Will the elections apparatus be ready for early May polls?

Fiji Labour Party anxious about registration errors and discrepancies evident in the provisional rolls, is asking whether the Supervisor of Elections office will be ready for the May 6 elections.

Opposition Leader Mahendra Chaudhry has expressed concern that 3000 names from seven constituencies in the West were either wrongly registered or not registered at all.

If the elections were held without discrepancies being addressed, hundreds if not thousands of voters would be disfranchised. The rush to get the elections over and done with could seriously compromise its fairness and impartiality, Mr Chaudhry warned.

“The integrity of the election is in doubt and yet we are rushing it. I do not know whether the Elections office does have the time to rectify these errors and ensure that a proper and correct roll will be ready in time for the elections,” Mr. Chaudhry said.

Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase released the election dates on Wednesday following earlier prediction by the FLP Leader that elections were likely to be held as early as the May school holidays.

Elections are scheduled for 6-13 May, 2006. Parliament will be dissolved on 27 March. The Writ of Elections are to be issued on 4 April. Nominations are from 4-20 April. Voter registration ends on 4 April.

The provisional rolls were released a week ago and people were given two weeks to raise objections.

Mr. Chaudhry held a concerned meeting with the relevant authorities on Tuesday following a frentic survey of the rolls in the weekend.

Mr. Chaudhry said that his meeting with Chairman, Graham Leung and Supervisor of Elections, Mr. Semesa Karavaki, was in response to ongoing complaints received by FLP since the start of the registration process September 2005. He noted that many of the inherent problems in the Elections Office arose from non- compliance with the Electoral Act by Mr. Karavaki’s predecessors.

“My meeting with Mr. Karavaki was to obtain an explanation as to how over 3300 voters in Ba, Lautoka and Nadi were assigned constituencies different from where they were residing.

“Additionally, most of those assigned wrong constituencies were not residing on the periphery of the boundaries but living well inside their respective constituencies. How could these thousands of voters then be placed in the wrong constituencies?” said Mr. Chaudhry.

The Labour Party has maintained for sometime that the large numbers of errors, discrepancies and irregularities the surfaced during the registration process, could be indicative of an attempt to rig the polls ahead of the 2006 general elections.

DETAILS OF INCORRECTLY ASSIGNED CONSTITUENCIES

BA

Correct constituency Incorrectly Assigned constituency  No of voters
Ba East BA West 727
Magodro Open Ba Open/ Ltk City Open/ Vuda Open 289

 

LAUTOKA

Correct constituency Incorrectly Assigned constituency No of voters
Vuda Indian  Lautoka Rural Indian 600
Lautoka City Indian Vuda Indian 438
Vuda Indian  Lautoka City Indian 204
Vuda Open Lautoka City Open 245

 

NADI

Correct constituency  Incorrectly Assigned constituency No of voters
Nadi Urban/ Nadi Open Nadi Rural/ Nawaka Yasawa Open 814

 

“In Nadi, large masses of voters were correctly registered in their respective constituencies according to their slips but wrongly entered in the provisional electoral rolls. The data entry officers must be asked for an explanation for such glaring errors,” said Mr. Chaudhry.

Manipulation of How to Vote Cards

Another very worrying trend was the manipulation of the How to Vote Cards as published by the Elections Office in the Fiji Times (p 42) of last Saturday (26 February), where in the Hindi and English versions of the cards, voters were shown the captions 1 and 2, which indicated the choice of the voter to either vote above (party preference) or below the line (personal preference) respectively. However, for the Fijian card, only the above-the-line party preference caption was highlighted.

Why did the Fijian version of the advertisement vary from the Hindi and English versions? This has to be explained by the Elections Office.

How to Register

“Similarly, in an information leaflet issued by the Elections Office on How to Register, only the Hindi translation speaks of having to register by 7th July 2006. This again is a deliberate ploy to mislead unregistered Indian voters. If elections are scheduled for early May, why misinform Indian (eligible) voters that they have until July to register,” asked Mr. Chaudhry?

Mr. Chaudhry has also called on the Electoral Commission to ensure racial and gender balance with respect to the appointment of electoral officers at all levels. He said persons seeking help with respect to voting should be permitted to be assisted by a person of their choice, as some polling officers had, in the past, invalidated the votes of those who wished to vote differently from the political preference of the officials. This to a large degree explains the huge increase in the number of invalid votes in the 2001 general elections compared to the 1999 elections.

Mr. Chaudhry said it was imperative that the various registration anomalies be immediately corrected as failure to do so would undermine the integrity of the electoral process and raise justifiable doubts about the 2006 polls being free and fair.