Opinion: Is The FEO Ready for Early Polls?

An election could be held as early as May this year, but the question is whether the Fijian Elections Office is ready for such an eventuality. Prior to an election
24 Mar 2018 11:00
Opinion: Is The FEO Ready for Early Polls?
Aman Ravindra Singh

An election could be held as early as May this year, but the question is whether the Fijian Elections Office is ready for such an eventuality.

Prior to an election being held the Electoral Commission is re­quired under Section 3(2) of the Decree to ensure that a nation wide voter information and education programme is implemented on a timely basis to inform and educate voters on election matters. These include voting procedures, use of postal ballots, pre-poll voting and the procedures for protecting their electoral rights.

The education programme must also include training of polling agents and information sessions on the responsibilities of politi­cal party officials and candidates. However, political parties have not been notified of any programmed activity by the Elections Office on voter education and other related matters. We are almost into April and a start has yet to be made. This is unacceptable.

The conduct of voter education it­self is a huge task requiring cover­age of all villages and settlements in the country. This could easily take up to three months if properly done, with the required print mate­rial distributed for the information of voters.

Furthermore, political parties have a number of pending issues to settle with the Electoral Commis­sion and the Supervisor of Elec­tions, which also must be done well ahead of the elections.

Opposition political parties have been agitating for regular meetings with the FEO to discuss and resolve their concerns, some of which are serious and impinge on the conduct of free and fair elections.

After much dilly-dallying, the Su­pervisor scheduled a meeting for March 7, requesting the political parties to name their representa­tives and submit two items each they wished to discuss at the meeting.

The parties complied but were in­formed on March 2 that the meeting had been rescheduled to March 22. No explanation was given.

Then on March 20, they were ad­vised by email from FEO that the chairman of the Electoral Commis­sion had postponed the meeting to a later date. No new date was given in the notification nor were any rea­sons given.

An independent investigation must be conducted into the matter.

The last minute cancellation of scheduled meetings undermines the provisions of section 14(e) of the Electoral Decree, which re­quires the Commission and the Supervisor to meet regularly with political parties and other stake­holders to update them and discuss matters related to the elections.

This is a serious issue and not “minor” as the Commission chair­man, Suresh Chandra, chooses to describe it.

Opposition parties want changes to the Electoral Decree and other electoral procedures in line with recommendations made by the Multinational Observer Group in their post 2014 election report and those made by the Electoral Com­mission in its 2014 Report.

Implementation of these recom­mendations are essential if the 2018 General Election are to be free, fair and credible, unlike the 2014 polls.

The procrastination, and obvi­ous reluctance of the Elections Office to meet with opposition parties to address these pressing concerns, reflect seriously on the independence of the office.

When a protest was lodged with the Elections Supervisor and the Commission Chair regard­ing the unexplained meeting deferments, Supervisor Saneem claimed they were not new mat­ters and had been raised before.

Of course, they have been raised before. Opposition parties have been raising them for more than a year but no action has been tak­en to date to resolve these issues.

The matters FLP has submitted for discussion at the meeting in­clude:

n The immediate appointment of a multi observer group to evaluate progress made on the recommendations of the 2014 MOG report and to engage with all stakeholders well before the 2018 general elections;

n NGO participation in the voter education, training and aware­ness programme;

n Pre-polling to be substituted by use of postal ballot; and

n the Appointment of a new Su­pervisor of Elections.

Feedback: jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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