Fiji's election blackout "unprecedented" - academic
Election experts say a decree provision in Fiji which prohibits any person from communicating political messages in the two days leading up to polling tomorrow is unprecedented.
A legal expert says a Fiji decree which prohibits any person from communicating political messages in the two days leading up to polling tomorrow is unprecedented.
Section 63 of the Electoral Decree makes it illegal for the public, the media and political parties to discuss politics through telephone, internet, email, social media or other electronic means 48 hours before polling opens.
Mary Baines reports.
Until polling closes on Wednesday night, no signs, banners or campaigning are allowed, and the media can only cover the process of the election itself. The Supervisor of Elections, Mohammed Saneem, has reminded people in Fiji that they need to respect the black-out as well.
MOHAMMED SANEEM: If they tweet something or do campaigning on Facebook or publish electoral matters on Facebook post the black-out period, it will be up to the authorities on how they treat the matter.
A law professor at Auckland University, Bill Hodge, says while media black-outs before an election are common around the world, restricting what the general public can say is unheard of.
BILL HODGE: If a member of one family calls a member of their family, 'hey don't forget to get out and vote for so and so', that could be a violation of this decree. And that to me is unprecedented. And I hope we don't have some sort of examples being made of people who presumably, they are people that are quote 'the opposition people'. But it is unprecedented.
Professor Hodge says in Western democracies, campaigning, reporting, political party's signs and handing out political literature are often not allowed on election day.
BILL HODGE: Those sorts of things are not uncommon, in Canada, in Australia as well as New Zealand, restrained on the day of polling. This decree and this bar on publication stretches over a longer period of time and covers a much wider base of communications than any that I am aware of.
Electoral laws show when Tonga holds its election this year, it will have a 24-hour stand-down period for media and campaigning before election day. The Electoral Commission in Solomon Islands, which is expected to hold its election in November, says the details of its black-out period still need to be released by the Governor General. But a spokesperson says in previous elections, political parties have been able to campaign until polling opens. Vanuatu traditionally has a no campaigning day before the poll. Professor Hodge says some may justify the clause in Fiji's Electoral Decree by saying the country is in a unique political situation, emerging from a period of loss of democracy and volatility. But the Australian National University's Brij Lal says it is a restrictive and draconian provision.
BRIJ LAL: I mean, I have been observing and writing about elections in Fiji since the early 1980s. We did not have any provision like this in the past. Yes a certain, you know, maybe a day before, or certain time period specified in which active campaigning was not allowed. But this is really excessive.
Dr Lal says while the provision is unworkable and will be very difficult to enforce, it is intended to create an environment of fear and intimidation for ordinary people in Fiji.
BRIJ LAL: How can you monitor emails and so on and so forth, but the fear is planted in the mind of the ordinary citizens. That if you do communicate your ideas, your thoughts on politics, then you will be in breach and there are severe sanctions attached to that. So I think it's more a question of just creating an environment of intimidation and fear.
Any individual in Fiji who is convicted of breaching the black out provisions of the Electoral Decree could face a fine of up to 27,000 US dollars or a jail term of up to 10 years. Media owners or publishers who breach the rules could face up to five years in jail.
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