Distinguished Policy Fellow
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On 5 February 2020, the Department of Pacific Affairs (DPA) launched its 2019 Solomon Islands National General Elections (NGE) Observation Report at the Solomon Islands National University (SINU) in Honiara.
The report – authored by Research Fellow Dr Colin Wiltshire, Distinguished Policy Fellow James Batley, Joanne Ridolfi and Athena Rogers – provides the findings of a large-scale observation of the 2019 election. The observation team comprised 90 observers, 77 of whom were Solomon Islanders, covered almost a third of the country (15 of Solomon Islands’ 50 national constituencies). Fifteen Solomon Islands academics and researchers – many from SINU – led the constituency observation teams.
Fieldwork was carried out from 23 March to 10 April 2019 in order to comprehensively cover the pre-polling, polling and post-polling periods. The research comprised direct election observations and citizen surveys. In total, almost 5000 citizens were interviewed either before or after the election, and nearly 600 observation reports were completed.
In terms of the breath and scope of the data collected, this study represents one of the largest and most comprehensive research exercises to have been undertaken in Solomon Islands. In speaking at the launch yesterday, Dr Wiltshire said that ‘it was great to have initiated one of the largest research exercises to have taken place in Solomon Islands together with SINU.’
Overall the report finds that ‘citizens’ expectations of a free and fair election were generally met. Broadly, the election was conducted in a peaceful manner with few observed instances of election-related tension or violence before and immediately after polling.’ Other areas of key findings relate to cross-border registration and the electoral roll, women’s political participation, money politics, Constituency Development Funds and incumbency rates and changed counting procedures. The report also offers a number of recommendations in relation to the various phases of the election process.
The Speaker of Solomon Islands National Parliament and Chair of the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission, Hon. Patteson Oti, responded to the presentation of the research findings at yesterday’s launch. He said ‘the findings by the ANU Observation Report have provided us with credible, in-depth information that will help us to effectively implement our Electoral Reform Strategic Framework 2019-2023’, adding that ’[m]any of your recommendations, if not all, will be fed into the development of detailed Implementation Plans for the delivery of the Electoral Reform Strategic Framework during this election cycle.’ DPA’s James Batley said that ‘we hope that this report will be a resource not just for the SIEC, but for Solomon Islanders in general.’
Two team leaders from the observation, Florrie Alalo and Lovelyn Otoiasi, shared their reflections on their participation in the observation study at yesterday’s launch. They spoke about how their observations gave them a clear sense of the factors that influenced the outcome of the election, particularly Constituency Development Funds.
The ANU observation was jointly funded by the ANU Department of Pacific Affairs and the Australian Government through the Australian High Commission in Honiara and the Pacific Research Program. Key partners in the election observation that also contributed invaluable support in the form of staff include Solomon Islands National University, the ANU Development Policy Centre and the Lowy Institute.