Fijian ballot papers run out as confusion reigns

By: Jade Cooper, International News | Tuesday September 16 2014 5:33

Fiji's self appointed Prime Minister's being accused of breaching his own election rules (AAP) <!–

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Fiji’s self appointed Prime Minister’s being accused of breaching his own election rules (AAP)

UPDATED 11.28am: Fiji’s unusual voting system has already thrown up problems ahead of tomorrow’s elections.

For the first time there are no names or party logos on the ballot paper – instead, people will be voting for numbers delegated to candidates.

Humm FM journalist Dev Sachindra says this has caused confusion at pre-polls.

“Because of the confusion, what has happened is they’ve run out of ballot papers in certain polling stations.

“While crossing and ticking and circling, a number of voters did make a lot of mistakes and had to ask for a new ballot paper.”

Bainimarama under fire

Meanwhile, Fiji’s self-appointed Prime Minister’s being accused of breaching his own election rules.

A strict ban on political advertising and media coverage is now in place ahead of tomorrow’s election, with rule breakers facing up to five years jail time.

Humm FM journalist Dev Sachindra says while other political parties have been busy removing all traces of campaigning, many large billboards of Frank Bainimarama’s face, erected before the election, remain standing.

“In a way, it defeats the purpose of having the blackout because there’s no standard rule for all political parties and candidates.”

Sachindra says a 77 percent turn out from people who often don’t have access to services like roads, is highly impressive.

He says the Fijian Electoral Office is calling it a sign of good things to come.

Sachindra says if the voter turn out is high from the rural people, they’re confident it’s going to be even better on Wednesday.

Bully Frank is never far from the surface……”I looked up to see Frank Bainimarama kicking and verbally abusing me”

Frank was There 

By Peter Waqavonovono 

I want to share with you a short explanation of one of the reasons why I feel Frank Bainimarama cannot be allowed to run Fiji.

I have seen the true face of Bainimarama’s leadership. I know many people in Fiji share the same experience as I do.

Christmas Eve 2006, myself and other pro-democracy activists were taken from our homes late at night and brought to the QEB Military Camp under the guise of a meeting with the Military Council. What happened instead was an attack on all of us.

When I was brought into the camp, there are two things that directly stood out for me. One is that all the lights in the QEB Camp were turned off and secondly was the overbearing smell of Alcohol.

I recall the events of that night clearly. It involved soldiers punching and kicking us, and threatening to murder us. At one point, I was certain that I would not leave that place alive.

Notable people at the QEB Military Camp that night were Frank Bainimarama, Roko Ului Mara and Pita Driti, all visible under the moonlight. Only a group of about 15 men were involved in the attack. While we were been attacked by a few soldiers in the army ground, I looked up to see Frank Bainimarama kicking and verbally abusing me. He called soldiers to come and drag me to the cricket pitch. On the cricket pitch soldiers were ordered by someone to run over us and I recall been told at this point to keep my head down. A soldier came to me and pulled me by the hair, and started cutting patches of my hair off. I was told that he would cut me up and throw me in the sea – that no one would care about me.

During this assault, there were men singing Christmas Carols by the Ground and cheering on their peers. I also recall been ordered to run to Lami and take down banners at the Vugalei Democracy Shrine. While we ran, I was especially targeted by three soldiers who kept hitting and swearing at me. They later pinned me down, and proceeded to kick and punch me, they put me in a military truck and drove up towards Nadua Secondary School, where they literally threw me out of the moving Truck.

At this point, another truck with a different set of soldiers, took me back to the Military Camp. A soldier in this Truck gave me water and asked for Apologies. He told me that not all soldiers were doing this and they were following orders ‘from the top’. When I reached the camp, I was hurried into a cell; and joined by 3 soldier who told me that Bainimarama was very angry with my comments. They proceeded to further torture me, trying to get me to promise to never speak out against Bainimarama. This point of the ordeal was very traumatic. Another soldier with the voice similar to Roko Ului intervened and told off the people in the cell, He ordered that the beatings stop, and after this they put me in a car and they drove me out towards Nabua Secondary School, where they asked me to get off. I recall been helped by two young boys from here, who took me to the Matua Taxi Base in Mead Road, where I got onto a Taxi and went straight home to a family that was clearly angered at what the Military had done.

All soldiers that participated in the attack smelled of Alcohol.

I was told that night, to leave Suva. I left on Boxing day for Levuka where I was informed by my Family that someone had sent soldiers to my house in Suva, to take me in for another meeting. I was later on informed via the media that I was put on a travel ban.

I recall thinking to myself, that if these men with Guns feared a young person’s mouth or opinions, then I was definitely in the right.  That’s why they fear us, because we breathe and preach Freedom. We are willing to die to purchase a better Fiji. I have never gone silent and since then I have been arrested 3 times for just speaking out against the Bainimarama Government.

And in joining SODELPA I have invested much of my energy and time into ensuring many young people understand the Dictatorship we are trying to dethrone. Every day I report to the SODELPA Office and stand alongside many other Freedom Fighters who have been arrested and abused for refusing to accept the Coup of 2006. There is a sense of Honor in their daily activities, a dedication to serving people and safeguarding Fiji.

We do not have a bad Military. We just have very bad self serving leaders.

This man Frank Bainimarama is a paranoid control freak, a man who masks all his crimes with Freebies and Development. Do not be fooled, Frank is afraid of you! He is afraid that more people will hear the truth about the bitter road we have had to endure for the last 8 years. Frank Bainimarama is pumping as much resources as he can in order to prevent the TRUTH from been heard. WE the People, have a simple solution – Change the Government.

Friends, after all the nepotism, militarisation of the State, the corruption, the Torture and the Intimidation, and even after all the deaths at the hands of the State, we have been asked to now vote for a Government of the People. And Bainimarama is pretending to be a Saint or our Savior.

I am voting for the Party that will bring about real change, I dont need anything to be given to me Free. I am voting for The Party that will seriously look into human rights violations and take action. The Party that will restore and protect elements of the Fijian Administration and my Culture. I am voting for SODELPA because I know that peace is guaranteed. And many young people feel the same.

When election day comes, I know it will be an emotional day for me and many other people in Fiji. My Hopes, Anger, Aspirations and Dreams will all rest on that tick. I pray that this message can be used, to show the true heart of people in SODELPA. For Freedom Hope and Glory and an end to the COUP CULTURE

Frank was not Pro Democracy in 2006

Laisa Digitaki’s story

One of the stories you won’t see in Fiji’s well-controlled media is the story of the regime’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy activists in the wake of military commander Frank Bainimarama seizing power in December 2006. Suva businesswoman Laisa Digitaki, who was pregnant at the time, converted her office building into a pro-democracy shrine in the wake of the coup, but it was demolished by gunmen, whom Digitaki accused of being military personnel, although she was not present at the time. Ground floor windows were shattered and a television satellite dish was damaged. According to Wikipedia, Digitaki and a number of others protesting outside the Great Council of Chiefs venue in Suva on 21 December 2006 were arrested by the Military, which claimed that they had no permit for a protest. They were released on bail pending a court appearance on 29 January 2007, but Digitaki never appeared. When the magistrate was told she was in hiding and heard the reasons why, he declined to issue a warrant for her arrest. She was subsequently granted UN protection. Following is Digitaki’s story about what happened to her at Christmas 2006. It is not new, having been posted first on Fiji Village in February 2007 (link broken) and then on other blogs, but it is worth repeating and corroborates the story of Peter Waqavonovono, which FMW published yesterday.

LAISA DIGITAKI’S STATEMENT & SEQUENCE OF EVENTS RE – PRO-DEMOCRACY GROUP OF FIVE ROUNDING UP AND BASHING BY THE RFMF ON DECEMBER 24th‑25th, 2006 On Christmas Eve night of 24th December, 2006, a group of soldiers came to our home at 12 Kavika Place, Muanikau,Suva at around 11.20 pm in a rental car registration number LR627.Members of the family who were at the property at that time were myself, Laisa Digitaki, my partner, Sitiveni Weleilakeba, our son, Mosese Qionibaravi (19), and three daughters, Susana Qionibaravi (17), Fiona Weleilakeba (13) and Natasha Weleilakeba (8). A security guard was also on duty. According to the guard, Marau Vakaloloma, of Matrix Security Company, the soldiers advised him through the closed electronic gate that they were there to take me to the camp. The guard told them to wait outside the gate so he could advise us. He rang the door bell which was answered and opened by our son Mosese. My partner Sitiveni, who was asleep with me heard the door chime and also went downstairs to the front door to check. He said the guard told him of the soldiers’ presence and he told our son to go back to his room and that he would talk to the soldiers. He walked over to the closed electronic gate and was informed by the soldiers that the order from their superior was to take me to the camp for interrogation. My partner then came back into the house, to our bedroom, and woke me up saying that a group of soldiers was outside waiting to take me away. I went downstairs in my sleeping gown and asked them why they wanted to take me at that ungodly hour. One of them said that I needed to be taken to the camp immediately. I told them that I needed to speak to my lawyers at Munro Leys as I wanted to be escorted by them too. The guy mentioned that I need not speak to my lawyers as it would only complicate matters and that they needed to take me peacefully and that I should not fear as they claimed that we were all related anyway. He also said that another group of soldiers was on their way and their job was to forcefully remove me from my home if I resisted. The gentleman who seemed to be their spokesman looked familiar to me as the SDL Nasinu Branch Secretary. I do not know his name. I asked their spokesman if I could change into decent clothes of which he said yes. I went back to our bedroom and changed into a mustard Marcs three-quarter pants, a “Fiji Me” bright green round neck T‑Shirt, pink golf cap, and brown leather Hush Puppies slippers. Before I walked out of the house, I called my Munro Leys lawyer, Mr Richard Naidu, to advise him of what was happening. I then walked out peacefully and into the yellow rental car with the soldiers. I was introduced by the spokesman to each of them and he mentioned that the one sitting on my left was from Vanuabalavu, Lau, and the one on my right was from Namosi. The Namosi lad looked like the person who headed the Namosi soldiers who presented an apology to Commodore Bainimarama for their part in the 2000 coup. I do not know his name. The other two soldiers were calling him “Sir” so I can only assume that he is a high ranking officer. Their spokesperson did not elaborate on the driver, who was also an indigenous Fijian. They mentioned that they were also after Imrana Jalal, Virisila Buadromo and the rest of our pro-democracy youth group. Imrana’s home is two houses away from mine and I told them to leave her family alone and that there was no point in going to Imrana’s home since she was away overseas for business anyway. The four soldiers were very friendly and we were even cracking some jokes on our way to the camp. They said that most of the soldiers were SDL supporters and that I shouldn’t be afraid.I told them that even-though I helped with the SDL election campaign, I was totally against most of the things they came up with soon after the election and that I was not supporting SDL but was doing what I was doing not for the restoration of the SDL government but for the restoration of democracy and law and order in Fiji. As we arrived at the camp, I was told to walk into a room situated on the left hand side of the main gate which I will call the guardhouse. The Namosi soldier gently requested that I hand over my cap, Sony Ericsson mobile phone and Raymond Weil watch, which I did. They told me to sit a while on a white plastic chair and after a few minutes, I was led into a passage way from where I was sitting and realised that they were cells. On my left, I noticed two young men asleep in the first cell in their underwear snoring and noticed another figure in the same cell but couldn’t figure out whether it was a person as it was quite dark. On my right, I noticed my business partner, Imraz Iqbal, lying on his back on the cold cement in his red underwear. I greeted him before they locked me in the cell opposite Imraz’s. After a few minutes, they opened the cell again and led me further down to the last cell where they locked me up again. The cell was darker than the one before. An indigenous Fijian soldier in civilian clothing came to me and started accusing me of talking against the army takeover. He ordered that the mattress I was sitting on be removed so that I could sit on the cold cement floor. More indigenous Fijian soldiers walked over to my cell to peek with some saying their “bulas”’ while the others did not utter a word. Overall, the soldiers at the guard house were pleasant and not intimidating except for that gentleman who was angry about my pro‑democracy stand. After about 20 minutes in the cell, the Namosi soldier came and freed me and asked if we could go together to get Pita Waqavonovono, another pro‑democracy advocate.

Read more »

Posted by Marc Edge at 9:26 AM

Ghosts of ethnic conflicts past haunt Fiji vote

SYDNEY/SUVA (Reuters) – When voters in Fiji head to the polls on Wednesday for the first time in eight years, they will be voting not only for a leader, but also testing the success of one of their military junta’s key justifications: ending a history of ethnic conflict.

Fiji, a chain of more than 300 tropical islands in the South Pacific, has suffered four coups since 1987, the latest in 2006 led by former army chief Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama, whose Fiji First Party has a strong lead heading into the general election.

Bainimarama seized on a long-simmering rivalry between indigenous Fijian nationalists and the descendants of ethnic Indian laborers, brought by the British to work sugarcane fields, to justify his coup.

In 2000, ethnic Fijian nationalists held the country’s first Indo-Fijian prime minister hostage in Parliament for 56 days, which led to riots in the streets of the capital, Siva.

Bainimarama quickly abolished traditional, rival power bases such as the ethnic Fijian Great Council of Chiefs while steadily pushing for equal rights culminating in a 2013 constitution, helping him to consolidate his popularity amongst Indo-Fijians.

But while new laws mean equality has improved on the surface, in reality, the animosity festers under the surface, said Professor Brie La, an expert on Fiji at the Australian National University.

“Decreeing that political parties ought to have multi-racial membership is one thing, but the reality on the ground, as everyone will tell you, is that ethnic relations are much more fraught now than before,” he told Reuters.

Of paramount importance was the instability inherent in dictating equality by fiat, whether or not one believed that Bainimarama embraced multi-ethnic policies out of genuine belief or political expediency, he said.

“The question that you have to ask is: how widely is that view shared by members of his own party? Does the military share that view, which is 99 percent ethnic Fijian?”

“So how genuine is this transformation, if there is one?”

Ethnic Indians make up about 40 percent of the population of about 900,000. Indigenous Fijians fear political domination by the minority ethnic Indians who dominate the sugar- and tourism-based economy.

THE EXCEPTION IS THE RULE

Fiji’s much-delayed vote is being closely watched by neighbors Australia and New Zealand, the region’s economic and diplomatic powerhouses, eager to welcome the country back to the fold of normal relations after eight years of isolation.

In Fiji, ensuring a return to democracy after years of military rule seems foremost on people’s minds.

“What’s in an anglicized name,” asked Asaeli Tamanitoakula, referring to a decree that all citizens be addressed as Fijian regardless of ethnicity.

“The land is protected and so is everything else. What is not protected is a return to democracy, and that’s why we need the elections. Otherwise we have not progressed as a nation.”

Sunil Ram, an Indo-Fijian, told Reuters that although ethnicity was not a major factor in his vote, he was looking forward to the freedom that came with the abolition of ethnic voter lists used in the past.

“Before I felt like an outsider to my own country by voting in your own racial groups,” he said. “This time we will all be voting in one line, all as Fijians.”

Ultimately, the best gauge of Bainimarama’s success may be that the military – Fiji’s most powerful institution – remains almost 100 percent ethnic Fijian, said Jenny Hayward-Jones, a regional expert at Sydney think-tank the Lowy Institute.

And since the 2013 constitution granted the military broad powers to interfere in politics, that leaves the fate of the country in the hands of a powerful, ethnic-Fijian institution.

“I think that exception to the rule is actually the greatest demonstration that he hasn’t done as much as he could have, because that was something that was within his reach,” she told Reuters.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

 

Fiji media blackout penalties ‘unduly harsh’, says NZ news watchdog

Fiji media blackout penalties ‘unduly harsh’, says NZ news watchdog

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By the PMC news desk

The 48-hour media blackout on political news before Fiji’s polling day on Wednesday has “unduly harsh” penalties and is designed to curb free speech, says the presenter of Radio New Zealand’s Mediawatch programme.

pacificfijielections logo 200wideBroadcaster Colin Peacock, who monitors media developments in New Zealand and globally in the weekly half-hour programme, says that after such a long time since the last election, people in Fiji should be encouraged to be discussing issues on social media without it being necessarily considered a “publication”.

This is the first election since the military coup in December 2006. People have cast votes in pre-polling and the main election is on Wednesday.

Fijian Elections Office communication officer Talei Tora confirmed to the Pacific Media Centre today that the ban applies to social media.

This includes all Facebook comments and twitter re-tweets.

Peacock told PMC’s Thomas Carnegie the penalties of the Electoral Decree – including provisions of up to F$50,000 or 10 years in jail – are “unduly harsh” compared with a comparable New Zealand penalty of $20,000 and no jail term.

He says it depends on how the authorities wish to police the provisions under the decree, especially over social media.

An official media blackout guideline based on Section 118 of the decree says:

“Media must not allow any political activity, including advertisements, interview and political actors, and conduct debates or commentaries that would be deemed to be advocacy or has the potential to influence voters – eg. no candidate can be interviewed on a radio talkback show [after] 7.30am.”

The blackout runs from 7.30am today until the close of polling at 6pm on Wednesday.

A total of 450 journalists and media staff have been accredited to cover the elections, including 37 from foreign news organisations – among them two student journalists from AUT University.

Dictator poses as just another candidate

Last updated 05:00 16/09/2014

24fijiland

FIJI MINISTRY OF INFORMATION

STRONGMAN: Fiji Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama is seen at a parade in February.

OPINION: Tomorrow Fiji has an election for the first time in eight years. Because the country has been under a military dictatorship for all that time, the world will be watching the conduct of the poll.

Frank Bainimarama, the thug who stole Fijian democracy and appointed himself prime minister, now promises to be good. He has resigned his military post and likes to pose as just another political candidate.

International observers won’t tell us till after the election whether it was free and fair, and until then we should assume nothing. However, the observers might well find that there were no obvious scams: no ballot-stuffing, no outright intimidation at the voting booth, no attempt to stop people voting.

And, in fact, it is in Bainimarama’s interests to ensure that no such shenanigans take place. He more than anyone else knows that bullying and intimidation would make him and his election a laughing stock, and his attempt to turn himself into a respectable politician would have failed. What he needs is a scandal-free election that will return him to power via the ballot box. Right now, that is a reasonable possibility. And this shows the problems associated with trying to restore democracy after a long period of dictatorship. Holding a “free and fair” election is an absolute necessity, and the world can hardly object if Bainimarama is elected as a result. But let’s not think that such an election operates on a level playing field.

Bainimarama’s regime flouted human rights, bullied and intimidated opponents, and tried to suppress the free media. It expelled troublesome journalists and bullied those who remained. The result was the media was not free and the coverage of politics was weighted in favour of the regime. None of this changes just because some of the most flagrant abuses were lifted a few months before the election. The effect of dictatorship does not disappear the moment the dictator resigns his commission and stops calling himself the prime minister.

Bainimarama has had years of dictatorial rule with a largely compliant press and a cowed opposition. He has been busy spending money to gain support. His brutal rule has, of course, appealed to people who care far more about personal security and crime than democracy. So he has used his powers to tilt the playing field – and now he stands to benefit.

The latest poll showed that he and his party have 49 per cent support rather than the 60 per cent shown previously. This might indicate that despite all the advantages of dictatorship, he might have to form a coalition government. He has already said he doesn’t want to do this. Dictators, after all, are used to having their own way. They don’t like the idea of having to negotiate. His powers might be hedged.

So he might gain enough votes to lead a government but he might not have everything his own way. Those who hope for a real democracy in Fiji should not despair. Perhaps after a few years the voters will see there are alternative leaders who are far less repellent than Bainimarama.

  ;

– The Dominion Post

In case you forgot that we live in a Military Dictatorship

“The Commissioner of Police says he has sent out about a hundred extra officers to divisions in the North, East and West of Fiji and has nearly 300 others in reserve. He says his officers will ensure the electoral decree is enforced and are adopting a zero tolerance approach. In a statement, Commissioner Groenewald, says he will not hesitate to request the assistance of the Fiji Military Forces if necessary to assist in maintaining law and order. The Supervisor of Elections has reinforced that any individual in Fiji who is convicted of breaching the blackout provisions of the electoral decree could face a fine of up to 50 thousand Fiji dollars or a jail term of up to 10 years.

Media owners or publishers who breach the rules could face up to five years in jail.”