8 Jan 2014

Fiji awaiting Electoral Commission - academic

5:17 pm on 8 January 2014

An Auckland University academic says the Fiji Government needs to set up an Electoral Commission as soon as possible in preparation for the country's approaching elections.

The elections are promised for this September, but the members of the commission and an election supervisor are yet to be appointed.

Political scientist Stephen Ratuva told Amelia Langford that a lot of work has already been done in anticipation of the upcoming elections but an Electoral Commission is needed soon.

STEPHEN RATUVA: Well, in terms of the official technical preparation, the last thing they still need at this point in time is the election regulation or a decree to have it in place - everybody is waiting for it. And I think they have a draft already. It's just a matter of publicising it and passing it. So in terms of the political parties, four political parties already have been registered and they're in full swing in terms of a campaign around the country, setting up their branches and bases in different parts of the country. So everybody is basically gearing up to the election at this point in time. And the other thing people are waiting for is Bainimarama's political party. He promised that that would be set up very soon, perhaps in the first quarter of this year. So I think by and large a lot of preparation has been put in place, it's just a matter of political parties doing their bit at this point in time. And I have a feeling that other small political parties might emerge and a few other independent candidates may stand, as well. So from now until May, even June, July, a lot of the activities will be taking place.

AMELIA LANGFORD: So there's still time for smaller parties to emerge, do you think?

SR: Oh, yeah. For new parties, there's still time for them to get registered and campaign for the election.

AL: There's no electoral commission set up as yet, is there?

SR: Oh, yes. There's another institution which still needs to be set up. And they have to do it as soon as possible, and that is the electoral commission. Some names have been bandied around, but nothing has been confirmed yet. So they're still looking for people to be in the commission. That's a very, very important aspect of the electoral process, to have a commission in place, and also the electoral regulation to be in place before the election. Because the electoral commission will basically look after the election process, so it's important that they should have it in place.

AL: Coming in to 2014, are you surprised that that commission is not already there?

SR: Well, I think one of the problems they had faced was to find the right people to be in the commission. A number of names have been suggested because they need about four people to be in the commission. So perhaps in the next two months or three months they might publicise the names of those who have been chosen.

AL: Do you think there has been some delays in setting out this election machinery?

SR: Well, yeah. In some ways, yes. I think because people are looking forward to the election, people have been asking questions about what's happening. So I think the sooner they put all these institutions in place the better it is for public morale, for confidence in the election. And the more they delay, the more they're going to put doubts in the minds of people.

AL: And it's very important, isn't it, that the constituents feel confident in their elections going ahead and being democratic?

SR: Oh, yeah. That's the most important thing. A number of things - one is to do with confidence in the election. And secondly it's to make sure that the election is free and fair. I think this is very important in terms of not only people in the country having trust in the electoral system, in the result of the election, also Fiji's reputation internationally.

AL: And given how the regime came to power, how confident are you of these elections firstly going ahead, and secondly being free and fair?

SR: Well, in terms of the election going ahead, a lot of people are asking the question whether it will actually take place. The process has gone so far ahead, and the people in power realise that the only exit strategy for them is really the election - there's no other option available. So the election is almost inevitable at this point in time, in terms of how the country has to move forward as an exit strategy for the coup-makers, as well as to get Fiji on to the next stage of democraticisation. And secondly in terms of the elections being firm and fair, there have been questions raised about the way in which the constitution has been pushed through and some of the provisions of the constitution, and whether they are sufficient to create an environment for a free and fair election. So those are some of the questions which people are asking at the moment.

AL: So there is still some doubt over those things in Fiji?

SR: The question of free and fair elections is a complex one because it involves a long process, not only of what happens during election day itself, or the one or two weeks before the election, but how the rules of the election are being put together and who makes those rules and how do those rules change the process of election which may impact on the result at the end of the day. So you have a whole lot of issues to identify.