Since its launching in December 2013, the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) is seen as a way to fight political corruptions, particularly to eliminate election frauds, promote the level of democracy, and to fulfill good governance in our country.
With this in mind, we are confronted to ask ourselves two important questions: first, whether the BVR system would increase or decrease, more on the latter, the voter turnout (total percentage of voters who cast their ballots over total number of registered voters) in the upcoming election, and second, if the BVR is really the answer to fight political corruption in the country successfully, or at least.
Unlike some democratic countries such as the Sub-Saharan African countries where the prevalence of studying voters turnout are high, there are no in-depth studies on the voters turnout in the country, even if there is it is very limited to help us determine and make credible predictions about how it can influence the democratic process of our country. Furthermore, despite what others may think of, that voters turnout is a trivial issue, it is not, due to two simple reasons. First, voters turnout is a very crucial subject because by and large, this is the only time when majority of the citizens engage in a political participation. Second, it helps political scientists to analyze the electoral behaviors of voters during democratic elections in order to measure the strength of democracy in terms of electoral voting.
There are two main reasons why it is inevitable that we should expect a decline of voters turnout in this year’s general election. First, we’re still unclear if the BVR system also includes Biometric Voting Machines (BVM), that is, the actual process of fingerprints verification during the day of the election. Whether or not BVM will be used, BVR system can be still unreliable. For example, in an interview with Radio New Zealand, Terence Wood (a well-known PhD student who is doing political researches in Pacific politics) stated that the problem is not only about the voters going to regional centers (where BVR are located) to register, but also when conducting the election logistically. On the contrary, despite the S.I.E.C chief electoral officer Polycarp Hanunu’s positive remarks on the Australia Network News on March 14, 2014, there was a slight implication that the BVR system has already experienced some technological problems. Second, within the time frame of registration and the day of election, there could be changes on a voter’s fingerprints, or other facial features. These changes, albeit trivial, could still encourage voting frauds, even if only the BVM systems will be in used. Furthermore, based on the UNEOCT 2010 election reports, there are 876 polling stations in the country, which means the BVR had to replace these polling stations. This by itself is a major concern because if one or two polling stations are will be left then there will be a decrease of number of votes in those areas.
Having said this, it boils down to a robust prediction that we should expect a decline of voters turnout in this year’s general election.
In relation to the second question, provided if the BVR system is successful, that is, not only if the voter turnout is higher than what this seems article predicts, but the election is deem as free and fair or democratic, then we have to ask ourselves if this will reduce political corruptions in the country. A democratic (free and fair, ‘one ballot one vote’, etc. ) election is only a subset of reducing political corruptions, because if we take to heart the reports from the Forum Team (an observer group consisted of both international and local observes funded by the United Nation Election Observers Coordination Team-UNEOCT) and the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission (SIEC) on the 2010 general election as a ‘free and fair’ election, then it is evident that there are numerous allegations of political corruptions between 2010-2014. Ironically, although if we have the best BVR and BVM systems in place and if it is 100% ‘free and fair’, then there’s a high chance that we would still have the same level of corruptions. This is due to how these political actors behave after the election. In other words, these exact politicians who will be voted democratically, would also be the ones to commit these frauds, mismanagements of funds, etc., evidentially, this is true in almost every democratic countries.
Therefore, I believe that our government miscalculated the cost-benefit analysis of shifting from the traditional voting system to the BVR system. If it is true that the BVR system, as reported by Radio New Zealand in December (2013), cost the country $5.5 million USD, then we better be very serious about fighting political corruptions after the general election. Otherwise, it does not make any sense to spend millions of dollars buying sophisticated voting systems that are only necessary during elections, but do less to reduce political corruptions. Albeit, $5.5 million USD is approximately 1.2% of the total U.S $459.3 million budget for last year (2013), this is a huge amount of money that could have been used for developments in other governmental sectors.
Interestingly, this question also raises another serious issue on whether or not our electoral provision is one of the reasons why we are prone or succumb to political corruptions. For example, there’s a huge ongoing debate between political scientists whether or not Election Management Bodies (EMBs) contribute to the democratic strength of a state and whether developing countries should be spending more on EMBs or other political apparatus to reduce corruption.
Needless to say, this year’s (2014) general election would be really useful to help us understand the positive correlation of our state and its electoral structure.
In conclusion, this article has its own shortfall. Providing a decisive or a complete result for a quantitative analysis, especially in any political or sociological fields, is a challenging task.
This is due to the number of reasons like the selective and control variables (political participations, rational choice of voting, electoral laws, and political parties, vote buying), and the availability of empirical data to produce a coherent and unbiased result. Of course, in addition to the shortfall, I’m constrained with time and distance; therefore, I wish only to mention these variables on the surface wherever possible as a more eclectic gesture, with the two questions above as my guiding principle.
Moreover, this is not supposed to be an analytical paper of any sorts, but merely an article for the general public to at least understand how the BVR system may cause a decline of voters turnout and the that a clean and fair election is only one subset of having a democratic government. Lastly, the government should be more strategically coherent in its campaigns to reduce political corruptions in other aspects of social and economic frameworks. Otherwise, political corruptions will continue to remain high even after this BVR so called election.
Tagio and Gudfala Day Wantoks!
Voters Turnout Prediction
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of Manu Mangalle and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.
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