In the recent Vanuatu national elections, Dr Andrina Thomas stood for the rural electorate of Espiritu Santo. In this article, which was originally published on the DevPolicy blog, she offers some reflections to Elise Howard.
In the 2020 Vanuatu elections, 18 women campaigned and none of them got through again, just as in 2012 and 2016. I think the blockage is vote buying and candidates having no money for sponsorship and campaigning. We also need to work better at capturing votes. Support for women to run for elections needs to move out of workshops in lavish hotels in Port Vila and instead get down to the constituencies to encourage the grassroots to resist bribery and vote for women.
I want to say to the young women of Vanuatu, do not be discouraged! If we fail the first time we need to keep trying and believing in ourselves. The meaning of FAIL is First Attempt In Learning. Therefore, we can’t stop now just because there is still corruption and rampant vote buying in Vanuatu. Vanuatu defeated its fundamental principles of independence by selling passports, which is our identity, and selling land, which is our mother, because of money. It’s our civic duty to continue to preach good governance, and hopefully one day when we have more ethical people in power, better management, leadership, and governance will happen in Vanuatu.
Political parties and vote buying
In my small village of Matantas in Big Bay in the rural island of Espiritu Santo, the 150 people who were registered voters had to choose between 12 different political parties. For those voters to make their choice at the polling station, they are thinking of the people who paid them, who bought and gave them bags of rice, bags of kava, made promises for road contracts, and people who gave them money. It’s very difficult for someone like me to go in and say: “Look I’m not going to bribe you, but I’m going to come and tell you why I want you to vote for me because I have ethics and integrity. If I go into Parliament tomorrow, I will make sure I will not misuse your constituency development funds and I will report back to you how these funds were used”. But it’s difficult to compete with rampant bribery and corruption which is how men have always been voted into Vanuatu’s Parliament.
In Vanuatu our voters are handed a booklet of ballot cards when they go to vote. Their vote is supposed to be secret. When they go into a voting booth, the voter picks out the card for their candidate and puts this in the ballot box. For voters who aren’t literate, they are picking out a face from a photo on the card. In this election, political parties kept the voting cards – they were putting money in and returning the cards with money inside, a thousand vatu, and then getting people to vote for them. After the election the parties check whether any of their votes are missing. There was one incident when one husband went and beat up his partner with a stick and then asked her who she voted for, her response was that she couldn’t find the card for that person, so she took another one and put it in the envelope. The other problem is literacy. When people don’t know how to read, the only thing they can identify is pictures. In one instance on Malekula, a candidate only had his name on the card but no pictures. So, he was highly disadvantaged and now we have to ask, why did the picture not come out? This is something the Electoral Commission will have to look at.
Political parties and gender equality
The big political parties come with a lot of money and there’s no chance to compete against them. The smaller parties, who campaign transparently, are not going to dish out money. It is difficult to get the sponsorship that the older and bigger parties have because there are limited sponsors in Vanuatu.
Despite a lot of awareness around gender equality, when women are actually nominated, they are not nominated in their own right. Political parties will make a woman stand with another man; she is like a token. The parties say yes, we understand there should be gender equality but when it comes to vote casting, it’s usually the men that get the highest vote. So that’s why the women said look, we’ve tried. That’s the reason why the Vanuatu National Council of Women created the Leleon Vanua Democratic Party, a woman-led party on 15 May 2018. Access to funding is problematic which makes it hard to field contestants as our fundraising strategies were not sufficient compared to the bigger parties. We didn’t field any contestants in 2020, but we will do so in 2024. We want future leaders with good ethics and integrity standards.
The next strategy is undertaking advocacy work for my community by spending time educating people and answering their questions. I don’t just do good governance educational work, I also do financial literacy training. I’ll be helping the Mamas who are market vendors, and other Mamas with their small businesses, on how to save and manage their business properly and improve their small businesses to prosper. There are 3,000 market vendors. If all these women actually rallied behind me, I would have gotten elected, but the problem is they don’t know me personally. I need to come down to their level, get them to trust me, and maybe I will do better in 2024.
Support for women to run for elections – what do we need?
International donors have run many programs to support women to run for elections. The aid funding usually benefits the INGO groups. They run lots of meetings, always with the same people, in expensive hotels rather than reaching out to the grassroots. Internal assessments are done, but not a lot of work is done with communities externally to sensitise them and encourage them to vote for women. Gender equality means going down to the communities to convince both men and women to vote for women.
This article first appeared on www.devpolicy.org
It’s election campaign time in Vanuatu where women candidates will try their luck once more to outpoll their male counterparts and end the ‘zero women in parliament’ drought with hopes for a place in Parliament.
The Vanuatu Electoral Commission on Tuesday announced the names of eligible candidates to run for the 2020 election. Of the 234 total candidates, 223 are men and 11 are female candidates.
The number of female candidates could increase in the coming days once the ineligible candidates fix their outstanding debts with various government departments. They have 72 hours to do that under the election laws of Vanuatu.
In 2016, ten women contested the national election. None made it into the national Parliament.
Of the 11 female candidates declared by the Electoral Commission yesterday, seven are rallying under different political parties while four are contesting as Independents.
Anne Pakoa, who will be running as an Independent for one of the four Port Vila constituency seats believes women prefer to run as Independents for various reasons.
“Personally, I think political Parties do not accept them, secondly parties’ policies are not agreeable to the candidate and in particular women, they must pass some crazy male-based criteria to be accepted into a male-dominated party.
“It takes a lot to be a leader in a small island developing state like Vanuatu where we are culturally and spiritually strong,” she said.
Pakoa believes women must go the extra mile to prove themselves worthy to run for office.
The poor representation of women in Vanuatu parliament is a continuing trend. Since Independence, only five women have been elected into parliament, the most recent in 2008.
With only 11 women declared eligible to run for the election during the first announcement on Tuesday, the slow response from government departments to the Electoral commission on the candidates’ eligibility is also causing delays and doubts for many candidates.
One of the prominent women leaders whose name was not read out during the declaration of eligible candidates, Dr. Andrina Kl Thomas, said she has already settled her outstanding fee of Vt 9000 (approximately FJD$167) and is ready to start her campaign at her constituency on the Island of Santo very soon.
“We have to give it a go and I will continue to influence, educate and advocate for the adoption of good governance ethics and integrity standards aimed at improving institutional performances.”
While women in Vanuatu continue to struggle to make it into the national parliament, there have been some positive developments in the representation of women in higher government positions and in the private sector.
Prior to the launching of the Vanuatu election campaign on Tuesday, a panel discussion in Port Vila hosted by the Vanuatu Dialogue Live Team considered the theme ‘the rise of women does not mean the fall of men’.
The Vanuatu election campaign is now ongoing and will end at midnight on March 16 ahead of polling day on March 19.
A final official declaration of eligible candidates will be announced this coming Friday.
Preliminary results are in for Nauru’s elections, and it appears President Baron Waqa has lost his seat.
Nauruans went to the polls today and preliminary results are in for all but one electorate.
Also to miss out are sitting MP Riddel Akua, former President Ludwig Scotty and former Foreign Minister Dr Kieren Keke.
Opposition member Matthew Batsiua, who was also a former foreign and health minister before becoming embroiled in a battle with Waqa’s government over his exupulsion from parliament, ran a close fourth in the Boe constituency, behind Waqa.
Yaren consistuency will be represented by the only two women elected so far, Charmaine Scotty and Isabella Dageago.
The new President will be decided amongst the successful candidates.
Results from the final Ubenide constituency are believed to be imminent. Justice Minister David Adeang is amongst the 12 candidates contesting there.
Elected to parliament so far are:
By Anish Chand
Former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka has said he will continue from where he left off in 1997 to ensure a constitution like the one his government enacted in 1997.
In a speech at University of Fiji's School of Law on Tuesday this week, the SODELPA Leader said he remained confident and hopeful that “our country will return to genuine democracy and constitutional legality and legitimacy."
He also outlined what his vision was for Fiji.
“In the event SODELPA, the party that I have been entrusted to lead, wins the majority number of seats in parliament in the 2018 general elections, I shall resume the work that Hon Jai Ram Reddy and I started in the 1997 constitution. And this is to develop in full consultation with the people of Fiji, and with an all-parties consensus decision in parliament for a review of the 2013 Fiji constitution,” he said.
"The purpose of such a review will be ensure that the constitution genuinely reflects the wishes and the aspirations of “We the people of Fiji.”
He also elaborated why he was opposed to the usage of “Fijian” as the common name.
“For an indigenous iTaukei, to be called a “Fijian” means much more than being a citizen of Fiji. It means being registered in the iVola ni Kawa Bula (VKB) (Fijian registry) as a member of a customary landowning mataqali (clan). It is for this reason, that it has been very hard for many iTaukei to understand the Bainimarama regime’s rationale for unilaterally appropriating the name “Fijian” for use as the common name of all Fiji citizens,” he said.
THE burning question from April 2018 to October 2018 will be: when will Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama dissolve parliament to pave the way for the 2018 general election?
According to Fiji’s 2013 constitution, parliament can be dissolved anytime between 3 years 6 months of the last parliament sitting to the day the first time parliament sat 4 years ago.
After the 2014 elections, parliament sat for the first time on 6 October 2014, which gives a window of 6 April 2018 to 6 October 2018, between which time the PM can dissolve parliament.
If it is dissolved on 6 April and writ of elections issued on the same day, general election will be held 44 days later. Nominations are to be filed within 14 days after the writ and elections to be held after 30 days.
Likewise, if parliament is dissolved on 6 October, add 44 days after that for Fijians to go the polls.
No doubt the 2018 elections will be the mother of all elections.
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