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Solomon Islands General Elections

17 February 2015
Summary Report of the Commonwealth Observer Group

The successful conduct of the 2014 general election demonstrated Solomon Islands’ commitment to democratic values and principles. We commend the professionalism and diligence demonstrated by the SIEC, despite some operational challenges. The Group would also like to commend the people of Solomon Islands for the way in which they engaged in the electoral process. The positive spirit that prevailed among the electorate revealed a determination for more effective parliamentary representation.

The election was inclusive and competitive. Voters were generally free to express their will. It is noteworthy that women and young people appeared unhindered in their participation in the voting process.

However, the Group notes that political representation of women remains disappointingly low. Before this election, only two women had been elected to Parliament. Measures adopted thus far to increase representation of women in Parliament have not yielded the desired result. Much stronger efforts and the adoption of innovative measures will be required to bring about lasting change.

The SIEC’s efforts to facilitate accuracy of information and transparency in its management and conduct of the polls were commendable. The competent management of election day activities represents further progress for the country in strengthening its democratic practices. However, enhanced training of election officials will ensure greater consistency in the application of procedures. We encourage the SIEC to undertake an early review of its management of this election, to better enable it to build upon lessons learned, with an aim to addressing weaknesses and reinforcing strengths.

It is essential that the SIEC put in place strategies that facilitate a focus on the full four-year electoral cycle.

The Group commends the adoption of a biometric voter registration process. The new system significantly enhanced the accuracy and credibility of the electoral process. However, it was noted that some electors were disenfranchised, particularly those that were unavailable during the registration window and those working to the support the electoral process (for example, polling officials and police officers). Continuing efforts will be required to ensure that citizens better understand the value of maintaining a credible register and exercising their right to vote.

The Group received complaints concerning some electors who were registered in constituencies with which they had no family or traditional connection. It was alleged that some candidates had sponsored the registration of these electors in return for support on election day. The SIEC will need to put in place measures to avoid registration practices that undermine the integrity of the voter register. Consideration might be given to extending the period for public display of the register, to better allow for claims and objections to be lodged.

Civic awareness and voter education are critical to ensuring an informed electorate, which is able to engage constructively in the nation’s political and electoral processes. Therefore, efforts should be made to strengthen outreach programs to better inform electors.The legal framework governing this election guarantees the freedom of assembly, association and participation. However, the Group notes that there are areas that could be strengthened to further enhance the credibility of the electoral process.

The impact and consequences of corruption on the political and electoral processes was an issue that was frequently emphasised by many of the stakeholders with whom the Group met. Endemic corruption has significant potential to undermine the foundation of a truly democratic society. The Group heard numerous concerns regarding the use of the RCDF by sitting MPs during the campaign period, which may have created an uneven playing field for the 2014 election.

The period leading up to the election of the Prime Minister, following the official declaration of results, generally referred to as the ‘second election’, was described by many stakeholders as being tainted by corrupt practices. There were numerous allegations of financial incentives being provided by both foreign and local business interests to the various political groupings. Consideration should be given to strengthening existing anti-corruption measures to deter such practices.

The Group commends the role of the RSIPF in supporting the SIEC. Police officers contributed in great measure to the security and logistical arrangements for the election. The Group was pleased to note that some of the recommendations of the 2010 Commonwealth Observer Group were accepted and implemented. In this Report, the Group has set out various recommendations. Here we bring them together for ease of reference.

Electoral Framework and Election Administration

The Group recommends that:

  • the SIEC’s statutory and regulatory framework be reviewed, with a view to enhancing its capacity to fully exercise its oversight functions in accordance with international standards;
  • the register of electors be kept under continuous review, to maintain its integrity and accuracy;
  • the impact of the PPIA on the electoral process be reviewed at an early opportunity and amendments made where necessary;
  • cases of alleged corrupt electoral practices be referred to the police for investigation in a timely manner, and that sufficient resources be provided to facilitate this process;
  • consideration should be given to strengthening the Leadership Code, and the establishment of an anti-corruption body powers to investigate allegations of corrupt election practices;
  • penalties provided for under the NPEPA for election offences be reviewed and increased to more effectively deter corrupt practices;
  • temporary special measures be adopted to guarantee seats for women in parliament, with one option being the creation of 10 provincial seats reserved for women.

Campaign and Media

The Group recommends that:

  • the regulatory framework for campaign financing be strengthened, to provide for greater transparency and accountability;
  • the current available training for journalists be further enhanced, to increase public confidence in the accuracy and integrity of the media’s coverage of future elections; and
  • provision be made for free and equal campaign-related access to public broadcasters for all candidates.

Voting, Counting and Results

The Group recommends that:

  • a review of the constituency boundaries be undertaken with a view to standardising the numbers of electors across the constituencies;
  • there be established procedures for pre-poll and out-of-constituency voting;
  • the number of electors registered to vote at a single polling station be capped at 400-500, to maximise the ability of polling officials to process electors in a timely manner;
  • the SIEC be empowered to respond appropriately in the event that a force majeure situation arises;
  • the law be amended, so that all electors who present at a polling station before 5:00pm will be able to cast their vote;
  • greater attention be paid to the selection of polling station facilities, to ensure ease of access for disabled, elderly, frail and pregnant electors;
  • the procedures for assisted voting be reviewed, to allow an elector requiring assistance to be accompanied by a person of their choice.
  • sufficient polling officials be available at each polling station to enable rotation and relief;
  • improved training of polling officials be undertaken to ensure greater consistency in the application of electoral procedures utilising, amongst other measures, audio-visual training material;
  • polling procedures be reviewed, in particular the practice of recording the voter identification number on the ballot counterfoil;
  • procedures be reviewed to ensure that effective and accountable chain of custody records are kept for all transfers of ballot boxes and other election material;
  • support be provided to civil society organisations to increase their capacity to observe future elections;
  • efforts continue to ensure that a broad program of civic awareness and voter education is implemented, in order to strengthen voter confidence in the electoral process.

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