It is imperative that we preserve the integrity of the electoral process.
While I welcome the Deputy Governor’s Office’s draft code of conduct for political parties and candidates (hereinafter referred to as “the Code”) issued early November, the document ignores some significant recommendations in the Election Observer Mission’s report on the 2015 general election (hereinafter referred to as “the report”) which I discussed in my Nov. 4 commentary titled “Calls made for election reform.”
The report recommends that candidates and parties be required to sign their commitment to the code at the start of the campaign and that there should be clear guidelines and limits on contributions to a candidate’s and/or party’s political campaign during the election period, with penalties on candidates or parties who ignore the rules.
The code prohibits candidates and parties from making unrealistic promises. Many promises have already been made with little reference as to how they would be funded. The government is deeply in debt, so promises of any new spending made after the campaign officially begins should include how they would be funded.
The code prohibits bribery with money or in-kind contributions, but does not mention the report’s recommendation to establish and enforce regulations evenly distributing on-air media time and space in print media, to guarantee all parties and candidates equal access to and balanced coverage by the media to the public, overseen by a media watchdog.
Register of interests
The UK’s National Crime Agency is investigating a former UK Independence Party donor, after the Electoral Commission said it suspected he was “not the true source” of £8 million in funding to the Leave EU Brexit campaign. A former US investment banker has pledged millions of dollars to provide ultra-conservative European parties free access to specialised polling data, analytics, social media advice and help with candidate selection. Experts on electoral law have warned that in several European countries such assistance would be banned as in-kind donations by foreign donors.
We must not allow it to happen here, so it is disturbing that the register of members’ financial interests still remains empty. The register should give information about any financial interest a member has, or any benefit he or she receives, that others might reasonably consider to influence his or her actions or words as a member of the House. They should all provide the registrar with that information, or sign a simple “nothing to declare” declaration before this sitting ends. In view of the chaotic state of government finances, no member on either side of the House has yet declared anything in it.
The report also makes other recommendations:
- creating an independent elections commission to provide oversight of the Office of the Supervisor of Elections, adding another layer of public accountability;
- giving voters living, working or studying abroad who can’t vote in person other options, like proxy or postal voting, with safeguards to ensure the maximum enfranchisement of the electorate;
- having in place before the next election the planned voter registration cards and a rigorous education programme; and
- considering fixed-term parliaments in hopes of avoiding any unfair advantage or undue influence in the timing of an election.