The Fijian Elections Office and the Electoral Commission must implement the recommendations of the Multinational Observer Group (MOG) contained in its final report on the 2014 general elections.
The recommendations by the MOG has vindicated the position taken by the National Federation Party when we last week, in calling for the release of the report, emphasized the importance of the report and its recommendations to be incorporated in any strategic planning undertaken by the Elections Office as part of preparations for the next general elections scheduled in 2018.
This is after Government brings before Parliament, the Media Industry Development Decree, Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding & Disclosures) Decree and the Electoral Decree, to make the necessary changes as recommended by the MOG to make the next elections credible.
The recommendations contained in the 53-page report are credible and highlights the difficulties and frustrations faced by the political parties, candidates, the media and non-governmental organisation’s (NGO’s).
The MOG rightly noted that harsh penalties in the Media Industry Development Decree prevented most media outlets from effectively reporting on election issues. The contents of the report on Media Environment, Media Industry Development Decree and Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) show the ineffectiveness of MIDA.
The MOG rightly recommended the need for regulation as well as an independent institution to prevent and adjudicate om media bias thus ensuring a level-playing field amongst election participants, as well as a review of penalties in the Media Decree.
The fact that the MOG has recommended for an independent institution proves MIDA’s lack of neutrality because it is a body appointed by Government. A free, fair, credible and unfettered media industry in Fiji is rendered meaningless if MIDA continues to exist.
Political Parties Decree
The MOG report also highlights the need for amendment to the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding & Disclosures) Decree. It rightly points out that the broad definition of a public office holder excludes a large number of citizens from freely participating in the political process. Furthermore the report notes the prohibition on trade union officials from being members of political parties, is a limitation on political freedom.
The MOG has recommended for requirements to be reduced for political party registration as well as allow public office holders and trade union officials to be political party members. This has been the case throughout our Independent history. It is ludicrous to disallow trade unionists from becoming members of political parties. On the other hand, two unsuccessful Fiji First candidates were re-appointed to key positions including a top position in the RFMF. This is unacceptable.
The MOG has recommended changes to the Electoral Decree. Most importantly, the MOG notes that the absence of political party identification from the ballot paper and National Candidates List was unusual – the lack of any names, symbols and photographs on the ballot paper. The MOG also observed that voters were prohibited from bringing “how-to-vote” pamphlets into polling stations and anyone caught breaching this provision faced a hefty fine of $50,000 or imprisonment of a term up to 10 years, or both.
Furthermore, NGO’s were denied the right to be election observers. The MOG has recommended for this to change to ensure credibility of the election process; symbols and names of candidates to be included on the ballot paper and the National Candidates List; penalties for election related offences to be reviewed in accordance with international standards and practice; and that Government should review and finalise all existing electoral laws and regulations well in advance of the next election.
If Government truly believes in common and equal citizenry and the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, it should have no hesitation in accepting the recommendations of the MOG, which observed the elections in strict compliance with Government’s Terms of Reference.
The onus is now on Government to inform the nation whether or not it will accept and implement the recommendations of the Multinational Observer Group to ensure the next general elections are credible, without any perceived or real fear of suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms.
Roko Tupou Draunidalo
Don’t be Belligerent
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama should stop being belligerent and participate in the Pacific Islands Forum in Papua New Guinea.
The PM should stop dictating terms to the Forum to force out Australia and New Zealand out of the 16-member organization that has existed for 44 years. He deliberately ignores the fact that both our neighbours are founding members of the Forum along with Fiji.
And Fiji’s importance in the Forum is cemented by the fact that the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat has been domiciled in Suva for many years.
It is abundantly clear that the PM wants new members in the Forum who obviously befriended Fiji after the coup. These countries were not Forum members but dialogue partners. Australia and New Zealand, like the European Union and the United States, adopted a stance in conformity to their democratic ideals by suspending direct Aid to Fiji.
But they continued to assist Fiji in terms of empowerment of Non-Governmental Organisations, funding development projects through NGO’s, donations during natural disasters in 2009 and 2012 and contributing funding towards the work of the Constitution Commission in 2012 led by Professor Yash Ghai.
Most importantly, Australia and New Zealand are our closest allies. One does not ditch long-standing friends to include new ones. Both nations are our long-term trading partners. Australia is our principal export destination and in 2013, Fiji’s exports amount to 13.6% of total exports worth $250 million.
Australia and New Zealand are our two biggest sources of tourists. An average of 50% of our total number of tourists are Australians while New Zealanders make up 16% of our tourist market.
With a combined GDP of more than 1.6 trillion US Dollars, Australia and New Zealand will remain significant economic partners in the future. We should concentrate on deeper and more meaningful regional integration, which includes Australia and New Zealand.
Furthermore, millions of dollars come in the form of remittances to Fiji from former Fiji citizens, contributing significantly to our economy. The majority of our migrant population live in these two countries.
The PM should know he is swimming against a tide of overwhelming opinion amongst Forum member nations who cherish and value Australia and New Zealand’s partnership.
Government should build bridges instead of destroying existing ones. This is the cornerstone of democracy and diplomacy.
Hon Dr Biman Prasad
Government and the Fiji Elections Office should release, if it is in possession of, the Final Report of the Multinational Observer Group (MOG) that observed the September 2014 General Elections.
This should be before the Elections Office embarks on a Strategic Plan that will form the basis of its preparations for the next general elections scheduled for 2018.
The National Federation Party believes a Report should have been handed to the Government by now. If so, then Government and the Elections Office as a matter of transparency and accountability should publicly release the full contents of the Report. And if the Report has not been handed over, then the MOG must inform all stakeholders why there has been a delay in the finalization and handing over of the Report.
18th April will see the completion of seven months since the release of the MOG’s preliminary statement. That statement, while finding that the elections “broadly represented the will of the Fijian voters” and that “conditions were in place for Fijians to exercise their right to vote freely”, also noted the “media’s limited ability to examine rigorously the clams of candidates and (political) parties”.
The MOG statement noted this was due to “restrictive media framework including potentially onerous penalties”.
The MOG co-leaders had undertaken to provide Government and the Elections Office a final report detailing the MOG’s observations and “offering recommendations for improving the integrity and effectiveness of future electoral and related processes”. This is indeed a significant statement. The Elections Office and the Electoral Commission should look at the MOG in totality and compare its findings with their joint report, which mostly looked at operational aspects of the elections.
The National Federation Party believes the MOG’s Final Report should be a prerequisite to any strategic planning for the next general elections, especially improving the integrity and effectiveness of future electoral processes.
The findings of the MOG Report are an independent evaluation of the electoral process and it must be released publicly for the sake of transparency and accountability.