Fiji opposition groups say intimidation, lack of coverage means September polls won’t be free and fair
Opposition parties in Fiji say intimidation and a lack of media coverage mean the coming elections will not be free and fair.
The September poll will be the country’s first since the 2006 military coup in which Frank Bainimarama seized power.
Rear-Admiral Bainimarama has been on been on the hustings promoting his new party, but opposition groups say the political playing field is far from even.
Ro Teimumu Kepa from the opposition Social Democratic Liberal Party of Fiji (SODELPA) says their own election campaign has been troubled.
“Up to this moment in time there are some things that are happening which does not augur well for the free and fair that we are hoping for,” he said.
When the party has campaigned in some communities, Ro Teimumu says police have turned up afterwards to question people about what was said.
“When a stranger arrives at a village, you know right away that person does not belong to that village,” she said.
“If they come from the police or the military then they believe it’s some form of intimidation.”
Around the world media coverage is part of any election campaign, but SODELPA says it can’t get its message out.
Ro Teimumu says media censorship after the coup means many outlets won’t run comments or stories critical of the government.
“We normally have coverage towards the back of the paper,” she said.
“[It comes] after Bainimarama’s photo and whatever he has to say on the front page, and then after all the supermarket ads and the sports and film and television ads.”
There’s also concern that Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum is also the elections minister, which SODELPA says is a conflict of interest.
Their concerns are echoed by the National Federation Party’s leader, Dr Biman Prasad
“We’re telling the whole world we’re holding an election – yet the world must also see there are all these restrictions that are in place which do not allow political parties to engage freely,” he said.
Dr Prasad says laws governing the elections, political parties and the media all favour the government.
“People who are opinion makers, academics, NGOs, trade union officials – they’ve all been barred from taking part in political activities and actually talking about issues,” he said.
If opposition parties are finding it difficult, independent candidates are doing it even tougher.
Roshika Deo and the supporters of her ‘Be The Change’ campaign lack the funds to buy TV and newspaper ads, and have been forced to turn to social media
“We’ve been in a military dictatorship and we still remain in a military dictatorship and as a result it makes it hard,” she said.
Ms Deo is running as an independent candidate after gaining prominence raising the issue of violence against women and children.
The subject matter, her young age and gender have prompted an angry backlash from some communities.
“There has been certain older, seasoned people that have not been very supportive,” she said.
“They have been created additional barriers for us, have been using a lot of sexist, ageist language.
“We’ve had the misogynist attacks, the rape threats, you know the threats of violence on social media.”
While opposition parties and independents battle to be heard, Frank Bainimarama has no such worries, with every move of his Fiji First Party relayed by the media
Despite facing what appear to be very long odds, opposition figures like Ro Teimumu Kepa say they won’t stop campaigning.
“We can just live in hope,” she said.