With an election looming in Fiji in 2018, the commission responsible for overseeing preparations has been allowed to lapse out of existence. On 9 January, the three-year term of the independent Electoral Commission, a constitutionally-mandated seven-member body tasked with supervising the Elections Office, which is responsible for preparing the vote, expired. Opposition parties say there appears to be no rush to replace the commission, which they say raises concerns about the state of Fiji’s nascent democracy as it prepares to enter its second elections since Frank Bainimarama’s 2006 coup. “There are no longer commissioners and there is no longer an Electoral Commission in place and that’s serious because it’s a constitutional office,” said Biman Prasad, the leader of the opposition National Federation Party. “It shouldn’t be allowed to remain vacant but that is exactly what has happened.”
Articles about voting issues in the Republic of Fiji.
The Fijian Elections Office yesterday clarified their role towards the Electoral Commission. Supervisor of Elections Mohammed Saneem, while making submissions on the Multi-National Observer Group and the Electoral Commission report before the Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights, said their role was to provide secretarial services to the commission. He said this included funding, allowances, travelling and meeting allowances, and other administrative requirements. Mr Saneem said for the past two years they had considered all request and requirements put forward by the commission.
The Fijian Electoral Commission has welcomed the initiative by the Fijian Elections Office to conduct voter registration continuously. And Commission Chairperson, Chen Bunn Young is inviting all eligible Fijians to take advantage of this opportunity to register to vote. Young says it’s important to continue to update the Voter Roll and ensure that registration is accessible to any Fijian as it is a voluntary process.
An international monitoring group declared on Tuesday that last year’s election in Fiji was “credible”, but called for restrictions on the media and civil society groups to be eased. The September 2014 vote was the first election in the coup-plagued Pacific nation since military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama seized power in 2006. A multinational observer group (MOG) said it was satisfied the poll, which resulted in a landslide victory for Bainimarama’s FijiFirst party, was carried out correctly. “While the MOG notes areas for improvement of Fiji’s electoral process, it deems this a credible election,” said the group, which has 92 members from 13 countries around the world as well as the European Union, in its final report. “The MOG believes the election broadly represented the will of the Fijian voters. The MOG congratulates the people of Fiji on taking this important step in their return to democracy.”
Fiji’s election has been thrown into confusion as a united opposition says it has evidence of fraud, contradicting international observers’ findings that the election result looked to be in line with what people wanted. Provisional results give Rear Adm. Voreqe Bainimarama’s party, Fiji First, a convincing lead with more than 60% of the vote, according to data released by the Fijian election authority early Thursday. The military strongman has ruled Fiji for eight years. The nearest opposition, the Social Democratic Liberal Party, known as Sodelpa, won just 27% of the vote, the election authority said. Final results aren’t expected for several days. Peter Reith, the Australian co-leader of the Multinational Observers Group, said that after talking to 92 observers from 15 countries, it had been concluded the elections were “on track to broadly represent the will of the Fijian voters.”
Thousands of Fijians got their first chance to vote in eight years on Wednesday in an election that promises to finally restore democracy to the South Pacific nation of 900,000. Military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama, who has ruled Fiji since he seized control in a 2006 coup, is the frontrunner. He is popular, thanks in part to his focus on social programmes, increased infrastructure spending and a crackdown on the media. In early counting, Bainimarama’s Fiji First party had 59.2% of the vote with 804 of the 2,025 polling stations processed, according to official results reported by the Fiji Times newspaper. Its closest rival, the Sodelpa Party, had 28.1%. After casting his ballot, Bainimarama was asked whether he would accept the outcome if he lost. “I’m not going to lose. I will win. You ask that question to the other party,” he said. Then he added, “Of course we will accept the election results. That is what the democratic process is all about.”
Voters in Fiji headed to the polls on Wednesday for the first time in eight years, following a decision by the South Pacific island nation’s military junta that the time was right for a transition back to democratic rule. Fiji, a tropical idyll about 3,200 km (2,000 miles) east of Australia, has suffered four coups since 1987, the latest in 2006 led by former army chief Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama, whose Fiji First Party had a strong lead heading into the general election. Voters thronged to the polls, appearing ecstatic about once again choosing their leaders despite the spectre of security threats raised by the military and criticism of Bainimarama for using state media to drown out other parties. “I have waited for eight years to be part of this historic day. Everyone voting as … members of this place we call home,” Ramesh Chand told Reuters after casting his vote for Fiji First.
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.
Fiji’s election this week won’t just determine who will rule the picturesque cluster of islands in the South Pacific, but also whether a promise to return to democracy will be fulfilled. About 600,000 Fijians are set to head to the polls Wednesday in what is being touted as the island nation’s first free and fair election. Critics, however, say the vote is little more than a charade held to legitimize the current regime, which gained power in a 2006 coup. The nation’s politics are far removed from the popular image of Fiji: most people who come here are vacationers from Australia or the U.S., seeking sunshine and a getaway on the island’s palm-lined sandy beaches. But the past eight years of military rule have been littered with accusations of human- rights abuses and the quashing of opponents. “All I’ve known growing up is coups, to be honest,” said 27-year-old Monica Waqanisau, who was born in 1987, the year two coups took place. Since then, there have been two more in the former British colony.
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.