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Labour Plans Judicial Review Over 'Poll-Rigging'

Labour Plans Judicial Review Over 'Poll-Rigging' Allegations

Staff Reporters: September 7, 2001 Wansolwara Online (USP)

SUVA (Pasifik Nius): The Fiji Labour Party plans to seek a judicial review of five open seats in the general election as allegations of poll-rigging mounted from four political parties.

Labour had been widely expected to win the five Suva urban seats.

The Soqosoqo Dauvata ni Lewenivanua party early today had a total of 29 seats with two seats still to be decided in the 71-seat Parliament while Labour had 27. Minor parties share the balance.

Labour leader Mahendra Chaudhry claimed there were "serious electoral irregularities" and called on the Commonwealth and United Nations observers to withhold "certifying the 2001 general elections free and fair" until all claims had been investigated.

The Soqosoqo Vakavulewa ni Taukei, New Labour Party and Fijian Association parties also alleged that votes had been rigged and said a fingerprint expert was needed to determine the validity of ticks put on ballot papers.

"The fact is that if an election has been won through fraud that has to be corrected. In a democracy, we cannot let it go," Chaudhry told a media conference yesterday.

"We cannot let it pass just because someone is threatening to do something."

The Fiji Times reported today that the Supervisor of Elections, Walter Rigamoto, said he would investigate the allegations

A Labour media release cited the following claims:

* Long delays in beginning the count, particularly in the Central Division.

* The introduction to the vote of "unverified postal ballots" part way into the count.

* The "extremely high" number of invalid votes - much higher than in the 1999 election when the new preferential voting system was introduced for the first time.

* The "uniformity of ticks" on ballot papers.

According to the release, these issues "raised serious doubts about the conduct of the election and the neutrality of electoral officials/clerks."

Chaudhry alleged that it was clear that polling clerks were planted by caretaker Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's United Fiji (SDL) party at polling stations to invalidate FLP votes.

He said that in his own constituency, Ba Open — there were 1087 invalid votes in 1999. This time the figure had risen to a "massive 2713 of which more than 2000 were mine".

SVT leader Filipe Bole, who lost his seat in the election, said he was seeking legal advice and had already written a protest to the Supervisor of Elections.

FAP leader Adi Kuini Speed said her party would meet today to decide on action to take.

"At the moment we think it is going to be a legal challenge, or getting handwriting experts in," she said.

NLUP leader Dr Tupeni Baba said that vote-rigging was the "overwhelming feeling" for every communal Fijian seat and open seat in the urban areas.

Caretaker Prime Minister Qarase said an investigation into the allegations should be carried out.

The head of the Commonwealth observer delegation, Sir Henry Forde, would not immediately comment, but said a statement would be issued before the observers left Fiji.

+++niuswire


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