Home » Uncategorized » Voters face many obstacles in post-coup Fiji election, say campaigners

Voters face many obstacles in post-coup Fiji election, say campaigners

Voters face many obstacles in post-coup Fiji election, say campaigners

<!—->Speakers Shamima Ali (left) and Asenaca Uluiviti at the "Fiji: Return to democracy" seminar. Image: Del Abcede / PMC

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Anna Majavu

A baffling ballot paper with 249 numbers and no names or party logos, the government using public funds to campaign for the Fiji First party, and a seven-day ban on media – these are just some of the obstacles to a “free and fair” election in Fiji next month.

Asenaca Uluiviti of the Coalition for Democracy in Fiji (CDF), Shamima Ali, chairperson of the Fiji NGO Coalition for Human Rights, and Nik Naidu, spokesperson for the CDF, spoke of these issues at a seminar held at the Auckland University of Technology last night.

Titled “Fiji’s return to democracy”, the seminar was hosted by the Pacific Media Centre, Asia-Pacific Human Rights Coalition (APHRC) and CDF.

The speakers praised the voter enrolment – with about 580,000 people having registered to vote in the September 17 election, almost 90 percent of all eligible voters have registered to vote.

Ali and Uluiviti are joined by Nik Naidu at the 'Return to Democracy' seminar. Image; Del Abcede / PMC

However, Fiji has had “four and a half” coups since 1987 and Naidu was not optimistic that this pattern would be broken.

“Every time things go wrong for a certain group of people, they entice the military into supporting them and overthrowing elected governments,” Naidu said, predicting that Fiji would continue to have “coup after coup after coup”.

Public funds ‘abused’
Uluiviti said that the government, led by interim Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, who seized power in a coup eight years ago, had embarked on a massive road and bridge building effort in the lead up to the election and accused his administration of “blatant corruption”.

Bainimarama has now stepped down as a rear admiral in the military and is leading the Fiji First party.

It was possible that he was using bridge and road opening ceremonies as campaign platforms for Fiji First, Uluiviti said.

“While they are distracting us with the road building…here is this eight-year-old regime that has willy nilly taken the funds, IMF (International Monetary Fund) loans and has reserved most of its development for this period, so it is campaigning on public funds. To me, that is blatant corruption,” Uluiviti said.

Baffling ballot paper
The ballot paper is a densely packed grid of 249 different numbers and has no party names or logos on it. Voters will have to visit a board outside the polling station and look through the list of candidates, then memorise the number of the candidate they wish to vote for, since it is not permitted to take any notes into the polling station.

fiji electionslogo 250wide_1Those voters who cannot read and who used to rely on the party logo to mark their cross next to, will be “guided” to the number of their choice on the grid by polling station workers, speakers said.

“It is really stripping the identity of the candidate, the party”, said Uluiviti.

There was “a worry that [polling station workers] would guide people to their own preferred candidate” instead of the voter’s choice, she added. The polling station workers had immunity so could not be “accused of anything”.

Overseas Fijians
There are hundreds of Fiji citizens living in New Zealand who are eligible to vote in the first democratic elections in eight years. However, despite many registration drives only a fraction of Fijians living overseas have registered to vote, reports an Asia-Pacific Journalism reporter, Struan Purdie.

Part of the reason for this, Uluiviti said, was that overseas voters only found out recently that they had to apply to the electoral commission for the right to vote. The application was cumbersome, and Uluiviti – who is based in Auckland – only received her application form on the eve of the last day to apply.

She is still waiting to hear if the electoral commission has approved her as a voter.

“Not many people have exercised that application process. It is almost a deliberate effort to stop us exercising our vote,” Uluiviti said.

Seven-day ban
The media will also face problems over the election period, the speakers said.

There is a seven day ban on media commentary and reportage on the poll for the week prior to the election and on the election day. Overseas journalists who are flying in to Fiji to report on the first democratic election in eight years are concerned about the ban, which carries a $10,000 fine if it is contravened.

It is unclear how the ban will be enforced as bloggers and social media users are unlikely to comply.

“The media is under siege … Journalists are intimidated. The long term effect of official censorship has been profound,” said Ali, who added that the ruling regime had a “revulsion” for the media.

The media was governed by a military decree which left journalists wide open “to the whims of those in power”, she added.

Ali said there was “still some of that robust journalism going on” with some of the media being quite resilient and finding their way around military decrees while others were very weak, and their reporting was “lacklustre”.

One journalist who had posed a tough question to Bainimarama was then grilled on who he was voting for, and was intimidated, Ali recounted.

Voting spread out
Election day is officially September 17 but voting for overseas citizens and people in remote areas in Fiji, doctors, nurses and bus drivers starts on September 3. The speakers voiced concern that this lengthy voting period might lead to vote rigging.

“We don’t know how safe those documents [ballot papers] are going to be and the security and how they will store the voting papers,” Ali said.

“The worry is this is where the rigging will happen,” Uluiviti added.

The governments of Australia and New Zealand were heavily focused on whether the election day seemed “free and fair” instead of looking at the bigger picture, Ali said.

“Everyone wants elections but what happens after is really important,” she said.

A truth and reconciliation commission for victims of torture and state killings and their families was needed.

The NZ and Australian governments would also need to support and train civil servants since the civil service had been hollowed out by Bainimarama’s forced retirement of all public servants over the age of 55.

Civil society organisations, student groups and religious organisations had wanted to set up their own 300-strong joint elections observer group, but were told two months after applying that they would not be allowed to do so since they would be “very biased”.

Other problems included the “draconian section 115″ of the electoral decree, Ali said, which prohibited human rights NGOs from influencing voters in any way.

“It’s a huge obstacle …we should have been able to tell women how to vote, to vote for people who promote human rights,” she said.

Indigenous institutions
The speakers emphasised that if Fiji First did not win a clear majority, this would lead to problems as Bainimarama was not keen on forming a coalition government, especially with any party “that is talking indigenous development, indigenous institutions”, Uluiviti said.

Only seven parties have qualified to take part in the election: Fiji First, Fiji Labour Party, National Federation Party, Peoples’ Democratic Party, One Fiji Party, Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) and United Freedom Party.

A positive was that most of the parties were led by women and had a strong presence of female candidates, Ali said.

Anna Majavu is the Pacific Media Watch contributing editor for 2014.

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8 thoughts on “Voters face many obstacles in post-coup Fiji election, say campaigners

  1. Another comment by a kiwi reporter which is biased. The reality is we having elections in less than 20 days. If people don’t like this govt, they should go and vote for parties against this govt. The reality is that we have 6 opposition parties that all want to be the next govt. Can’t they work together. They have made it harder to unseat the FFP.
    In some ways, I feel chor Mahen was right. NFP should have joined the united front.

    Now a split in the votes will make FFp win as the parties with less than 5% votes will be wasted. I would call the waste of votes as wasted parties.

  2. My prediction for the election:

    FFP: 32 seats
    NFP: 4 seats
    Sodelpa: 14 seats

    Others: no seats as they will not get the min 5%

    Sodelpa will get 60% of itaukei votes and almost no indo fijian votes;
    FF will get approx 30% of itaukei votes, 80% of indo fijian votes and almost all general elector votes;
    NFP will get 12% of indo fijian votes and 3% of itaukei votes.

  3. MPC is a master player. However, there is no student or candidate in FLP that can take the party forward.

    Dr Rohit is another Biman. An academic with phd with no practical experience and just good at dishing out theory to students. If academics were really smart, they would have been presidents/PMs of most of the countries of the world.

  4. All my relatives who voted for NFP in the last 3 general elections will vote against NFP as Biman will raise personal and corportae tax as he said in the “straight talk” programme.

    I know there are others who now fear the NFP will go to “bed” with sodelpa.

    Attar should take charge of NFP and kick biman out asap.

  5. @ Ex-NFP

    So you will vote according to a few dollars in your wallet and overlook what this government has done to us. Your selfishness will come back to bite you.

    This government has destroyed the economy and the Fijian dollar. Do you understand that?

    If you raise corporate taxes then personal income taxes can stay where they are. When you free up money at the lower end of the financial scale there is more to spend by the general populous. I will make it simple for you. If a corporation is making $100 and being taxed say 20% they make $80. If there is less spending and they make $70 and are being taxed 10% they make less profit.

    This government will not show us the books. Our foreign debt is likely to be out of control. How do we reign that in? They keep spending money to buy votes and digging a deeper hole.

    This election is bigger than your wallet and your hatred of Biman. If people like you can’t see the big picture and the right way forward for Fiji (a return to democracy) then we are screwed. You and your relatives will reap what you sow. Karma will give you what you deserve. Vote for your wallet and forget about democracy and freedom. A vote for the collective good usually benefits the individual. It makes for a more cohesive society. If you can’t see that now you probably never will.

  6. Rival jihadists of Al-Nusra Front, backed by other rebels, detained 43 Fijian peacekeepers on the Golan on Thursday, a day after their capture of the sole crossing over the UN-patrolled armistice line to the Israeli-occupied sector of the plateau.

    “Forty-three peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force were detained early this morning by an armed group in the vicinity of Quneitra,” a UN statement said.

    The 43 peacekeepers from Fiji were forced to surrender their weapons and taken hostage, but 81 Filipino blue helmets “held their ground” and refused to disarm, the Filipino defence department said.

    It said the Filipino peacekeepers were being surrounded by the gunmen.

  7. All these dubious impositions are really signs of oppression and deprivation of rights of the people of Fiji by the regime. So all talks of free and fair elections are simply lies. What I can’t figure out is why is there a week long media black out leading up to election day. We are all very curious to know what all is happening in our overdue long awaited elections so this black out is not serving the people any good purpose. Anyway what else did we expect from this dictatorial regime.

  8. Its not about my wallet my friend. A rise in corporate and personal tax will not result in an increase in total tax revenue. A bigger hole in revenue means that deficit and debt will be higher.

    The higher tax means higher operating cost which will be passed on to the consumers.

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