The Vanuatu Electoral
 Office (VEO) has conducted a consultative workshop on a co-designed candidate training curriculum to strengthen the electoral sector.

According to the VEO, this work will see materials created by candidates, for candidates, designed to encourage diversity and inclusion in the candidates’ pool for the elections of National Parliament, Provincial Councils and Municipal Councils elections in Vanuatu.

In preparations for implementing the newly passed set of electoral bills by Parliament in December 2023, the Electoral Office is updating its training materials and making them even stronger, addressing different candidates’ experiences.

The workshop was conducted in collaboration with the United Nations (UN) Development Programme’s (UNDP) Vanuatu Electoral Environment Project (VEEP) – supported by the Government of New Zealand. Over 35 participants attended the workshop, including the only female Member of Parliament (MP) – Gloria Julia King, Councillors from Port Vila and Luganville Municipal Councils, candidates of past elections, potential future candidates, and representative of civil society.

The event began with a panel of women who have contested previous elections, starting with MP King, Deputy Leader of the Opposition. King spoke of her experience contesting as a candidate, how she received support from leaders such as chiefs and pastors, and the leaders of her political party.

“When thinking about what I wish I should have known before I contested, I wish I had a space for all women in politics and women leaders to discuss our challenges and way forward. My only voice can sometimes be drowned out and I think it would be beneficial to have more women in Parliament,” she said.

The Director of Department of Women’s Affairs, Rothina Ilo Noka, spoke of what she has learned in her years of experience at the helm of Women’s Affairs and what women candidates can do to be successful in their campaigns. Municipal Councillors Jenny Regenvanu from Port Vila and Patricia Rose Packete from Luganville spoke about their experiences contesting in elections, as well and how their unique perspectives as women impact the governance of their communities.

The participants of the workshop discussed the many challenges of contesting elections in Vanuatu ranging from the policy of reserved seats to political party loyalty. They proposed topics for the curriculum that will further efforts to ensure that elections in Vanuatu are accessible and inclusive for all, with a focus on ensuring women, people with disabilities, youth and other groups are equally represented in the electoral space.

The VEO recognises that elections benefit from diverse candidate pools. While policies like Temporary Special Measures (TSM) have increased diversity, further changes are necessary. Recent elections underscore this need; in the Luganville Municipal Elections, 21 percent of candidates were women, while in SANMA only two women contested elections in the 79-seat municipal council.

“These consultations will provide the Electoral Office with valuable insights to allocate resources that support candidates of all backgrounds in contesting elections,” Deputy Electoral Officer Gary Tavoa emphasised.

Anne-Sofie Gerhard, Chief Technical Advisor of UNDP’s Vanuatu Electoral Environment Project stated in her address: “Around the world, there are challenges in getting women onto decision-making bodies. Only around 27% of all parliamentarians around the world are women. But we also see around the world that when governing bodies are more diverse, the country tends to be wealthier, its democracy is stronger, and there are better health and education outcomes for the entire population.”

All participants received Electoral Office’s Candidate Handbook and Civic Education materials to give them more tools to be stronger potential candidates.