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An expensive biometric voting system has succeeded in reducing the scope for widespread fraud in the Solomon Islands at the 2014 parliamentary elections.
But left unchecked, money politics may continue to be a problem in the Melanesian Island nation.
The conclusions are noted in a report by scholars from the State Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) program at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.
In the past, vote rigging and double registrations have plagued parliamentary elections in the Solomon Islands.
To address the problem, a new Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) system was introduced in 2014.
The system keeps a record of voter’s individual details, their thumb print, and a photograph. From there, voters are issued with an identification card that needs to be presented at polling booths.
“It was well received, enjoys popular support, has raised confidence in the integrity of the electoral process, and makes it difficult for voters to double vote,” says Dr Nicole Haley, Convenor of the State Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) program.
But the system was also costly. According to Haley, the 2014 Solomon Islands election was more expensive to run than elections in PNG and Afghanistan.
Despite the technology’s success in reducing scope for fraud, a proliferation of money politics was still noted, “without exception, in all constituencies.”
“Much of the money politics centred on voter registration cards, with consistent reports that individual voters were receiving 100 ($16.40) to 200 ($32.90) Solomon Islands dollars for their voter ID cards,” Haley adds.
In some instances, as much as 500 ($82.20) to 1,000 Solomon Islands dollars ($164.40) was received.
With accreditation from the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission (SIEC), and support by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) program and the Centre for Democratic Institutions (CDI) deployed 12 teams to observe the elections.
Haley was one of 15 staff members from SSGM and CDI involved in the observation.
They concluded political gifting and vote buying were particularly prevalent.
Of 2,564 citizens surveyed, 12 per cent said they received cash for their votes at an average of 765 Solomon Islands dollars per person.
Money politics was most widespread in Malaita and Honiara.
Intimidation was another problem. At 62 of 148 polling stations, campaign managers were present.
“At 13 of these, they were seen to be openly intimidating voters,” Haley says.
The November 19 election was the country’s first since an Australian-led peacekeeping operation transitioned to a police-focused mission in 2013.
It was won by third-time prime minister, Manesseh Sogavare.
Observations were undertaken in six provinces (Western, Isabel, Central, Malaita, Guadalcanal and Makira) and 12 separate constituencies, over 20 days.
Constituencies were spread across the country to ensure a national perspective.