The Fiji media has an important responsibility to ensure that the upcoming elections are free, fair and credible – this can best be ensured if the media allows honest, balanced and unbiased coverage of statements and views across the political spectrum.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case so far. It has placed political parties at an extreme disadvantage because their views and opinions are not getting through to the nation at this crucial time when our people need to make informed decisions on Fiji’s future.
Open, robust debate on issues of national importance, is an absolute pre-requisite for elections to be considered free, fair and credible. The role of the media in facilitating such discussions/debates is critical.
The current restrictive media environment in which political parties are being forced to take to the hustings, is one area of concern to the Fiji Labour Party. The other serious concern is the complete lack of preparedness of the electoral machinery eight months before the nation goes to the polls:
1. Electoral Legislation is still not in place. Eight months before elections, political parties have no idea what to expect, how the process will operate or the rules and regulations governing it. This is an unacceptable situation.
2. Although the Electoral Commission has now been appointed, its members were hand-picked by the regime without any consultation with existing political parties.
3. There is still no Supervisor of Elections and it appears that this vital appointment will also be made without any input from political parties.
4. Eight months before the elections, a significant 20% of eligible voters are yet to be registered. The FLP has suggested introducing house to house registration, as in the past, to ensure eligible voters, particularly those in rural and remote areas, are not left out. There has been no response to this from the Elections Office.
5. FLP is concerned that the electoral process is still being very much controlled by the Attorney General. We wait to
see the Electoral Commission take a pro-active role and act independently of the regime.
6. The FLP is also not happy with one-day elections. We believe it is impossible to hold 1-day elections in Fiji given
its geographical and other logistical constraints. For instance, a massive 30,000 officials will be needed to man the
3000 polling stations that is currently being considered, given at least 10 required per polling station. Just to bring
the point home, in the 2006 general elections, there were 1500 polling stations – half the number currently being
mooted. The Elections Office had difficulty finding enough people to adequately man these booths.
7. Draconian decrees still in place which restrict freedom of association, expression and assembly, and impinge on other
human rights and liberties, must be lifted to create that open, confident environment essential for democratic
elections to take place.
The Fiji Labour Party is writing to the Electoral Commission to submit its concerns on the current process and we will want an urgent meeting with the Commission to discuss these matters.
The Elections Office and the electoral machinery must function completely independent of any interference from the regime.
We fear that neither the process, as it stands today, nor the current environment, is conductive to the conduct of free, fair and credible elections.
24 January 2014