Today is the National Referendum polling day, which has been declared a public holiday in Vanuatu.

All eligible voters are expected to cast their votes today.

Citizens abroad, particularly in New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, and New Caledonia, will also start voting today. However, a recent amendment to the Referendum Act allows the Electoral Commission to extend the voting period for them if any situation arises.

Speaking during a press conference this week, Edward Kaltamat, Chairman of the Electoral Commission (EC), stated that all official results are expected to be declared on 10 Jun , 2024, according to the referendum timeline.

He noted that given the flexibility in the extension of the voting period, the cutoff date for this is 02 June 2024.

Kaltamat stated that the counting will be conducted at the Convention Centre. The media, observers, and political party representatives are invited to observe the process to ensure transparency.

The EC Chairman explained that during the counting process, all ballot papers will first be sorted. For example, at the Lakatoro Polling Station, all 17A Green ballots will be placed in one pile, and all 17A Red ballots in another. The same process will be followed for 17B Green and 17B Red ballots.

At the end of sorting, the votes will be counted according to their categories. This will allow them to determine how many people voted “yes” and how many voted “no”in 17A. The same process will be applied to 17B.Kaltamat reiterated that both questions, on the 17A and 17B should be treated separately.

After all the ballot papers are received by the electoral officials, they will commence the counting process.

Chairman Kaltamat also clarified that an individual can vote either “yes” in 17A and “no” in 17B, or vice versa. He stressed that it is incorrect to say that a vote for “yes” in 17A and “no” in 17B would be null and void.

While both questions are separate, they serve the same purpose of addressing the issue of instability.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Johnny Koanapo, said that the Vanuatu Government believes it has achieved 98 percent coverage for referendum awareness both domestically and abroad.

He noted that VT212 million(US$1.7 million) was spent on awareness efforts, while the remaining balance will be used for the referendum operations today.

Meanwhile, a Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Observer Mission is in Vanuatu this week to observe its historic inaugural National Referendum.

The Team, under the leadership of the Solomon Islands High Commissioner to Fiji, Joseph Ma’ahanua, have undertaken consultations over the last few days and will wrap up their Observer Mission at the end of the week.

Vanuatu gained independence in 1980 and goes to the polls today to vote on the proposed constitutional amendments that, if supported by the referendum, will complete the approval process for the Political Parties Act that was passed by Parliament in December 2023.