The rush to prepare for a general election has caused far too much confusion, probably more than necessary.
It leads to two conclusions:
First, a constitutional change should be considered, allowing a snap election to occur up to 90 days after dissolution. 60 days is just not long enough.
Secondly, the Electoral Commission needs significant strengthening in order to safeguard its independence as well as its preparedness.
It is deeply unfortunate that Principal Electoral Officer Charles Vatu was sidelined by illness right as things came down to the crunch. Some have suggested that the affliction was brought on by stress. It’s a poorly-kept secret that political pressure on the Electoral Office has increased considerably of late.
The twin pressures of time and politics have caused considerable confusion, resulting in far too much shakiness in a cornerstone of this democracy.
The fact that it has taken until today for the Daily Post to print a complete list of candidates is evidence of just how fraught things have become.
In the course of things, the Daily Post was accused of issuing ‘misleading’ information. Let’s set the record straight:
On Thursday evening, the Daily Post was told by the Chair of the Electoral Commission that the Minister of Internal Affairs had given instruction to the Commission and Electoral Office to sort out the candidates whose names were not included or disqualified from amongst the first Declaration of 183 candidates and whose names were broadcast nationally on Wednesday night.
The Chair also told the Daily Post on Thursday evening that a second declaration of candidates would be issued Friday evening at 8.00 pm. This information was subsequently denied by the Acting Principal Electoral Officer and characterised as ‘misleading’ on the national radio on Friday last week.
The Daily Post quoted the Electoral Commission and its reporting about the time came from the Electoral Commission itself.
As of Saturday 9 January, we have a list of 261 candidates.
In fairness to everyone, there is a cadre of dedicated, even devoted, people working round the clock to make this election happen. Finance and other departments set up shop in the Electoral Office itself, in order that candidates could find out what debts remained, clear them, and confirm their eligibility all at once.
The dedication and professionalism of the overwhelming majority of the people working to make this election possible is not to be questioned. But there have been one or two spanners thrown into the works, and that has to stop.
The bottom line is this: The integrity of our electoral processes must be defended at all costs. If we fail in this, we fail as a country.