An Epic Journey Ahead: 2019-2020

Voter Education: An important aspect of electioneering.

As of 22nd January 2020, the life of the current legislature will come to an end but national elections cannot be held before the 22nd of February 2020 but must be held before the 22nd of March 2020.

This is according to the election rules governing national elections. The clock is ticking as we move past the first quarter of 2019.

This year will be a very challenging year in the political arena. The government has embarked on political reforms and at the same time the Public Service Commission is embarking on public service reforms.

Reform is an avenue for change and change is always challenging. This has raised eyebrows as some commentators questioned as to whether it is logical and legal for national institutions to be involved in such initiatives.

If there are national policy initiatives, these institutions have a role to play and be proactive to adhere to the changing policy directives given by the government and it may be any government. Some have also echoed the outlook that Government services will diminish over time due to the current public service reform.

The Electoral Office also has the role to provide information to the public in relation to the administration and management of elections. And it is one of the roles that have been overlooked for years until 2010 to 2012 when people began to hear more about the importance of voter education to educate and empower the people on their selection and nomination of candidates. So voter education is of essence. Therefore, it is only right for the electoral office to be involved and this includes other stakeholders who have a role to play in this national initiative.

However, just recent as last week, we have witnessed the appointment of new OICs in all or most of the machinery of government, the departments. Wouldn’t that jeopardized the provision of service delivery to the people especially in this time we hear a lot about decentralization and the slogan “Bringing Service Delivery Closer to the People.

One of the rationale behind these political reforms is not just to control floor crossing and increase the standard of representation but it would indirectly enable help representatives to bring services and development closer to the people by having a stable government for the next four years.

One possible option in increasing the standard of representation in both the Parliament and the Provincial Councils is to amend the Election rules to enable citizens all over Vanuatu to have the option whether to vote in the Constituency of current residency or to voter to the constituency of Origin. This would enable a majority decision on who can or should be the representative. It should be noted that representation is simply giving authority to someone to be able to speak and negotiate on your behalf and on behalf of the community.

Having said that, note that the 4th of June 2019 has been earmarked as the day the people of Vanuatu should decide as to whether they accept these proposals or they would reject these proposals. Then we have the national elections in March 2020. These are enormous tasks ahead of the Government and the people of this nation to tackle in 2019.

The taskforce will divide into two groups, one to the South and one to the North soon to consult the people and also to provide awareness on the intended bills and changes to the Constitution. There are also other partners who are willing to assist the Government and the Electoral Office to ensure that people are aware of these changes before June 4 2019.

It is also important that INGOs with good governance programs such as Oxfam should embrace this opportunity to assist in disseminating awareness through their networks throughout the islands. It is an opportunity for Public/NGO Partnership to implement national policy. It is eminent that in a country like Vanuatu, the government needs the support of everyone to ensure that these initiatives are fulfilled. Not only is to provide awareness but also a part of voter awareness and voter education-giving important information to voters to be able to a make a judgment on June 4th 2019.

The Electoral Commission and the Electoral Office are major stakeholders in these major tasks especially the proposed regulatory framework for political parties. Without a Principal Electoral Officer in office who is also the Secretary to the Taskforce and the authorised legal administrator and manager of national elections, there is an administrative matter that the Public Service Commission must consider and it may be soon. More so, it must be soon.

There are also other issues that the Electoral Office should address as a matter of urgency and definitely, needs strong leadership and support by the people. One of those issue is the absentee voters from Ambae who have chosen to settle in other islands, not on their free choice but due to disaster. The three (3) months residency rule may not be the answer because their exodus out of say North and South Ambae was not a personal decision. The views of the people concerned should be considered when deciding where they be registered for the 2020 elections.

When the Prime Minister introduced the Bill in 2018, his comments were very clear. This was an introduction and appealed to Members of Parliament to go back to their respective Constituencies and consult the people on these proposed changes. There have been no updates on the call by the Prime minister. The only constituency in which consultations (awareness) are taking place is Port Vila. And Port Vila has five (5) members of Parliament. It is yet to see if other Members of Parliament in Port Vila will do the same.

This reiterates the call by the Head of State who proposed an avenue whereby the Government and the Opposition can reconcile under an Independent Vanuatu Constitutional and Law Reform Commission to facilitate Constitutional reform and law reform as well for the wellbeing of the people of Vanuatu.

Having said that, the onus is on the people of Vanuatu to have a sense of ownership and responsibility to take on board this epic journey with the Government and the Opposition. The government is giving the people this opportunity to have a say in the legislation as well as well as to say yes or no during the referendum. What is need of the people is to share their views on the proposed regulatory framework on political parties as well as share their views by engaging in the referendum. This is the first time a referendum will be called by the Government since 1980. The journey was not easy and it will never be easy. So the people of Vanuatu should embrace this opportunity for the benefit of the future generations.

There is no much time for bystanders to stand aside and watch, but for citizens to embrace these initiatives and move forward as a nation.

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