Fiji has imposed a strict media blackout on coverage of its first elections since the 2006 coup, warning that journalists face up to five years in jail if they do not comply. The blackout applies to political campaigning, interviews with candidates and election material such as posters or banners. It also prohibits discussion of this week’s vote on public forums including social media sites. Fiji’s elections supervisor Mohammed Saneem claimed the measure was intended to give the electorate a chance to reflect on how to vote in Wednesday’s poll without being bombarded by partisan messages intended to influence their decision. “The blackout is there to protect the voter from incessant campaigning before polling so that the voter can decide without any influence or undue pressure,” he told reporters. Campaign workers in Suva were today busy removing promotional material before the start of the blackout, which runs from 7.30am today (1930 GMT Sunday) to the close of polling at 6pm on Wednesday.
Fijian election laws introduced this year by the government of Voreqe Bainimarama, who seized power in a 2006 military coup and who is standing as a prime ministerial candidate, ban publication of any opinion polls in the week before the election.
Breaching the law can attract a five-year prison term and a FJ$10,000 ($5,833) fine.
About 600,000 Fijians are expected to go to the polls on Wednesday in a vote which Mr Bainimarama’s government is keen to promote as the country’s first free and fair election. However there are concerns about the legitimacy of the election: the country’s original constitution has been ditched and a number of opposition candidates have been disqualified from standing.