NATION

Reduce Risk, Avoid Dishonest Election

The preparations by the Electoral Com­mission (EC) and the Fijian Elections Office (FEO) for the 2018 General Elec­tion would be the largest budget ever in our history. Foreign Governments are
01 Sep 2018 10:00
Reduce Risk, Avoid Dishonest Election
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama (left) with his team at the Sydney Desalination Plant. Photo: PM's Office

The preparations by the Electoral Com­mission (EC) and the Fijian Elections Office (FEO) for the 2018 General Elec­tion would be the largest budget ever in our history. Foreign Governments are eager to help in their belief that their monies will deliver a fair and free elections. But money alone does not guarantee a fair and free elec­tions.

I call on foreign Governments that are fund­ing the election to demand the EC and the FEO to reduce the risks of a dishonest election. A free and fair election is the cornerstone of democracy. Without it, all that happens after­wards are fake and meaningless.

Foreign governments must be concerned that the people’s confidence of a free and fair elections is extremely low.

Ironically, the Supervisor of Elections (SOE), who by the way is also the Secretary to the EC and the Registrar of Political Parties, con­ceded to a regional audience that Fiji has the lowest level of confidence on elections in the entire Pacific. Strangely though, this bottom ranking does not seem to worry him or his fel­low EC board members. They simply dismiss this low confidence as politically motivated.

All political parties outside government have made numerous submissions to the EC to re­duce the risks of an unfair election. Instead of looking at the submission at their own merits, the EC and FEO arrogantly proclaim their au­thority. They are barking up the wrong tree. No one is questioning their authority. What we are all trying to do is to reduce the risks to a dishonest election.

As you will see below, these recommenda­tions do not cost anything to implement. They just need an objective mind and an honest de­sire to protect democracy in this wonderful country. I wish to highlight the decisions of the EC that do not reduce the risks of election rigging:

Risk to pre-polling

Firstly, the EC has refused to limit the “Pre-poll” to essential service workers like the Po­lice, health and Corrections staff members. Instead, it has increased the pre-poll numbers from 53,000 in 2014 to 70,000 voters for the 2018 election, which is about 10 per cent of all

Reconciliation of the counts

The transparent reconciliation between the count at each polling station (Protocol of Results (POR)) and the results announced at the National Result Centre (Provisional Re­sults) are critical to a fair and free election. Strangely, the EC has refused to:

  1. a) Approve access to Regional Hubs by par­ty polling agents to observe the opening of ballot boxes by Presiding Officers before the poll starts;
  2. b) Confirm that party polling agents will be clearly shown ballot papers by polling of­ficials during the counting of votes;
  3. c) Confirm that the three witnesses for the POR at each polling station must include a Police officer and three polling agents and that their names and IDs be recorded on the POR;
  4. d) Explain the legal basis of the proposed announcement of Provisional Results at the National Result Centre;
  5. e) Explain why Provisional Results will not be broken down by polling stations to enable verification by party polling agents;
  6. f) Confirm that a print out of the POR at each Polling Station will be provided to party agents present at the National Result Centre;
  7. g) Clarify the timeframe for lodging dis­putes and the lack of clear definition of the words “immediate’ or ‘expedient’; and
  8. h) Explain the involvement of NADRA (National Database and Registration Au­thority) with the country’s election espe­cially after the recent Pakistan elections where it is under investigation for various irregularities

Lack of independence and bias decisions

Many of the problems that we are facing in our dealings with the EC and the FEO stem from their lack of independence from each other and from Government.

Their decisions are heavily biased towards this Government. Some examples are:

  1. a) Municipal authorities have allowed Fi­jiFirst to lease large bill boards erected in public places in collaboration with an ad­vertising company. This is clearly contrary to s112 of the Electoral Decree;
  2. b) The SOE has exempted the erections of FijiFirst party billboards in public places not as political advertising but “a commer­cial contract arrangement” between a pri­vate company and the FijiFirst and there­fore does not regard them as advertisements for elections. Do they take us for fools?

The lack of independence gives Govern­ment complete power to pull all the strings in the conduct of this election. The inaugu­ral EC took the SOE to court for insubordi­nation and won. Instead of respecting the independence of the EC, the Attorney-Gen­eral did two things.

First, he did not renew the term of the EC at the end of 2016, but renewed the contract of the SOE.

Second, instead of strengthening the inde­pendence of the EC, he weakened it further by amending the Electoral Decree to create a new position for the SOE to be the Secre­tary of the new EC. What can people infer from these actions?

Dismissive attitude

What disappoints me the most is the FEO and EC’s dismissive attitude of the con­cerns of the people that this election may be rigged. In his latest statement on August 16, the Chairman of the EC said: “The Electoral Commission is also concerned that political parties, instead of learning or attempting to learn the electoral laws are still hang­ing around attempting to change things…they have no regard for the process. This is indeed a pathetic attempt to undermine an election that has not happened”.

The tone and language of this statement reflect the high and mighty attitude that the EC and the SOE have adopted in their con­sultations with political parties. Everyone else is wrong except them. They dismiss the concerns and fears of the people. This treat­ment of the people must stop.

You be the judge

I ask the people to be the judge of the deci­sions of the EC and the SOE in our efforts to make the 2018 election free and fair.

As everyone can see, the suggested chang­es are within the law and can be easily made without costs. No one is harmed by these changes. This is a win-win situation.

They therefore beg the questions: Even if these changes are more than what are con­sidered necessary, what is the harm in ac­cepting them if they raise the confidence of the people? Why is the EC resisting these changes? Are they concerned about a free and fair election?

I sense that the EC and SOE do not want their bosses to see that they are collaborat­ing with political parties. I emphasise that while these issues are raised by political parties they are not political. They go to the heart of democracy. I therefore urge the peo­ple of Fiji and foreign governments to take heed of the resistance of the EC and SOE to make these changes. In my view, their stance seriously cast doubt on the integrity of the 2018 election.

I urge the people of Fiji to express their opinions by writing to the EC, using the so­cial media, and organising petitions to con­vince the authorities to listen to their voic­es. There is still time to make these changes.

Source: Unity Fiji

Feedback: jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

 

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