Opening Speech by Electoral Commission Chairperson Mukesh Nand.
30 March 2022
Stakeholders Forum on Enhancing Voter Participation
Matua Conference Room at Grand Pacific Hotel
Bula Vinaka ladies and gentlemen
Welcome to the Forum on enhancing voter participation in Fiji.
Today, I am keen to join you as we talk about this absolutely critical subject. A subject that delves on the creation of access, the creation of an environment that is enabling, creation of the opportunity as well as the creation of the desire to vote.
Standing here in 2022, I would not want to start by defending the right to vote but instead, promote the right to vote that has been earned through years of struggle and hardship by many all around the world. Rather, in today’s age, one may even say it is being handed on a silver platter. Have we started to take it for granted?
I find the words of Susan Anthony, a women’s rights activist in the early 20th century, as the most fitting to derive purpose to our discussions today. She said and I quote
“Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.”
Fiji, as we all know, has transitioned from a compulsory voting jurisdiction to one where voting is voluntary. This changes the dynamics significantly. Previously, if a person did not vote, they were subject to a fine and other penalties. This created a certain level of compellation for a person to go out and vote. Despite there being lesser number of polling stations, and numerous complications as reported about earlier elections, there remained a high percentage in terms of turnout.
The 2013 Constitution introduced Fiji to a new electoral system. Under this system, the voting age was reduced to 18 years. The ethnic based constituencies of the past were removed and the entire country was consolidated into a single national constituency. Election would now take place on a designated election day with pre-polling in remote areas instead of 7 days of voting as in the past. The 2014 Electoral Act made it a requirement that a voter can only vote where they are listed in the Voter List and not anywhere as was the case before. Voting was no longer compulsory. There are no fines for not voting.
The election in 2014 is termed a ‘transitional’ election and as is the trend in a transitional election, the turnout was very high, over 84%. Thereafter, the next election that followed was the 2018 General Election that saw a turnout of 72.9%. There is an election coming up in 2022 and it is prudent that we all, as a collective, review and organize ourselves so that we can drive the voluntary turnout to higher than 2018. This is the ideal desire as essential stakeholders gather today.
I have taken the liberty to read through the 2018 General Election Voter Turnout and Survey Reports. A quick look at the voter turnout data and one can already see the trends in Fiji comparable to other countries with voluntary voting. It is very encouraging to note that more women voted in the last election compared to men. I am particularly worried about the lower turnout in the 18-30 year old population range.
Furthermore, I found the responses to the post election survey on the question “how much interest do you have in politics?” to be even more fascinating. In 2020, when the survey was done, 21.62% percent of the respondents had no interest in politics. When the same question was asked in 2022 during the pre-election survey, the number had changed to 26%. These numbers may seem quite subtle, but they give this forum today a crucial lead in terms of the work that lies ahead for all of us.
Ladies and gentlemen, in this room here today, we all must put aside our political proclivities and work towards achieving a common goal. The work we do here today may not be recorded with the glamourous pen in our history books but it will certainly join millions of battles fought in the background that shaped the future of our country.
I am advised that the forum is being attended by political parties, members of the civil society, youths, the team from the Fijian Elections Office, academia as well as interested individuals who applied through an expression of interest. This is a very good mix for us to start the discussion. I would like to commend the Supervisor of Elections for coming up with the idea.
The Electoral Commission is responsible for the conduct of free and fair elections in accordance with the laws and we will work hard to ensure that the 2022 General Election becomes the platform where all Fijians can vote with confidence, security and freedom.
I end with the powerful words of former US President, Barrack Obama. He said and I quote:
“There’s no such thing as a vote that doesn’t matter. It all matters.”