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Vanuatu election funds falls short

Wednesday 6 January 2016 | Published in Regional

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PORT VILA – Vanuatu’s electoral office says it has been allocated US$142,000 less than what it estimates it needs to carry out this month’s snap election. The acting principal electoral officer, Joe Johnson Iati, says the office estimates the election will cost $765,000, but it has only been allocated $622,000. The election was called after the president, Baldwin Lonsdale, dissolved parliament to end weeks of political deadlock that stemmed from the jailing of 14 government MPs for corruption. Iati says the sudden announcement means that the office has had to bring forward election planning and stretch its resources. “There are a lot of challenges. Since we ran into this dissolution of parliament, we’ve had to source all the resources that we have in terms of budget and manpower and we are hoping to have everything smoothly running.” Iati says the office will try its best to run the election within its budget, but the government may be asked to provide extra if that’s not possible. The electoral office says it has received applications from 10 of the jailed former members of parliament to contest the election.

The four other convicted former MPs – including former prime minister Moana Carcasses, who spearheaded the payments – have put forward relatives or former secretaries to stand on their behalf.

But an advisor with the electoral office, Martin Tete, says any candidate who is serving a prison term is ineligible to contest the election, and nine of the applications have already been rejected.

“The electoral office has received 10 applications and we have received a note from the police with the decision of the court recently, and we have removed all the applications from those we have received so far.”

The electoral office has had to dispatch more than 20,000 new electoral cards to the island of Tanna, in the country’s south.

The distribution follows complaints that many voters lost their cards when cyclone Pam devastated much of the island last March.

With seven seats in parliament, Tanna is Vanuatu’s biggest constituency and some parties have expressed concern that many locals may be unable to vote in the snap election on January 22.

Iati said it was important that voters get their replacement cards soon.

“The offices are open now but we close down for duplicates on January 16. It is very important that people who would like to exercise their fundamental right to vote, they can always make their way out to appropriate places where they can get their duplicate card.”

Iati says more than 200,000 voters have registered for the election and the official candidates’ list will be released later this week, marking the official start of the campaign. - RNZI