Monday, October 29, 2012

WTO, other big issues to decide Vanuatu polls

Vanuatu Flag.
Source: Wikipedia
In previous posts we have highlighted the important role automation played in the past national elections held in the Philippines in 2010. We have also mentioned the clear path to e-voting that Indonesia is taking. However, Vanuatu, which is another Asian archipelago, is heading towards a new general election in which technology will not play any role. We will see how the process unfolds and the level of legitimacy voters confer to the announced results in theses rather simple elections.

Voters in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu go to the polls on October 30, 2012 to elect their representatives in the 52-seat parliament. A number of issues could influence this year's vote, chief of which is the country's recent admission into the WTO.

The opposition, along with civil society, business chambers and church groups, is alleging that the government has made too many compromises in exchange for the WTO admission.  

Many fear that the deal would forbid Vanuatu from levying tariff on imports and has significantly reduced its ability to protect its own industries. 

The apprehension is by no means universal as some groups have expressed approval of the accession to the international trade body. However, Astrid Boulekone, general manager of the Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that the prevailing sentiment in the business sector is that of mistrust due to the lack of consultation before the accession.  She added that most people are unaware of what the WTO membership entails.  

"It's almost like the negotiations were conducted at the national level among senior government key officers, and that the private sector was not closely involved in the negotiation process," she said.

Aside from WTO, another important issue that could swing votes is Vanuatu's runaway cost of living which has outstripped salary levels. With prices of commodities spiraling upwards every quarter, middle and low income workers are finding it difficult to provide for their families. 

The phenomenon of urban migration is also causing an unexpected complication. An increasing number of people are moving into urban areas and yet with inadequate education, they are not able to get employment.  Education and job creation policies are shaping up to be another election battleground. 

With many young people turning voting age this year, Principal Electoral Officer Lawson Samuel said he expects a higher number of registered voters this year compared with the 152,043 registered in the 2008 polls. 

Voter turnout in Vanuatu is traditionally high, with the 1987 polls chalking up a record 83% turnout.  The last elections saw a voter turnout of 70.38%, still one of the highest in the world.  This year, with more young people getting involved in issues that affect them, election officials are projecting an even  higher number of voters will actually cast their ballots.