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Political Parties Registration Bill passes with 42 votes

By Glenda Willie Dec 12, 2023

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By Glenda Willie

Heads of different political parties have expressed gratitude to the Minster of Internal Affairs to finally have the Political Parties Registration Bill presented and debated in parliament yesterday.

The bill passed with 42 votes.

Minister of Internal Affairs, Johnny Koanapo, presented the bill yesterday morning, acknowledging that while it might not be the best solution to political instability, it represents a significant step forward.

He noted that political instability has been ongoing for over 20 years, and this bill establishes a platform to start off the journey toward stability for the benefit of the people.

Member of Parliament (MP) for Tanna, Bob Loughman, also serving as the Leader of the Opposition and President of the Vanua’aku Pati (VP), noted that citizens in civil society also play a role in political instability. He expressed a desire to see these groups actively contributing to political stability in the future.

President of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and MP for Malekula, Sato Kilman, stressed that it is sad to see that it would take the citizens to push the MPs to debate the bill although the bill had been around for quite awhile.

Prime Minister (PM) Charlot Salwai acknowledged former governments and individual leaders for initiating the journey toward this bill. He also commended the leaders of each political party for understanding and supporting the bill. Salwai expressed gratitude to the Head of State for intervention, enabling the discussion of this important bill.

All leaders acknowledged that amendments can be made as needed along the way. The realisation of this law, expected to take several months before a referendum, is viewed as a starting point to strengthening the political environment.

MP for Port Vila, Ishmael Kalsakau highlighted the potential of the bill to empower independent candidates. He cautioned against repeating mistakes seen in the Solomon Islands and stressed the need to address issues related to independent candidates, particularly in terms of affiliation and movement between parties.

The bill specifies that it does not apply to independent candidates. However, the constitutional amendment bill proposes that within a certain period, an independent candidate must declare affiliation, or risk losing their seat. The leaders emphasised the importance of addressing gaps not covered by the bill, and Koanapo noted that if the constitutional amendment passes, a referendum will occur three months later, with a standing committee addressing any remaining gaps.

Minister Koanapo also pointed out that as leaders fulfill their roles, it is equally important for voters to responsibly exercise their right to vote.

The Political Parties Registration Bill will regulate political parties and ensure transparent and accountable governance. The Act applies specifically to political parties intending to participate in elections under the Electoral Act No. of 2023.

Under the proposed law, the Principal Electoral Officer (PEO), responsible for overseeing registration and administration, is granted powers to investigate and ensure compliance with the Act. The officer may delegate certain responsibilities to Electoral Office staff, but the independence of the Principal Electoral Officer is emphasised.

To be registered as a political party, organisations must apply to the PEO, providing information such as party name, logo, policy platform, constitution, and office bearers’ names. The PEO must ensure compliance with specific criteria, including rules for names and logos, a national scope for policy platforms, and gender representation within the executive.

The Electoral Commission may register a political party based on the PEO’s recommendation. The registered parties are listed in a publicly accessible register. Parties failing to meet the Act’s requirements or providing false information may face deregistration.

Deregistration involves a notice period, during which parties can rectify issues or provide reasons against deregistration. The Commission publishes the names of deregistered parties in the Gazette.

In case of deregistration, MPs, Municipal Council, or Provincial Government Council affiliated with the political party must affiliate with another party within six months or become independent members.

The Act also grants the Commission authority to create regulations to enhance the Act’s effectiveness. Charitable associations registered as political parties before the Act’s commencement have a 12-month transition period to comply.

It will commence upon the Minister’s order, which is subject to constitutional amendments empowering Parliament to regulate political party formation. The Act aims to strengthen Vanuatu’s political landscape by promoting integrity, good governance, and financial transparency among political parties.

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