Strengthening democracy through inclusive elections

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Six of the seven people with disabilities who were accredited as electoral observers to monitor the national general elections. Photo: UNDP
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BY UNDP Solomon Islands

INCLUSIVE democratic development requires that all segments of the society, including disadvantaged groups such as the poor and the most vulnerable, have a meaningful voice in decisions affecting their well-being.

Yet, all over the world, people with disabilities are often overlooked.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 15 percent of the world’s population have a disability, with 80 percent of these persons living in developing countries.

In April 2019, the UN Development Programme in Solomon Islands through the Strengthening the Electoral Cycle in the Solomon Islands Project (SECSIP) contributed in building a bridge of inclusion in the electoral cycle.

For the first time, seven people with disabilities were accredited as electoral observers to monitor the national general election.

During the November 2020 by-elections, twelve (12) people with disabilities (PWD) were engaged as elections observers to support conduct inclusive and transparent elections.

Participation in electoral observation has a positive impact in social inclusion and is also a step forward towards a stronger democracy.

UNDP continuously supports the Electoral Office social inclusion efforts’.

This involves designing and implementing campaigns that target different age groups, that take into account gender perspective and particular groups such as electors living with a disability.

The participation of PWD as electoral observers has been a positive step and the Electoral Office will endevour to continue expanding the involvement of persons with disability throughout the electoral cycle.

Meet these election observers who help the Electoral Office conduct inclusive elections, leave no one behind, and get inspired by their stories.

Bridging the gap: why it is important to involve people with disabilities in election processes?

Elena Kelly from the Guadalcanal province, 23, was born with a physical disability on her leg.

Since her childhood, she needs the support of a crutch to walk.

She applied to be an observer and was accredited by the Electoral Office to observe the 2020 by-elections.

“At the beginning I felt a bit scared. Scared and proud because as a person with a disability conducting electoral observation, I felt that I was also representing my community, my people in an important activity.

“We have never had anything like that before, and this was exciting.”

Ms Kelly was an observer at Honiara High School, and she agrees this is a big step towards inclusive elections. She saw other persons with disabilities motivated and encouraged to come and vote, for some this was even the first time in their lifetime that they were voting.

“I was delighted when one woman came to me and said that she’s impressed and inspired by us. At that moment, I understood that by showing others how strong I am, I inspire both disable and able people to make our country better, more inclusive.”

“My main recommendation would be to prioritize the participation of people with disabilities and the elderly in election processes because involving people with disabilities helps to understand how social inclusion is key to democracy-building in the country.”

Accessibility as a big part of

successful and inclusive elections

Shadrack Timothy from Malaita province, 21, has a physical disability which requires him to use a wheelchair.

He was a member of the group of domestic observers who monitored the 2020 by-elections in Central Honiara Constituency. 

He believes that this initiative is an example of mainstreaming social inclusion in all aspects of Solomon Islands society.

“My heart belongs to people with disabilities. I know that being a part of this community gives me the responsibility to change other people’s lives, to encourage other people with disabilities to stand up, take action and raise the voice for our community.”

By empowering persons with disabilities to take their place alongside other citizens and ensuring each polling station is accessible for everyone, barriers are broken down, and equality is promoted. Having observers with disabilities conducting electoral observation at polling stations provides a valuable opportunity to reduce stereotypes.

Developing inclusive leadership

 skills for boosting democracy

Jeminah Otoa from the Malaita province, 22, was born with a physical disability on her hand. She joined the election observers’ group in 2020 by-elections and would like to participate again as an observer in future elections.

“I truly believe that our [people with disabilities] participation gave people hope and trust in our nation’s future. Not only because when they see us, they get inspired because they feel we are both ready for a new future, a more inclusive future.”

Making every voice heard from Pidgin

Hearim vois blaus evri wan

Francis Paul from the Malaita province, 30, lives with hearing impairments.

He was accredited to join the observers’ group in the recent 2020 by-elections. 

He considers that this was a great opportunity to visualize and ‘hear’ the voices of the deaf.  

“It is crucial to take people with disabilities perspective into account before and during the election period and make it fully accessible for deaf voters through sign language.

“It is only in this way that people with hearing impairments can equally exercise their right to vote in elections and participate in the political decision-making process without discrimination.

“Taking the opportunity to serve as an election observer, I felt like how important is that political groups and government institutions provide information that is accessible to all to allow electors to make informed decisions.”

The 2020 by-elections, where people elected the members of parliament for the constituencies of Central Honiara and North East Guadalcanal, was a milestone for the people with hearing impairments.

Two deaf representatives were involved in elections’ observation, including two sign language interpreters.

“I think that involvement of people with disabilities in electoral observation is only a start that may help to realize what can be done in the future to build an inclusive country where everyone is equal.”

Nothing about us without us

Melvina Voua from Marau, the Guadalcanal province, 28, has a physical disability.

She was accredited as an electoral observer during the last year’s by-elections. Like the majority of the PWD observers, this was the first time to have this opportunity. 

“It’s crucial to involve more and more people with disabilities in democratic processes. This is empowering both the PWD and the country. We want to be seen the same way as others, and we want to be treated equally.”

Elections provide a unique opportunity to change public perceptions about the abilities of persons with disabilities.

The active and visible involvement of PWD also assists to lay the foundation for their engagement in their communities enhancing their social and economic integration.

  • The UNDP Strengthening the Electoral Cycle in the Solomon Islands Project (SECSIP) supports the national authorities to conduct credible and inclusive electoral processes with the overarching objective of strengthening the link between elections and other key governance processes and institutions contributing to social cohesion and the development of a pluralistic society. This project has received financial assistance from the Australian Government, the European Union and UNDP.

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