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).
Media 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.
Electoral Decree 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.
Way Forward 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 President, NFP