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Ballot Paper A Concern

April 26
09:10 2014

Biman Prasad
Leader, National Federation Party
Voters throughout the  country consulted by the National Federation Party have unanimously rejected the proposed ballot paper for the 2014 general elections. The National Federation Party has consulted voters since the promulgation of the Electoral Decree 2014 a month ago and voters have very strongly denounced the layout and composition of the ballot paper. On April 8, the NFP wrote to the chairman of the Electoral Commission registering the party’s concerns. We called upon the Commission to seek amendments. But the Commission has not responded to our letter. Here in is the letter to the Commission written by NFP.

Leader Biman Prasad and President Tupou Draunidalo:
The NFP registers its strong opposition to the design, nature and content of the actual ballot paper for the election of Members of Parliament in the 2014 General Elections (as contained in the Schedule (Section 37) of the Electoral Decree 2014 (Decree No. 11 of 2014).
The ballot paper contains a total of 280 numbers, from 135 to 414. Each number will be allocated to a candidate, either nominated by a political party or an Independent, following a draw after the nomination of candidates.
Voters are required to either circle, tick or cross one number on the ballot paper to indicate their vote for a particular candidate. The NFP had expressed its opposition of the ballot paper to the Electoral Commission and the Supervisor of Elections during a joint meeting with the three other political parties with the Commission and the Elections Supervisor on Wednesday April 2, 2014.
We had strongly urged the Commission to seek changes to the ballot paper to include names of candidates and symbols of political parties. This has been a basic and standard practice in all 10 general elections held in an independent Fiji from 1972 to 2006.

Free, fair and credible elections rendered meaningless
The ballot paper renders meaningless any semblance of the elections being free, fair and credible. Voters are being denied their political rights to choose their representative in a manner which is simple, logical and conforms to a voter’s political ideology and belief.
The ballot paper does not provide this. A voter’s identity with a candidate, whether Independent or nominated by a political party, is by name and symbol in a general election. Not a number. This has been historically the norm both in Fiji and throughout the world.
The fact that a ballot paper for the Open List Proportional Representation system is being used for the first time should itself be a matter of concern for the Commission on how voters will adapt to a new system and how the possibility of a large percentage of invalid votes can be eliminated.
But a ballot paper full of 280 numbers, with no names of candidates or symbols of political parties and Independents, is a nightmare that will result in extraordinarily large percentage of invalid votes.

Firstly, a voter is being asked to either circle, tick or cross a number. A voter is prone to confusion as to what number he/she is going to select.
This will be due to lack of identification in the form of names of candidates and symbols of political parties and Independents. In addition where voters may need assistance for voting, it may further erode the element of free and fair election.
There could be a possibility of vote rigging.
Secondly, past elections have shown that hardly any voter would ask the polling presiding officer for a new ballot paper to correctly indicate his/her preferred choice.

Violation of Constitutional Right
Section 23(2) of the 2013 Constitution (Bill of Rights) (Political Rights) states, “Every citizen has the right to free, fair and regular elections for any elective institution or office established under this Constitution.”
A voter is unable to exercise a meaningful choice in the absence of names and symbols. Parties and candidates will have only about three weeks to campaign and promote their number, excluding the time for nomination and objection period, finalisation of the candidates list, allocation of numbers and 48 hours campaign prohibition time before the polls.
Any massive voter education before nominations by the Commission or even until the polls will be meaningless.
Political parties are already experiencing obstacles in preaching their message through the media due to the regressive provisions of the Media Industry Development Authority and State Proceedings (Amendment) Decrees.

Recognition of political parties
Voters recognise political parties by their symbols. The Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding and Disclosures) Decree 2013 requires political parties to set out the symbol of any proposed party.
This identification is missing from the ballot paper.
The NFP submits that the Commission seeks an immediate review of the ballot paper to ensure free, fair and credible elections. Anything less will render the general election as a sham.

n The opinions expressed in this column are those of the National Federation Party. They are published by the Fiji Sun to enhance free and open debate ahead of the General Elections.

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