This is an important question; however, it does not belong to Electoral Reforms but rather to the Political Reform package. A Political Reform package which included the registration of political parties was presented in Parliament a few years ago but it did not pass. In other words, electoral reform is not the place for this change because electoral reform strictly deals with electoral issues. It naturally impacts elections, but it is not directly an electoral matter, and it could compromise the electoral reform legislation.
The above issue is partly dealt with in the Members of Parliament Act and it could best be addressed in the political reform package, and it could be strengthened through political party registration instead of through the electoral reform package.
Please keep in mind that electoral reform does not solve all the political issues in the country but there are other initiatives to strengthen the democratic political nature of the country.
In the new proposed harmonised electoral Act, bribery will be an offence. The new Act will expand the range of electoral offences and the penalty levels for those offences which upon conviction, penalties will be imposed by the courts. Penalties will include fines and terms of imprisonment, or both.
Unfortunately, when bribery cases are taken to courts, it is not up to Electoral Authorities to decide or interfere with the courts, it is up to the courts to decide on the case as courts must act independently.
The above question is important. Suppose by-elections are no longer accepted as a mechanism of replacing vacant seats given that it is a very costly system to maintain and often causes voter fatigue and confusion, so what are other ways of replacing vacant seats, and what should the new mechanism be? Will same rule apply for MPs and councillors (refer Constitution)?
The Council is suggesting the runner-up mechanism preferably draw from the same party. This is an important suggestion, but to work effectively the country needs to have a strong party system. The idea that a person from the same party fills the vacant seat makes good sense. Vanuatu however has weak party systems, and many candidates are independents, so it may seem unfair to some, if for example if the second-best candidate received many more votes and has much broader support in the constituency than the candidate running from same party (if at all having several candidates running from same party). Therefore, the runner-up mechanism, drawing a candidate from the same party to fill the vacant seat is only visible and practical in an electoral system with strong party system.
In Vanuatu, the person with the second highest votes is seen to be practical because Vanuatu’s electoral system is based on two ‘majoritarian systems’ (FPTP and SNTV) which support and promote individual candidates (independents), whereas ‘Proportional representation’ supports parties. The party system in Vanuatu is weak meaning voters vote for individual candidates instead of parties. Therefore, given the situation in Vanuatu, the second person with the highest number of votes possibly make more sense for the time being.
We are therefore proposing that instead of a by-election a vacant seat be given to the candidate with the second highest votes, preferably to a candidate from the same party.
The huge political question now is to decide on whether to maintain by-election or get rid of them by replacing vacant seats through other modalities, and then alternatives can be looked at such as proposed above.
It is easy to raise the number of polling stations should the request meet the technical criteria on deciding on number of polling stations, for example the number of voters and accessibility to polling stations. This is a technical issue rather than a political issue.
A criterion was put in place to guide the electoral authority in designating polling stations. It is timely that the technical operational criteria is reviewed and updated.
This is something that can be discussed to look at the possibility of conducting different elections concurrently and whether this should be included in the new Act.
It is always possible to have it on the same date. Terms of provincial and municipal councils may need to be altered. Transition period would also be required.
The SLO has to been consulted whether it is possible legally. Having several elections concurrently will very possibly increase electoral turnout, and importantly it will facilitate the work of the electoral authorities and significantly reduce the cost of elections.
Yes, it is possible but is it desirable in Vanuatu? The Vanuatu electoral system is not TSM ‘friendly’. If we try to include all the other possible groups, it might be too much. It is a good idea and good question, but for now we are trying to concentrate on TSM for women as they represent 50% of the population.
The inclusion of marginalised groupings, for example people with disabilities, is naturally a good idea, however it will be difficult to implement, or become even become impossible to implement especially in single seat constituencies or multi-seat constituencies with only 2-3 seats should the TSM mechanism expand to accommodate disability, youth, chiefs, church and of course women.
Given the limited time these were the only questions that were asked however the councilors were informed by Chairman to call him for further clarification and questions.