Monday, January 01, 2007

Fiji: electoral fraud?

The Fijian military has released what it claims is evidence that the Fijian government gained power by electoral fraud, stuffing ballot boxes in key urban seats to ensure victory. Setting aside questions of whether it is real, or why a party official would be discussing such a plot with a famous international conman (OTOH, stranger things have happened), this is still no justification for the coup. And the reason for that is that there is a constitutional process for handling crimes like this.

Like New Zealand, Fiji's Electoral Act [RTF] contains a process for electoral petitions, by which a court can examine the conduct of a poll in an electorate, and if necessary, invalidate it. Unlike New Zealand, there seems to be no time limit on such petitions - though one is effectively set by the legal requirement to destroy all ballot papers a year after the polling date (which would be in May next year). The law also includes criminal penalties for precisely these crimes; a year in jail for falsely marking a ballot paper, and another year for putting it in the box, plus any ancillary offences due to acquiring the papers or abusing an official position. So all the military had to do if they suspected or had evidence of this sort of crime was pass it to the media or the opposition, and watch the shit hit the fan. If substantiated, the government would have fallen, and by-elections been called in the disputed seats. Instead, they chose to have a coup and dismiss the government at gunpoint - in the process undermining the very institution they now claim to be protecting.

Finally, it is worth noting that the conduct of the election was monitored by international observers from the EU and neighbouring states - and they noted no such problems. The EU missions's final report [PDF] notes significant problems with a new voter registration systemand the use of gerrymandered racial electorates which compromised the principle that every vote should count equally - but noted no problems with ballot box stuffing (and generally they do notice). OTOH, they did note irregularities with the reconciliation of votes and ballot boxes (including one electorate with a 101% turnout) which could mask such practices. Despite this - and allegations of fraud at the time - the FLP does not seem to have filed electoral petitions on the matter. Maybe this will give them an excuse.


The video is available here:

Posted by Anonymous : 1/02/2007 02:49:00 PM

s/hrf/href/ in the final report link. Or for anyone else looking, the EU final report.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/02/2007 09:08:00 PM

Anon: Fixed.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/03/2007 12:11:00 AM

The FLP filed only 1 electoral challenge - by Tom Ricketts for the Suva Open Seat. There's a 3 month time bar from the date that the result for a particular seat is declared for candidates to dispute the result.

Unsaid so far is that the cleanup is more a fishing expedition than anything, and even then, the investigation is not conducted according to law - none of the 'seized documents' will be admissable in court. The Army will likely have to have kangaroo courts.

What is obvious is a lack of foresight and planning, where now the Commodore tells the world that he is being pushed to do certain unlawful things because the people and the laws are not cooperative - he is forced to remove the Multi Party Cabinet, to remove the members of parliament, to remove CEOs and other 'uncooperative' officials, and maybe, to remove the 1997 Constitution.

Its an amateur production and the stupidity continues to unfold.

Posted by Ms. Vakaivosavosa : 1/03/2007 12:20:00 PM

Thanks for that - I hadn't noticed the three-month time limit. but does it apply to prosecutions as well, or only to challenging the results?

The inadmissibility of any evidence gathered is a good point, and I'd been planning to do a post on it last month. And it shows how the coup has undermined any effort to hold the government accountable by legally tainting the evidence against them. Again, there were legal and constitutional processes by which these matters could have been resolved, and the army should have used them (e.g. by turning their evidence over to the media and the police) rather than trying to deliver their own rough justice at gunpoint.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/03/2007 02:08:00 PM

The Fiji Human Rights Commission has just issued a report on the coup:

"In a report authored by Commission director Doctor Shaista Shameem said that the interim government before the 2001 election, after the 2001 election and the 2006 election were illegal as proper procedures were not followed throughout by the authorities concerned....

...whether there is an illegality or legality associated with the commander overthrowing a government which was elected unconstitutionally and therefore illegally, may be a matter for the courts."

Trouble is, Bainimarama has just sent the Chief Justice and Chief Magistrate on leave pending an inquiry into the judiciary. The military interfering with the judiciary is another bad move and it will be disappointing if Shameem does not also condemn this.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/04/2007 09:38:00 AM

More from Shameem here:

"She said in view of the rampant abuse of power, privilege, illegalities and wastage of wealth of the Qarase regime, as well as its proposed discriminatory legislation which, if enacted, would have constituted a 'crime against humanity', and limited scope for an immediate judicial solution, there appears to be few options remaining to protect the people of Fiji from an illegal, unconstitutional, anti human rights and despotic regime."

It would be best to read the whole report before passing judgement, but it is not encouraging to see someone who was such a fine defender of democratic rights after the 1987 coup appearing to rationalise this one on the basis of proposed discriminatory legislation. Other options include enlisting the support of international human rights organisations to launch a campaign against it.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/04/2007 09:56:00 AM