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Proposed new election system for Solomon Islands

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has moved a motion in Parliament for the House to consider the White Paper on the country’s proposed new election system.

The first White Paper on election systems was adopted in the May 2016 parliamentary sitting.

The purpose of this second White Paper are threefold:

*To provide an update on the work the Electoral Reform Taskforce has undertaken following Parliament’s consideration of the first White Paper in May 2016;

*To provide a firm recommendation on the new election system that should replace the First-Past-The-Post election system; and

* To share feedback gathered throughout the country on the issues of Women in Parliament and the introduction of an Anti-defection measure.

Prime Minister Sogavare said this second White Paper was put together following further consultations with the people, parliamentarians and political party executives after he tabled the first White Paper in May 2016.

The three major issues are the alternative Election System, Temporary Special Measure (TSM) for women to get elected into Parliament and the proposed Anti-Defection Measure for the purpose of achieving political stability.

“We have considered it appropriate to bring the second White Paper now, given that we need to enact the new National Parliament Electoral Provisions Bill by June this year.

“The drafting of the bill has commenced and therefore our views would be very helpful to the drafting of the new electoral law, especially on the issue of changing the election system.

“As the change proposed to the election system is a major change to our democratic system, my Government has considered it prudent therefore that the opinions and views of Members of Parliament should be taken into account. This is going to be the last White Paper on this issue and I am confident our views will be taken care of in the drafting of the new electoral law,” Prime Minister Sogavare said.

The Prime Minister said the Government in the first White Paper has provided evidence to showcase the shortcomings of the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP), the electoral system used since independence.

He said the criticism of the FPTP system was that it conferred a weak mandate for elected members. There is a strong desire by the people to change the election system to that of a preferential election system.

Prime Minister Sogavare said after considering all the different types of election systems in use around the world, the Electoral Reform Taskforce came up with a strong recommendation that both the Limited Preferential Voting (LPV) system and a Proportional Representation (PR) system, principally either the Parallel System or the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system should be considered for Solomon Islands.

“The White Paper in front of us today provides a comprehensive analysis of both the LPV and the PR system particularly that of the MMP system. It is quite clear from that analysis that it is more advantageous for us to adopt the LPV system. It does not necessary mean that the LPV is a better system compared to that of a MMP. In fact, it has been further recommended by the Electoral Reform Taskforce that Solomon Islands considers adopting the MMP system in the future, as a successor to the LPV system, if there is a desire to do so.

“The LPV is certainly an improvement to the FPTP system. It will allow members to be elected into Parliament by 50%+1 of the total valid votes cast. The Electoral Reform Taskforce has further recommended that in adopting the LPV all voters must be required by law to cast five preferences, ranking the candidates from the most preferred – denoted by numerical figure 1 – and so forth to the least preferred symbolised by numerical figure 5. The choice of five preferences will ensure that all members will be declared elected when they have attained 50%+1 of the valid votes cast or closest to that mark.

“Papua New Guinea is the only other country closest to us who uses the LPV election system. In PNG since the LPV was introduced after 2002, voters were required only to cast three preferences during election. The choice of three preferences in PNG was considered convenient to them because of the low literacy rate (less than 66%) for the country. Because PNG usually has long lists of candidates contesting election (up to 80), the LPV results for winning candidates is usually far below the 50%+1 mark. It hovers around 34%-36%.

“We in the Solomon Islands have a much higher literacy rate (above 80%) and we are of the view that many voters will be capable of choosing five best candidates. With the choice of five we are confident that most candidates, if not all, will be elected into this House by a strong mandate of the people.”

Elaborating on the TSM for Women, the Prime Minister said Government recognises the fact that the FPTP or any voting system from the family of ‘majoritarian’ voting systems, are the least helpful to get women to be elected into Parliament.

He said this is a finding from publications by the Inter- Parliamentary Union. Because the LPV system, a majoritarian type of election, has been recommended the Electoral Reform Task Force has considered it appropriate therefore to raise this matter during the consultation they have conducted so far.

Prime Minister Sogavare said the Electoral Reform Taskforce has consulted the people based on their best judgement that if a Temporary Special Measure (TSM) policy is implemented, it would have to be implemented on the following basis:

*There shall be 10 additional seats; the constituency for each of the 10 additional seats shall be the whole of the province (9) and Honiara City. The figure 10 of additional seats was considered a politically convenient number given that it is a win-win for all provinces as each of them and Honiara City will have one additional seat;

*The selection of women who will win these TSM seats is explained in section 4.2 and Attachment II of the White Paper. The criterion to be used in selecting the women who has won the province/Honiara City TSM seat is the Highest Ratio of ‘votes won to votes cast’ of women who contest elections in all constituencies in a province or Honiara City. This means that there is no separate election for TSM seats. There will be one General Election only for the existing 50 seats and the 10 additional TSM seats for women; and

*Since the TSM is temporary, this means that the TSM policy will have to be taken off or cancelled after 5 General Elections beginning from the General Election the TSM policy was introduced. This length of time is considered sufficient for women to prove themselves as worthy of the roles of members of Parliament expected by the people.

The Prime Minister said the TSM policy for women has been an on-going issue that has been brought to the attention of Government.

He said as argued in the White Paper one of the reasons for the failure to get women elected into Parliament is because of the election system itself or in other words, it is partly the deficiency in our democratic system that has resulted in only three women elected into Parliament since independence.

Prime Minister Sogavare said it was against this backdrop that the TSM policy has been developed by the Electoral Reform Taskforce. Surprisingly, the TSM policy has received overwhelming support so far in the consultation the Electoral Reform Taskforce is conducting.

On that note he encouraged members to speak their mind on this important matter relating to the introduction of a TSM policy.

Elaborating on the Anti-Defection Measure, the Prime Minister said the Electoral Reform Taskforce has also advocated for another anti-defection measure as provided in section 4.3 of the White Paper.

“I believe all of us in this House agree that this country desperately needs political stability. Good sustainable economic performance is possible only if we have political stability in the country. It is therefore essential that we continue to search for mechanism that will enable us to achieve political stability,” he said.

Prime Minister Sogavare said the recommendation in the White Paper is to amend Section 13(2) of the Constitution.

“Section 13 of the Constitution provides for the fundamental human right of association and assembly where everyone can enjoy that right save where there are regulations or laws to curb that right: i) in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public safety, public morality, public health; ii) for the purpose of protecting the right of others; or that iii) it imposes restrictions upon public officers,” he said.

Prime Minister Sogavare added that, “It has been recommended that political stability should be inserted into Section 13(2) as one of the public interest areas where regulation or a law can be created to limit a politician’s right to freely associate and assemble with any group she or he may want after being elected into Parliament on a political party ticket or has subsequently joined after being elected into Parliament as an independent.”

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