Supporting a peaceful election in the Solomon Islands

A team of six Australia Assists deployees have provided support to the Solomon Islands Government to conduct a peaceful National General Election in April 2019, working closely with local election officials across five of the country’s largest provinces.

Through the Australian Government’s Australia Assists program, RedR Australia deployed six election specialists to the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission (SIEC) from January to April. Spread across five provinces, Malaita, Western, Guadalcanal, Makira, and Honiara City, the team operated under Honiara-based Team Leader Gail.

Working closely alongside provincial SIEC staff, Gail and the team supported operational planning, logistics, communications, and training, all while ensuring that election processes and timelines were strictly followed.

“Conducting elections in the Pacific region is a challenging task and so can be providing support. It’s critical that support officers have the appropriate skills, while also being resilient and able to work independently with limited support. The Australia Assists team selected for this deployment proved themselves to be more than up to the task,” said Gail.

Solomon Islands Electoral Commission Team Leader, Gail Owen, at a training workshop for local Election Officials.

Through working with Australia Assists team members, provincial Election Officers gained the skills and confidence to deliver a professional election.

“Polling was conducted peacefully across the country by well-trained teams, and communities have voted at well-resourced polling stations where procedures were adhered to and polling staff acted professionally,” said Gail.

“Counting was conducted transparently and results were credible. Returning Officers and Counting Officials conducted themselves professionally and dealt calmly with Counting Agent’s complaints and issues. The support provided by the team contributed to the conduct of a peaceful and credible election.”

Women from the Solomon Islands Electoral Office (SIEO) at a pre-polling station for the 2019 Election. Photo credit: Solomon Islands Electoral Commission

A key success of the Australia Assists team was their instrumental role in the delivery of Solomon Islands’ first ever pre-poll. This process gave hundreds of electoral staff and police officers the opportunity to exercise their right to vote and also facilitate the country’s national election. Previously, these groups were unable to participate in both.

As one Election Manager explained, ”Recently I’ve seen more people become interested and engaged in elections. If they have to choose between not being able to work on elections and not being able to vote, they will choose the vote. That’s why the pre-poll was so important here.”

The legislative requirement for a pre-poll came about as a result of changes to the Electoral Act late in 2018, however SIEC staff did not yet have the processes in place or capacity to undertake this. The Australia Assists team were able to facilitate the process and support provincial offices to conduct the pre-poll.

Australia Assists SIEC Team, with RedR Australia Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning (MEAL) Manager, Kylie Harrington (left) and Pacific Regional Manager, Heidi Winder (right).

The Australia Assists team was RedR Australia’s first deployment directly supporting elections, and feedback from a range of in-country stakeholders described the deployment as a success, including SIEC staff, the Australian High Commission in Solomon Islands, Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) representatives, and Honiara-based ADF and AFP staff.

“I give credit to [Australia Assists Election Specialists] for our success, especially for the pre-polling. We protected the process and it was near perfect. The public appreciate how the election was conducted smoothly and peacefully. People have confidence in the system. There’s no room for tampering now… we’re very confident in the process,” said a provincial Election Manager from SIEC.

Read RedR Australia’s latest Impact and Learning report on Australia Assists’ Support to the 2019 Solomon Islands National General Election here.