The Fiji Labour Party is very disturbed at the way the 2006 general elections are being conducted. The whole process casts serious doubts on the credibility and integrity of the general election, as well as the competence of the Supervisor of Elections and his staff.
A number of issues raise serious concern.
- The delay in the start to polling and the unavailability of ballot papers
The start to polling on Saturday May 6 was an utter shambles. In some cases, polling did not start until mid-day or even later. This time has not been made up completely and we call on the Supervisor of Elections that where polling stations opened 4-6 hours later be given additional polling time to make up.
Never before in Fiji have we witnessed this kind of disarray in the conduct of elections. The media appears to view the chaos with some sympathy, which I believe is completely unjustified. The elections were rushed, yes. But the date was based on assurances by the Supervisor of Elections that he would have the electoral machinery ready on time. Now he has no excuses. He has failed to deliver satisfactorily.
- Non-availability of ballot papersfor the Indian and Other constituencies
It is of concern that polling stations run out of Ballot papers for certain constituencies and are forced to close the station. This is happening with alarming regularity in the West.
First, polling stations open late because officials are not there on time while voters pile up.
Then you are told that ballot papers for the Indian and Other voters are not available. Yet polling for the Fijian stream goes on undisturbed. Now when this happens time and again one begins to wonder whether it is a logistical problem or a deliberate exercise to frustrate voting for certain communities and constituencies.
Labour has also received complaints from many voters that while they are given the communal ballot paper, they are not given the Open ballot paper. In one instance in Raiwaqa, the voter insisted that he be given both papers. At first he was told it was not available, then he continued to insist, they produced the ballot paper for the Open constituency.
A concern here is that once a voter gets the ink on his finger, he will not be permitted to vote again. This is just a deliberate move to disenfranchise voters and rig the polls.
- Closure of polling stations at 5pm
This is a completely unrealistic time for polling to close in urban and peri-urban areas. Workers knock off work at 5pm. By the time they reach the polling station, it is closed. Many of the workers in the Nasinu/Nausori corridor have to leave home well before 7am to get to work on time. When do they vote?
Despite a directive by the Commissioner Central that polling stations can stay open for up to two hours after 5pm to accommodate workers, some presiding officers are not following this directive. In Nasinu all polling stations close at 5pm sharp even if voters are still coming in.
The convention is that if voters are piling up, polling stations will remain open to accommodate them. This is not happening.
The TPAF (FNTC Centre) at Narere closed at 5pm sharp on Monday (8 May) while 200 voters were queued outside waiting to vote.
At Baulevu, again on Monday a whole queue of voters were turned away at 5pm because the presiding officer refused to allow an extension .
Worse still, those who were inside at 5pm when the gates closed, were still turned away without being able to vote because the station ran out of ballot papers for the Cunningham Open constituency.
Same thing happened at Nasimu 8 miles at the Bhawani Dayal Memorial School. The presiding officer said he would keep the gates open if voters were there but at 5.30pm a whole lot of voters walked away disappointed when it was suddenly announced that the polling station had run our of ballot papers.
This is intolerable. It is very frustrating both for voters and candidates. What guarantee is there that the voter will come back to vote after going through all these hassles? This is also happening with alarming regularity. A voter is supposed to get two ballot papers—one for the Communal and one for the Open constituency. In a number of cases, he or she gets only one and is either told to come back to vote for the other or directed to some other station, often far away.
Yet the Supervisor of Elections is assuring all and sundry that polling will run smoothly from Monday onwards! FLP’s campaign manager for the Central Division Krishna Datt
Transportation of Ballot Boxes
This is another serious concern. Ballot Boxes are not being transported to the respective Count Centres straight after polling ends. It is a requirement under the Electoral Act that all ballot boxes be dispatched expeditiously to the Count Centre soon after polling closes.
In violation of this, ballot boxes are being stored in the District Offices or in Police Stations.
There have been several incidences in the Suva area which give cause for suspicion. In one instance, the boxes were brought to the Operations Centre in Flagstaff. After 20 mins they were put back in the vehicle and taken to Knollys St. where the vehicle stopped.
FLP agents who were following the boxes, became suspicious and questioned the presiding officer as to what was happening. They then took the boxes back to the Operations Centre in Flagstaff.
This kind of incident reflects on the integrity of the elections.
The sealed ballot boxes should be taken straight to the Count Centres where they should remain until counting begins.