Australian election observer head previews Fiji mission
Australian election observer head previews Fiji mission.
The leader of Australia's team of Fiji election observers, Peter Reith, says it is a positive step that people in Fiji can go to the polls next month for the first time since the 2006 coup.
Fiji has agreed to a 14-nation observer group, which will be jointly led by Australia, India, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
The New Zealand contingent is yet to be named.
Mr Reith spoke to Don Wiseman about the Australian team and the observer mission's work.
PETER REITH: We've got out of the Australian parliament, I think ten, some Labour, some Liberal, some from wherever, so there're quite strong numbers there. Half of them are former MPs and some are current MPs.
DON WISEMAN: Have you had any limits put on you as to what you do, what you say, where you go?
PR: No, we have the run of the place to my knowledge, and that's the certainly the basis upon which I'm operating.
DW: Now the international community, including Australia has said the elections must be free and fair if Fiji's going to resume its previous position in international affairs, so for you guys as observers, what are the benchmarks?
PR: Well can I just put this in a different perspective because of course Australia will be participating in the observations but we're also at the invitation of Fiji, we are leading a group of four, known as the multinational observation group, and that four is Australia, Indonesia, India, and Papua New Guinea. They've just agreed to terms of reference, basically a core group of four and Australia is providing a secretariat to that group of four as part of the overall management of the observation so in that regard, we're not just talking about Australia's position, or my position, my position basically is the head of that multinational observation group.
DW: And will this work involve things happening prior to the election or is it just election day?
PR: No, it's not just on the day, in fact we've got a number of people going up to Suva to set up the secretariat multinational observation group, so that is underway. We've got a number of experts on election management, process and the like. There are of course ongoing discussions as we speak through the Australian High Commission, and I'm sure others, you know, keeping a finger on the pulse on developments in Fiji and the lead up to the election. The observation group of MPs etc and former MPs, they'll be there a few days beforehand. We'll have access to talk to any of the political players in Fiji, social organisations or otherwise so no it's not just a one day wonder. We're putting a fair amount of resources into providing a professional, well organised observation, so that at the end of it, we can stand up and legitimately say we've done the job, we've done it professionally, we've checked out all the information that's come to our notice etc, and then we can provide an assessment of whether or not the election has provided an opportunity for the Fijian people to reflect their views on the future of Government in Fiji.
DW: And if you find an election that's not free and fair, is this something you will just report to the Fiji Government or is that something you'll make known to the wider public?
PR: Oh no, it'll be a public statement at the appropriate time, that's why it's very important that we have a group that's focussed specifically on this task. I think the international community as well as certainly the people of Fiji would like to have a report which advises them as to how things have been run and whether or not they've been run in such a manner as to reflect those views of the local people.
DW: I presume one of the things you're going to have to be looking to is the Electoral Decree and there are some oddities in it, it would seem to me anyway. If you carry a paper into the polling station and it's got numbers on it, you could be facing a hefty jail term. If you talk on the phone on any election related matter two days before the election, so a private conversation, that's also a jailable offence. So how on earth do you police things like that?
PR: Well there are going to be a number of issues obviously, and these are going to put to us whether from your radio station or from citizens in Fiji or where else and all those things will have to be taken into account. We'll have to make a judgement as to how we think various matters have impacted on the way in which the thing is being run, but I'm not in a position and it's not really appropriate for me to be picking out pieces here and there and saying we don't like this or we don't like that. We're there to observe and then to give a report on what we think has happened and whether we think that the outcome is a reasonable reflection of the public opinion in Fiji.
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