The head of Nauru’s newly established electoral commission has hailed the Commonwealth for strengthening the country’s democracy.
The Pacific island nation is the smallest Commonwealth member state with a population of just over 10,000.
The Electoral Commissioner, Joseph Cain, said he was grateful to the Commonwealth Secretariat for helping to ensure the Nauru Electoral Commission was up and running in time for last year’s general election.
“As a newly established independent electoral authority, with no experience and a general election around the corner, it was felt that the Commonwealth might be in a better position to assist the commission considering its wide experience and credibility in strengthening the democratic process in member countries,” he said.
Commissioner Cain was speaking at an election forum in Nauru this week, between 14-15 February, at which he said it is “imperative” that an electoral commission act “without government or outside interference”. The forum was organised in conjunction with the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.
Prior to the July 2016 election, the administering of Nauru’s elections had been the responsibility of the chief secretary to the government, a position filled through political appointment by the president.
The newly independent Electoral Commission was established in March 2016 following the passage in Nauru’s Parliament of a new Electoral Act. Responding to a request from the commission, the Commonwealth deployed an electoral expert to assist in helping it to become operational.
The Commonwealth expert was deployed from April to July 2016 to support Commissioner Cain and two deputies, who were experienced public servants but without direct experience in supervising elections.
“The electoral expert that assisted the commission throughout the preparatory stage developed the [voter] registration system that was structured specifically to automatically update the electoral roll,” the commissioner said.
The expert also helped the commission to develop a training kit for election officials, create a voter information kit, and introduce a system of using indelible ink for marking ballot papers, among other Commonwealth good practices.
Nauru’s elections on 9 July 2016 were observed by a Commonwealth Observer Mission deployed by Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland. The team, led by Anote Tong, former President of Kiribati, found that voters were able to cast their votes freely without fear or intimidation.
The observers also said the Electoral Commission “did a remarkable job” in administering the election despite the short timeframe it had to prepare. The deployment of the Commonwealth expert was considered instrumental to this success. Many stakeholders told observers that the new commission had strengthened the credibility of the electoral process.
Sarah Linton, Political Officer at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said, "The Nauru government’s decision to establish an impartial and independent electoral commission demonstrates its commitment to democracy as enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter.
“In providing technical support to this body, the Commonwealth has assisted Nauru to draw on good electoral practices and enable its citizens to exercise their inalienable right: to elect their leaders through free and fair elections."