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The Referendum: Nec’s Colossal Blunder
Friday 2nd September 2011

The announcement by the National Elections Commission (NEC) of the results of last week Tuesday’s Referendum has placed the country into a quandary (a dilemma, predicament or fix).

Let’s begin with Proposition 4, which was by far the most critical because of the financial implications involved. It was clear from the first NEC press conference announcing the preliminary results that the most likely proposition to be approved among the four was Proposition 4. It proposed that except for the presidency, “all elections for public office shall be won by simple majority.” This was to avoid run-off elections, in case there was no clear winner in an electoral contest.

This particular proposition, according to this Observer editorial made sense to most people. The reason: everyone knows that the government has zillions of development priorities, among them medicine and health; education; agriculture, including food self-sufficiency; roads and other infrastructure; water; energy; etc. So to take hard and scarce money and spend it on by-elections is a most costly thing that to most people makes no sense. Proposition 4 was intended to prevent the outlay of scacre capital for by-elections. That was perfectly reasonable. Alas, Proposition 4, like all the others, was defeated.

The consequence? In the coming October elections there are, in some constituencies, several persons running for one seat. In Edwin Snowe’s District No. 5 alone, there are eight candidates running against him. There may be more in some constituencies. With too many candidates contesting one seat, it may be impossible for any one contestant to win an absolute majority, thus necessitating a run-off. A highly knowledgeable government official has speculated to the Daily Observer that it may cost the government US$20 million to hold by-elections following the October poll. Where will that money come from? And from where will NEC get the time to organize such by-elections, given the specific time frame, two weeks, for such elections, stipulated by the country’s Election Laws?

The issue of Supreme Court Justices’ retirement was not such a big deal, though we know of many professionals who perform efficiently and productively late into their 70s and early 80s. And as to proposition 3, as it happened during the last and several other Independence Days, we pray for fair weather on Election Day, so that people may turn out en masse to cast their votes.

The defeat also of Proposition 1 is a problem mainly for the presidential candidates and their parties. For if a candidate fails to meet the residency requirement, it could mean that his party is out of the race, for it may be too late for the Elections Commission to register a new candidate from that party.

Some presidential candidates and their parties may seek redress through the Supreme Court. But whether any of the parties so affected will pursue that avenue and if they do, what the Court will say, remains to be seen.

There is, however, one point that has to be made. NEC and its Commissioners are partly responsible for this massive referendum fiasco. The reason, on July 11, 2011 the NEC Commissioners, led by its Chairman, James M. Fromoyan, passed and signed a Resolution entitled “Resolution on Endorsement of Referendum Results.” In that resolution, NEC decided to include in the 2/3 of the votes cast “all valid and invalid votes.” The invalid votes amounted to zero; so why would anyone give power to a zero, which meant that in each Proposition, there were over 72,000 potent zeros, tipping the balance in favor of defeat of the entire referendum!

In Article 1.2 of the Resolution, the Commissioners declared: “If less than 2/3 of all valid and invalid votes support the adoption of any of the propositions, the Board of Commissioners of National Elections Commission shall announce that the proposal was not ratified.”

That is the blunder that NEC has made that led us to the colossal and costly fiasco of the 2011 referendum.

As it approaches the October elections, NEC has to closely reexamine its own rules and hopefully, in consultation with some of the best legal and constitutional minds available, to ensure that whatever they decide will be done in the best interest of a free, fair and transparent and democratic poll.

 

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