National Assembly approves Elections (Amendment) Bill |23 March 2023
Electoral Commission can establish committee towards delimitation of electoral boundaries exercise
The National Assembly yesterday considered and approved the Elections (Amendment) Bill (2022), which imparts powers to the commission to establish advisory or technical committees to assist it in the performance of its functions under the Elections Act.
The amendment will see the insertion of a new section 4A. to allow the commission to, either through regulations or statutory instruments, establish the committees, their names, mandates, composition and provisions on how they will exercise their functions.
Vice-President Ahmed Afif in presenting the Bill highlighted the functions of the Electoral Commission (EC) as stated in the Constitution, in reviewing legislation relating to electoral processes and making recommendations to government on laws relating to elections.
The commission’s other primary function is to have oversight on electoral districts.
According to VP Afif, the commission recommended the amendment to allow it to establish an advisory committee whose main focus will be on boundaries of the electoral districts.
“Government examined the recommendation and saw the importance,” VP Afif stated.
The insertion of the legal provision will enable it to engage technicians, and to discharge its functions in a more effective manner, VP Afif added.
The Constitution makes provisions for the delimitation of electoral boundaries, while the Elections Act imparts to the commission powers to review the boundaries.
“The amendment simply brings about more clarity in the way that the Electoral Commission will discharge its function, under Article 112 and 116 of our Constitution,” he added.
The majority of members afforded their support for the amendment which caused heated debates between the two political parties.
Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) member for St Louis, Hon. Sathyanarayan Naidu, said it is especially important as many people are not necessarily aware of electoral district boundaries which are unclear at the moment. He however expressed concern over the length of time until the exercise is completed.
Hon. Richard Labrosse shared similar sentiments, and proposed that the commission also engages with the community in carrying out such an exercise, and that it involves independent civil society organisations, namely, the Association for Rights, Information and Democracy (Arid) and the Citizens Democracy Watch.
Hon. Wavel Woodcock, elected member for Grand Anse Praslin, focused his intervention on the importance of the Bill and said that politicians should not be involved in the process as it is important that the commission remain independent.
LDS Chief Whip Sandy Arissol also highlighted the difficulties which have arisen in the past, whereby many households have found themselves caught in the middle, and citizens residing in the same property have been obliged to vote within different districts.
US representative for Port Glaud, Hon. Egbert Aglae, asserted the need for checks and balances and also asserted the need for representatives of political parties to be involved in the process, stating that he will otherwise not be affording the Bill his support.
Hon. Sylvanne Lemiel, Hon. Audrey Vidot and Hon. Churchill Gill also called for political representatives to be involved to ensure the process is fair and transparent.
Similarly, Hon. Wilbert Herminie said that despite being a “minor amendment, the Bill has major repercussions”, and sought clarifications as to who qualify as “technicians”.
“We want to know what these committees will be doing, who will sit on them, who will be represented on the committees, and who will appoint them,” Hon. Herminie said.
For his part, Hon. Johan Loze urged the commission to engage youths in any exercise it embarks on. Hon. Loze proposed that the amendment is politically-motivated, and comes two-and-a-half years into LDS’ mandate when the party is becoming “increasingly unpopular”.
“This piece of legislation before us is to set the conditions for them to cheat in the elections,” Hon. Loze asserted.
Leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Hon. Sebastien Pillay, said that United Seychelles (US) members have no issues with the delimitations of electoral boundaries, but are dissatisfied with the fact that despite expressing their concerns and making certain demands to the commission in writing, they did not receive a formal reply.
Hon. Pillay said they will be protesting the fact that the commission failed to reply, and walked out in protestation along with other members of the US party.
VP Afif in concluding clarified that when the letter dated February 6 was received by the commission, chief executive Manuella Amesbury was on medical leave, but the chief registration officer Sheena Boniface replied to the letter, on February 9, through email.
VP Afif read the contents of the e-mail to the Assembly, and said US are trying to mislead citizens. Party Leader Patrick Herminie was also copied in the mail, VP Afif concluded.
Eighteen members voted to pass the Bill.
Speaker Roger Mancienne said that the protestation showed “a lack of responsibility” on the part of US members.
The National Assembly will resume on Tuesday.