Election Rigging – a distinct possibility

  • 19th April 2014
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No decision or action of the Electoral Commission or the Supervisor of Elections can be challenged in the Courts of Law, under the Electoral Decree 

This and several other provisions of the Electoral Decree confirm FLP’soft-stated fears that the September 2014 elections will not be free and fair. It makes electoral rigging a distinct possibility. 

Section 3 (3) of Decree 11 of 2014 grants a blanket immunity to the Electoral Commission, the Supervisor of Elections and the staff of their office from any criminal or civil proceedings.

How can there be any guarantee of free and fair elections if the chief Electoral officers and the Commission itself cannot be held accountable for their actions and decisions?  

Section 3 (3) reads:

No member, officer, employee or agent of the Electoral Commission or the Supervisor or any officer, employee or agent of the Fijian Elections Office shall be held liable in any criminal or civil proceeding for any act or matter done or omitted to be done since the date of their appointment in the bona fide exercise or attempted exercise of any of the powers, functions and duties, whether conferred by this Decree or otherwise.”      

 

No such provision existed in the 1988 Electoral Act which was revoked by the regime. What it ultimately signifies is that were the elections to be rigged on the order of the regime, no one could be prosecuted for such unlawful practice. 

Section 3(3) nullifies all other provisions of the Decree which require the Electoral Commission and the Supervisor of Elections to entertain complaints from political parties or candidates. 

For instance, Section 17 allows written complaints against any decision of the Supervisor or any election official to be lodged with the Election Commission. The Commission is required to address the complaint. However, Section 3 (3) renders the whole exercise futile because the Commission’s decision cannot be challenged. 

The independence of the Electoral Commission (Section 4 (1) is compromised by Section 4 (2) which states that: 

Notwithstanding subsection (1), the Electoral Commission

       may consult the Minister on any matter.”  

    

Likewise, the independence and impartiality of both the Commission and Supervisor of Elections provided for under Sections 6 and 7 in the conduct of their duties, are negated by Sections 3(3) and 4(2) mentioned above. 

The Supervisor of Elections and the members of the Electoral Commission were hand-picked by the regime without any consultation with political parties or civil society organisations. 

To date, there has been little indication that they can be trusted to make independent and impartial decisions on such matters. Indeed, the reverse has been the case as the following show: 

1. Ballot Paper and Party Symbols 

All political parties have expressed their opposition to the format for the ballot paper as proposed under the decree which resembles a “cent a vote card”.

The voter will receive a massive ballot paper, at the polling booth, containing between 250-300 squares with numbers to represent candidates. They will be required to tick the number of their choice.

Candidates representing the squares will not have names, or photos or party symbols  – only number

Why are Party Symbols being discarded from the ballot paper for Elections 2014 when they have always been an identification feature of election campaigns and voting?

To discard them has been the regime’s idea. Yet, the Electoral Commission has acquiesced in this without question. It should have fought to retain the Party symbols.

2. The Commission has also under pressure accepted the regime’s imposition of  one-day poll, after initially expressing strong reservations against it.

FLP has consistently maintained that considering the current state of unpreparedness for the September polls and lack of trained manpower and resources, its geographical spread, one day poll will be simply chaotic.

In past elections, the number of invalid votes has been high. In 2006, 9% of voters were disenfranchised as a result.  It is likely to be even higher under the 2014 provisions with Party symbols being discarded.

An independent analyst has described the poll as a “nightmare for voters”. An innocent voter, falling foul of the decree, faces a massive fine of $50,000 and/or a jail term of 10 years. 

What a travesty of justice and one’s democratic rights! Yet, the Electoral Commission has quietly agreed to such preposterous conditions.