIEC CEO, has to stop.
“If someone knows that they are already doing that, and you are acting on behalf of an intending candidate or you are an intending candidate, I think you should stop,” he said.
“Raising awareness is different; raising awareness is about helping voters to access voting services during the registration period or election.”
He then stressed that talking strategies and plans including agenda for campaigning is not wrong, but it has to be within a candidate’s team of campaigners and managers, not with the public.
He further explained that everything highlighted are in breach of the new electoral act and anyone caught breaching them will pay heavy penalties, some of which will go as high as $50,000.
The SIEC CEO warned that the law not only applies to candidates, but so as agents and other players of candidates who will or have tried to lure support and votes for their masters especially, outside of the legal campaign period.
Mr Saitala however urged that if people have any complaints regarding candidates whom they think are carrying out campaigns in the name of awareness or are actually campaigning, could be a fact for investigation.
“From now on if anybody complains about this and they can substantiate that, it will be a fact for investigation,” he said.
Saitala said the Electoral Commission will rely heavily on the support and assistance of the Solomon Islands public, especially the eligible voters, in dealing with matters that might temper with certain phases of the Registration Process.