For the first time in Fiji’s electoral history, political parties
and the public will not be allowed to scrutinise voter rolls and
raise objections to what they see as invalid voter registration.
On 28 March 2014 the regime quietly slipped in a decree that removed the requirement to publish the National Register of Voters (NRV) and a registered voter’s right to object to names registered in the NRV.
The move has serious implications on the integrity of the National Voter Rolls (NVR) and, consequently, on the credibility of the September elections itself.
The removal of public objection provisions undermines the credibility and integrity of the NRV, and renders it suspect. Indeed, it calls to question the entire electoral process.
The change was made via Decree 9 of 2014 which repeals s11,13,14,15,16,17 and 18 of the principal Electoral ( Registration of Voters ) Decree (54 of 2012), thereby, completely removing the public scrutiny and objection provisions.
As it stands, the NVR has now become a secret document accessible only by the State, and, of course, through it to the Fiji First Party, to the exclusion of all else.
A registered voter wanting to check his/her own registration will have to do so at the Supervisor of Elections Office. The voter cannot check anyone else’s registration. The NRV may well have bogus voters but it would not be possible to flush them out because the Register is now not available to the public.
This is a radical departure from past practice when voter rolls were made readily available to the voter for scrutiny, at public places easily accessible to ordinary voters. Objections were officially invited by the Supervisor of Elections to flush out registered voters that did not qualify. The objections were then dealt with under the settlement of objections procedures in the legislation.
The entire process was facilitated in the interest of transparency to ensure the integrity of the national Voter Roll.
The very fact that Decree 9 was surreptitiously promulgated without any public explanations as to why this crucial right to object was being denied to our registered voters, raise some very serious questions.
The Fiji Labour Party has written to both the Supervisor of Elections and the Electoral Commission seeking explanations. We await their response.
Both offices carry a fiduciary duty to ensure that the general elections are free, fair and credible. How they can do this when the NRV itself is suspect, belies understanding?
It, however, comes as no surprise that the regime should change important rules of engagement mid-stream. It has an established record of back tracking going back to the constitutional process of 2012. Or even further back to 2007 when it promised elections in 2009 but failed to keep its promise.
But one does expect our watchdog institutions, the Electoral Commission and the Supervisor of Elections, to publicly question any change to rules that reflect on the credibility of the polls.
FLP, for that matter, has consistently maintained from the very beginning that left to the regime, the general election in September was not going to be free, fair and credible.
Removal of the right to object to the NRV, merely strengthens our stand. Indeed, a number of other questionable moves of the regime now fall into place.
One: the removal of the minimum two year residency qualification for registration as a voter that was a requirement of the 1998 Electoral Act. The regime’s Electoral (Registration of Voters) Decree 54 of 2012 states no residency requirement.
This means that non-residents and non-taxpayers holding valid Fiji passports can register and vote in the September elections.
This is manifestly wrong and FLP had raised strong objections to this at the time the decree was promulgated. The right to vote must originate from a person’s residency and citizenship status in a country.
Suspicions that some skulduggery is afoot is further fuelled by recent reports from the United States and Hong Kong that Fiji passports were on sale to non-citizens in these two countries for a fee.
And then, of course, there was the sudden display of urgency some two weeks ago by the Immigration Department to make overseas visits to issue passports to non-residents.
We can also understand why political parties have been refused soft copies of the National Register of Voters despite repeated demands.
Labour now fears that the NRV could be stuffed with thousands of bogus voters – but no-one will know because this once public document is now to be kept secret.
It is now quite obvious that the entire electoral system is being manipulated to deliver a pre-ordained outcome.
How then can anyone in their right minds, including the international community, continue to believe that the September polls will be free, fair and credible?