The Bill for the Electoral Act No. of 2023 was passed unanimously in Parliament yesterday the 11th of December 2023, in Port Vila.

Presented by the former Minister of Internal Affairs, current Minister of Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Utilities (MIPU), Rick Tchamako Mahe, this Bill provides for the preparation and conduction of elections for the National Parliament, Provincial Government Council, and Municipal Council.

This Electoral Act harmonises and integrate together the existing legal and regulatory basis for the preparation and conduct of National, Provincial, and Municipal election in Vanuatu which is based on several laws that are complicated and outdated, according to a review conducted in 2020.

These are Representation of the People Act [CAP 146] that provides for Parliamentary elections. The Electoral provisions for Municipal Councils in the Municipalities Act [CAP 126], and Provincial Government Councils in the Decentralisation Act [CAP 230].

The key elements of the Bill includes strengthening the independence of the Electoral Commission and the Vanuatu Electoral Office, which will become the operational arm of the Commission.

It ensures that at least one member of the Electoral Commission will be a woman; it also provides for reserved seats for women in municipal council constituencies;

In terms of vacant seats, it is provided in the proposed law that as a general rule it be filled by the ‘runner up candidate’ from the last election, however, by-elections will still be held if there is no suitable runner up.

A Voter Register will replace the electoral rolls. The Electoral Commission and Vanuatu Electoral Office will no longer be responsible for collecting information for “registration of electors in the field”, but rather for the “establishment and maintenance of the Voter Register” relying on information from the new Civil Register.

The law further provides that there will be a single ballot paper with all candidates on it for each constituency. This is a cost saving measure to replace the current ballot paper structure with booklets of ballots per candidate.

It also produces special measures for polling for internally displaced persons resulting from natural disasters within flexible timeframes set by the Electoral Commission.

The law introduces basic campaign financing disclosure provisions for candidates to improve oversight of campaign contributions and expenditures in order to provide for greater transparency and accountability.

Another key element of the law is that it provides for special voting measures for certain voters to cover polling outside their allocated polling stations, including possible future electronic voting options, an element developed catering for those who are outside of country such as seasonal workers to exercise their constitutional rights.

Amongst other important key elements, the law also introduces an expanded range of electoral offences together with increased penalties.

Scheduled to come into effect upon the Minister’s appointed date, Minister Mahe underscored the Act’s supplementary role in fortifying the administration of the concurrently passed Political Parties Registration Act of 2023.

Vanuatu’s leap in electoral reform reflects a concerted effort towards ensuring fair, transparent, and efficient democratic processes, setting the stage for the upcoming electoral cycles.