BY ALEX DADAMU
CHAIRMAN of the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission (SIEC) and Speaker of the National Parliament, His Right Honorable, Patterson Oti has expressed his gratitude to the Australian National University (ANU) for the 2019 Solomon Islands National General Election (NGE) Observation Report stating that the findings of the report will help implement the Electoral Reform Strategic Framework 2019-2023.
Speaking during the launch of the ANU 2019 National General Election (NGE) Observation Report on wed 5th February, Mr. Oti said that he had no doubts that the findings of the Report have provided the commission with credible and in-depth information.
“We know that we were given a new Electoral Act, barely 6 months before April 3, 2019, National General Election, and we need to substantially lift our performance to successfully carry out our mandate provided by the Constitution and the Electoral Act 2018.
“I have no shred of doubts that the findings of the ANU Observation Report have provided us with credible and in-depth information that will help us to effectively implement our Electoral Reform Strategic Framework 2019-2023,” Mr. Oti expressed.
The Electoral Chair said that the commission is most gratified for this new approach of strengthening election and democratic governance in the Solomon Islands and hopefully other democratic countries in the Pacific.
Mr. Oti in the meantime revealed that Solomon Islands has formalized the establishment of the Association of Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Election Management Bodies (EMB) in November 2019 with its secretariat based out of the MSG Secretariat in Port Vila, Vanuatu.
“I would like to strongly recommend that your project of conducting election observation the way you have done for the Solomon Islands should be aligned to the MSG EMBs group for optimal cross-learning and sharing of experiences in the execution of certain electoral reform initiatives,” he said.
The 2019 Observation Report revealed that the Office of the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission (SIEC) conducted elections following the passage of a new Electoral Act in 2018.
“The main reforms and regulations associated with the new Act 1 that came into effect for the 2019 election were: changed procedures around the registration of voters and the process of counting votes; changes to the candidate nomination process and increases to campaign budgets; more severe penalties for electoral offences; and the imposition of a 24-hour campaign blackout immediately prior to election day.
“The SIEC was tasked with implementing these new provisions in a short amount of time ahead of the 2019 election. They also faced substantial administrative challenges, which included delays with receiving allocated budgets and understaffing at head office. At the same time, the election attracted widespread media coverage on the movement of voters between constituencies and overall increases in the voter roll. It is within this context that the Australian National University (ANU) conducted observational research and analysis for the 2019 election,” the reported stated.
The ANU, through the Department of Pacific Affairs (DPA), conducted a large-scale observation of the election comprising 90 observers, 77 of whom were Solomon Islanders. The observation covered almost a third of the country (15 of Solomon Islands’ 50 national constituencies).
Fieldwork was carried out from 23 March to 10 April 2019 in order to comprehensively cover the pre-polling, polling and post-polling periods.
The research comprised direct election observations and citizen surveys. In total, almost 5000 citizens were interviewed either before or after the election, and nearly 600 observation reports were completed. In terms of the breadth and scope of the data collected, this study represents one of the largest and most comprehensive research exercises to have been undertaken in the Solomon Islands.