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Electoral Commission Dismisses Claims Of Poll Irregularities, Praises Saneem

The Electoral Commission has dismissed claims of irregularities in the 2014 General Election by Opposition parties. Commission chairperson Suresh Chandra said yesterday they found that parties claiming these had failed
28 Jun 2017 18:11
Electoral Commission Dismisses Claims Of Poll Irregularities, Praises Saneem
The chairperson for the Electoral Commission, Suresh Chandra

The Electoral Commission has dismissed claims of irregularities in the 2014 General Election by Opposition parties.

Commission chairperson Suresh Chandra said yesterday they found that parties claiming these had failed to cite any evidence of the purported irregularities.

Speaking at the Justice, Law and Human Rights committee hearing, Mr Prasad said the parties had failed to furnish any evidence to the previous Electoral Commission and similarly, “failed to furnish any material of substance for us to consider as well.”

He said: “We cannot drag this any further. In light of this, we firmly believe that these claims and stories about irregularities during the 2014 General Election are without merit or substance. The Commission members are firm in the view that both this Commission and the previous Commission have spent considerable time and energy in this futile exercise,” he said.

“We have also concluded that since these parties have failed to provide any evidence, all their allegations from 2014 lack merit and are falsely designed only to undermine the public’s faith in the electoral process, which we are committed to strengthen and uphold.

The commission invited the parties to submit evidence to this commission without delay to allow us to ascertain the accuracy of those allegations.

Here are excerpts from Mr Prasad’s submission:

“The Commission also extended a final opportunity to all the 5 Parties to submit the purported evidence of irregularities in the 2014 General Election, which we believed that they had had more than adequate time to compile.”

“The parties are the National Federation Party, SODELPA, Fiji United Freedom Party, Fiji Labour Party and Peoples Democratic Party.

The commission also extended a final opportunity to them to submit the purported evidence of irregularities.

Multi-National Observer Group recommendations.

“My Commission recognises that we are an independent institution and, therefore, we have chosen to take our own views on various recommendations by the Multinational Observer Group Report on the 2014 General Election.

“Firstly, I would like to thank the MOG for its report as a baseline for our work towards the 2018 General Election. I would like to state that MOG had ensured that it was present at core aspects of the electoral process and that it carried out the observation process with critical precision. This is clearly reflected in its report.

“The findings of MOG are as they are. They have made assessments that they believed were necessary, and we, the Commission who will handle the next General Election have evaluated these assessments comprehensively.

In summary, there are 38 recommendations of the MOG. The Electoral Commission and the Fijian Elections Office have accepted the following recommendations some of which were actioned by Parliament already:

The Amendment to the Electoral Act in February 2017 has clarified the role of the SoE and the Commission. It has established that both organizations have to work together to deliver the election. The SoE is bound by all decisions of the Electoral Commission. (MOG Recommendation number 7)

The Electoral Commission will publish a calendar of events and key dates for the next General Election. (MOG Recommendation Number 10)

The Public Order Act 2012 has been amended by Parliament to allow Political Parties to conduct meetings without the need for permits. (MOG Recommendation number 11)

The Amendment to the Electoral Act in February 2017 has clarified that Political Party Agents and Observers can take materials approved by the SoE inside the Polling station. (MOG Recommendations numbered 13 and 32)

The Electoral Commission will publish a Handbook for Polling Agents and the Media. The handbook will explain the roles, responsibilities and restrictions for Polling agents and observers. It also gives guidance to Agents and Observers on how to deal with particular issues in the Polling Place. It is anticipated that the Political Parties can use this handbook to develop their Polling Agent operations procedures. (MOG Recommendations Numbered 14, 15 and 16)

The Parliament has amended the Electoral Act in February this year to allow the SoE to distribute postal ballots by the best practical means. The MOG recommendation number 21 is therefore accepted, but we have developed an alternative solution.

The printing and display of the National Register of Voters is now an annual exercise, and to enhance the sense of citizen ownership of the Register, the Electoral Commission has approved rules that will allow a voter to object to the registration of another voter. We believe that this will promote greater involvement of Fijians in the electoral process. Each registered political party was given a copy of the Register free of charge. (MOG Recommendation Number 22)

The awareness and outreach programmes from the FEO will intensify as we approach the 2018 General Election. The FEO already has an awareness session built into the registration drive, but a more formal and direct face-face awareness program will be undertaken from 15 January to 15 April 2018. A Publications Guideline has been established to ensure that all voters have access to necessary basic information about the election and the process of voting. (MOG Recommendation 23)

The FEO has advertised globally and secured the services of Ms. Yvonne Gouldie, an electoral expert, to develop the Secondary School Electoral Awareness Curriculum. It is anticipated that the Curriculum will be ready for implementation in schools by next year at the latest. (MOG Recommendation 24)

In March 2018, a call centre will be established to assist voters with election queries. This call centre will action queries on the ‘check your polling venue sms and online platform.’ (MOG Recommendation 25)

The FEO launched its first edition of the Fiji National Polling Venues Directories in March 2017. The purpose of the directories is to allow Fijians to locate and learn details about individual polling venues. This directory was developed after thorough consultation with various agencies. An online version of this directory is also available. (MOG Recommendation 30)

Having established those areas where pre-polling will take place, it will now be much easier for the FEO to inform voters in these areas about the exact timing for pre-poll in the polling places. (MOG Recommendation 31)

An important part of the Polling Agents handbook is a detailed explanation of the process for voting, counting and results transmission. A diagram is also included that explains the process on polling day. (MOG Recommendation 34)

The training of election officials will be conducted in phases for 2018. There will be a refresher programme organized following the announcement of election dates. With elections more than a year away, the FEO can ensure that recruitment is done early to allow for sufficient time to train the officials. (MOG Recommendation 35)

The counting process has been adjusted to allow staff greater convenience in undertaking this important role. The Commission has once again limited the total number of voters to 500,000 which will mean that those staff who are doing counting will not be overburdened. The Reconciliation Book and the Protocol of Results books have been modified to allow ease of use. (MOG Recommendation Number 36)

The training manuals have been prepared keeping in mind that observers and agents must be allowed to remain inside the polling station throughout the whole process. Special emphasis has been placed on ensuring that this is conveyed to election officials during training. The Polling Agents Handbook by the FEO also makes specific reference to this. (MOG Recommendation number 37)

The Electoral Commission invites the Committee to note that 19 of the 38 recommendations have been accepted and acted upon in some progressive manner so far. The Electoral Commission also has decided that it will reject the following recommendations:

Recommendation 33: The Polling process in Fiji is one of the simplest in the world and it will not be changed for the next General Election.

Recommendation 28: We have noted from file records that all reasons for rejection of applications under s115 were properly given, and therefore MOG has made an inaccurate observation in this recommendation.

Recommendation 4: To maintain consistency and to maintain simplicity, the recommendation to have more than 1 form of the National Candidates List is rejected.

Recommendation 5 & 18: The Electoral Commission notes that the Courts will apply penalties proportionately based on the aggravating factors as well as mitigating factors. The Electoral Commission has noted that in the case of State v Matairavula, the High Court has upheld a term of 2-year imprisonment for a charge of impersonating an election official. The Electoral Act prescribed that the maximum penalty for this offence was 10 years or $50,000 or both. Therefore, the Commission maintains that the Judiciary will exercise the powers of sentencing based on judicial principles, so this recommendation is rejected.

Recommendation 8: The Electoral Commission notes that despite Fiji being a single constituency, it is necessary that Political Parties have national reach and approach in terms of their formation and policy.

Recommendation 12: The Electoral Commission believes that this time around parties will be more prepared to campaign with their numbers. It is unreasonable to have a very lengthy post writ period. Therefore, this recommendation is rejected.

Recommendation 19 and 20: MIDA is a statutory body, and the High Court has oversight of the activities of MIDA. Therefore, no further changes are required in this framework.

“In summary, the Commission has accepted and actioned 19 of the 38 MOG recommendations. It does not have any jurisdiction in 9 recommendations and has decided to reject 10 recommendations.

“My Commission would like to put on record that following the clarification of the law in February, the entire Fijian Elections Office is reporting to the Electoral Commission through the Supervisor of Elections.

“We have adopted a businesslike approach to the day-to-day running of the Electoral Commission.

The SoE has boosted the secretariat support to the EC with skilled and qualified staff recruited based on an open merit process. We have found that the FEO ensures that all our meeting necessities and other expenses are managed according to our directives.

“We would also like to state our view that the Supervisor of Elections, Mr. Saneem, has proven that despite the short timeframe in 2014, under his leadership and with the hard work of his team, it is possible to conduct a one-day election for the first time based on a completely new system and completely new set of staff, and achieve success and international acclaim in the process. Mr. Saneem very ably handled all aspects of the election relatively well and quickly became an electoral expert, if I may say so, for FIJI.

“Post 2014, Mr. Saneem has led the FEO to become a regional leader in terms of developing election best practices as well as a resource person for regional and international election forums. In a short time, the FEO has achieved some major advancements, all directed at improving the delivery of elections, enhancing general voter comfort and strengthening the credibility of electoral processes.

“Our Commission endorses the work by Mr. Saneem and his hardworking team at the FEO and assure this committee that we will provide the necessary support as well as oversight as progress is made towards the next general election. The latest of the achievements is the inclusion of a case-study on the Biometric Voter Registration system in Fiji in a publication by International IDEA.

“We have considered the 2014 General Election Reports extensively and we have noted that most of it is now up to Parliament to determine what course of action it wishes to take.

“The Electoral Commission is not appointed to make any laws, nor are we authorized to amend or disregard any law. We can make rules of procedure that are consistent with existing laws.”

Edited by Ranoba Baoa

Feedback:  arieta.vakasukawaqa@fijisun.com.fj

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