Major Problems With Elections
Issue No: 1038 27 August 2001
The first day of polling has shown that there are major problems with the conduct of elections.
Names of hundreds of voters have been missing from the electoral rolls. These voters had their names present in the 1999 election rolls. The deletion of the names has caused a major breach of their constitutional rights to vote. The Elections office has blamed the government's Computing centre for deleting the names. But the Computing centre blames the Elections office for not providing all the names. It is believed that omission of the names will lead to major court challenges on the validity of the election results.
Another problem has been that some polling stations do not have sufficient ballot papers for the voters. The Elections Office has blamed the polling station presiding officers for this problem.
It has also been found that there are serious discrepancies in the allocation of polling stations to constituencies. Voters can vote anywhere within the constituency or where the constituency votes are permitted. Each voter has two votes, one for his/her communal candidate, and another for an open candidate. In many cases, it has been found that polling stations can cater for only one constituency. Voters who turn up for voting at these constituencies are returned. The Fiji Labour Party had found out about this problem last week and written to the Elections Office. It has still not received any response on this to date.
Another major problem found is that the election officials have been selectively breaching the rules for the conduct of the election. The media has widely reported such breach of rules. It is believed that the breaches favour Qarase's SDL party. It has also been found that the election officials have been applying election rules selectively.
It has also been found that many election officials do not know the election rules, and in cases have imposed their own rules.
The confusion over rules emerge from different documents which the elections office has circulated to the candidates. One circular stated that there should be no campaign, including display of banners, posters, etc., after midnight of 24th August. Another circular, called Instructions for Polling Agents, states that these are not allowed only within 50 metres of the actual polling. The confusion has not been resolved by the Elections Offices.
Yet another problem has been the slow pace at which the officials work. In many cases, it has been found that voters have to wait for over 4 hours to cast their votes. The long delays have been explained to the Commonwealth Observer mission by the officials as emanating from the delay in verifying the names of the ethnic Indian voters.
The media has also reported that a High Chief has been intimidating voters in his area to vote for Qarase's party. The chief, Ratu Inoke Takiveikata, has reportedly demanded that his subjects vote for SDL. Political parties have described this as intimidation. The Fiji Sun has today condemned such intimidation. Takiveikata has been charged with offences relating to terrorism. He is also a founding member of the SDL of which Qarase is the leader.