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Opinion, Opinion

#Vote2018: The People Must Know The Risks To A Free And Fair Elections

#Vote2018: The People Must Know The Risks To A Free And Fair Elections
Opening of the Fijian Elections Office’s Rakiraki Voter Services Centre in January. Photo: Fijian Elections Office.
March 31
10:25 2018

In his response to my earlier ar­ticle on protecting democracy, the Chairman of the Electoral Commission (EC) claimed that I was casting doubt on the integrity of the coming elections. On the contrary.

The prime aim of my article was to raise people’s awareness of the risks to a fair and free elections.

I stress that it is the people that need to be the judge of whether the EC has taken adequate steps to reduce these risks to acceptable levels.

The EC stressed that I should have consulted them and the Supervi­sor of Elections (SOE) first. I had. Unity Fiji was a signatory to sev­eral submissions by the opposition parties to the EC to change the laws and the processes of the elections. I am fully aware of the responses from the EC to these submissions which was why I had decided to in­form the people.

Independence and role

It is not enough for the EC to dis­miss the views of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights on the independence of the EC be­cause he did not meet with him.

It would be more useful if he pro­vided evidences of the independ­ence of the EC from the SOE and the Minister. Let me point out some glaring issues:

  • The 2013 Constitution (Sec­tion 75) and the Electoral Decree (Sections 4-7) envis­aged the role of the EC to be independent which is crucial to its effectiveness. The Presi­dent, in his sole discretion, used to appoint the Chairman of the EC. The EC tells us that now, under the 2013 Con­stitution, the Chairman is ap­pointed by a “proper Commis­sion”. Which Commission is this? Section 75 (7) of the 2013 Constitution states that the President appoints the Chair­man of the EC on the advice of the Constitutional Offices Commission (COC). The COC is chaired by the Prime Min­ister and the government members, who includes the Attorney General, outnum­ber the members appointed by the Leader of the Opposi­tion. I ask: which appointing authority is more independ­ent of Government?
  • The Constitution (Section 76), and the Electoral Decrees intended the EC to direct the SOE. This is no longer the case as now the SOE is di­recting the EC. The SOE is the Secretary of the EC. He does not have to be. He could simply be invited to attend the meetings of the EC. As a Secretary, he can directly in­fluence the decisions of the EC and, more importantly, dictate to the EC. It’s a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.
  • We all know that only Parlia­ment can pass electoral laws and regulations. The Consti­tution gives the EC the re­sponsibility of conducting a fair and free election in ac­cordance with the relevant laws. By extension, if these laws are not conducive of fair elections, I believe that it is the responsibility of the EC to fight for democracy and convince the Government to change these laws.

Risks

It appears to me that the EC is trying to manage the downstream risks rather than avoid the actions that create the risks in the first place.

Let me itemise the risks that I still see in the election processes out­lined by the EC:

  • Pre-polling: I still see this as one of the biggest risks. The EC highlighted the accessi­bility of voters which we all support. But how is accessi­bility related to pre-polling?If we can access these lo­cations on pre-polling day, surely, we can access them on polling day. The only logi­cal reason that I see for pre-polling is to cater for voters that are required to work dur­ing election day. So why don’t we limit pre-polling to these group of people? Instead, the EC has increased the number of pre-polling. What are the reasons?
  • Serial numbering of ballot papers: The EC clarified that a book containing 50 ballot papers will be numbered but not the papers themselves. At the close of the poll, the number of ballot papers are reconciled. This is fine. But the EC has completely missed the most critical point. The risk of tampering with bal­lot boxes full of unnumbered ballot papers is significantly reduced if the ballot papers are serially numbered. You cannot trace a numbered ballot paper to a voter if the number on the ballot paper is not recorded against the voter’s name.
  • Scrutiny of the count: The police, agents of political par­ties and observers will be the eyes and ears of the people at the polling centres. They therefore need to be physi­cally present throughout the voting process at the polling centres. Can the EC assure us that all agents of political parties and police will be al­lowed in the polling centres when the poll opens until the count ends?
  • Reconciliation: The count at each of the 2000 plus polling stations is consolidated at the Result Centre. Why are the agents of political parties not given the result of the count immediately after the count at the polling centres? Why do they have to wait to be given the same results at the Result Centre so many hours or even days later? What independ­ent checks will be in place to ensure that the consolidation of votes at the Result Centre is reconciled with the count from each of the 2000 polling stations? Why is the EC refus­ing an independent audit of the IT system?
  • I firmly believe that the EC is accountable to the people and therefore need to assure us that the risks to democracy are mitigated. Assessing and mitigating these risks now is not passing judgement on the conduct of the coming elec­tions. It is simply protecting our democracy.
  • The people must know. I am therefore inviting the EC to a public debate to discuss these important issues. The people deserve no less.

The views and opinions expressed in the article below are entirely those of Savenaca Narube and not the Fiji Sun.

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