In a judgment delivered on Friday 30 August, the Supreme Court threw out an appeal by Leader of the Opposition Prem Singh against his loss in the Nadi Open Constituency to Labour Party’s Krishna Prasad.
The Supreme Court ruled that it had no jurisdiction to hear the appeal by Prem Singh. Yet it went on to pronounce that in its opinion the court of disputed return had erred in its decision that ballot papers with a single clear tick below the line was valid.
Although Prem Singh is now forced to vacate his seat in parliament and his position as leader of Opposition, he maintains he is the rightful winner of the constituency.
In a statement issued today, the Labour Party defends the ruling by Justice Anthony Gates validating ballot papers with a single tick below the line.
FLP maintains that the provisions of section 116 (3) (d) of the Electoral Act enables such an interpretation to be construed or else the provision itself becomes meaningless.
While section 75 (2) of the Act deals with the manner in which ballot papers are to be marked, it also provides that such is subject to the provisions of section 116 (3). In our view a vote ought to count if the voter’s intention is clear. Not to do so is disenfranchising the voter.
Only one and one conclusion can be drawn from a single tick placed alongside the name of a political party or a candidate by a voter. And that conclusion is that the vote is intended for that party or candidate. It matters not whether such single tick is placed above or below the line so long as there is no other mark on the ballot paper.
Where is the logic in allowing a ballot paper so marked above the line to be valid but to disallow it if similarly marked below the line? This is where s 116 (3) (d) of the Electoral Act validates the papers so marked.
Democracy and human rights is more about having people’s votes cast with clear intention counted than having it invalidated under a pretext of some vague technicality or misapplication.
While we concede as a general rule that ballot papers must be marked as provided in s 75 of the Act, we stress that this section itself recognises that there may be cases where a voter may not be able, for a variety of reasons, including the level of his/ her literacy, to fully comply with this requirement.
In other words, there is room for errors to be made but such errors, by themselves, will not invalidate the vote if the intention of the voter is clear. They are to be regarded as exceptions and dealt with according to s 116 (3).
The bottom line, however, is that the matter has been decided. The decision of the court of disputed returns is final as has been pronounced by the Supreme Court. That decision must now be implemented without any further delay.