Elections Disability Access Working Group (EDAWG) Term of Reference Signing Between Fijian Elections Office, Pacific Disability Forum and National Council for Persons with Disabilities

by Electoral Commission

Statement by the Chair of the Electoral Commission
Mr Suresh Chandra

Elections Disability Access Working Group (EDAWG)
Term of Reference Signing Between Fijian Elections Office, Pacific Disability Forum
and National Council for Persons with Disabilities

Date: 20 November 2021
Venue: Grand Pacific Hotel
Time: 10am – 12pm

 

Bula Vinaka Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honor and privilege this morning to officiate the signing of this Election Disability Access Working Group Terms of Reference between the Fijian Elections Office and various representatives of organizations of persons with disabilities (OPDs). Today is yet another instrumental moment in our history as we build inclusive, accessible and free election processes in our Fiji.

On behalf of the Electoral Commission, I would like to congratulate all partners involved for finalizing this working document so that all who are concerned can participate and collaborate to deliver effective electoral processes that are not only accessible and inclusive but create greater ownership within all communities in Fiji.

We consider persons with disabilities and OPDs as vital partners in elections and political process-focused programs. OPDs provide a pre-existing platform for mobilizing persons with disabilities and representing the interests of persons with disabilities and as such they should be included at every stage of the electoral process. Partnering with them makes it easier to engage on an equal platform and initiate activities that are contextually relevant without re-inventing the wheel.

It is my view that the previous TOR provided a mutually beneficial platform for both the FEO and the OPD’s in the last election. The outcomes of the last TOR were obvious in the conduct of the election and the involvement of the OPD’s in the various stages.

In terms of our role under section 75 of the Constitution, we see the Electoral Commission as the overall in charge of the elections but we are of the view that the Electoral Commission through the Fijian Elections Office must work together with key organizations in this country so that we can facilitate the realization of rights of certain minority groups that would otherwise be ignored. One must look at the reports from 2006 to see what was the level of attention given to the access for disabled persons’ and then compare the same with 2018. It is our view that people with disabilities should be able to work in elections, participate in the polling process, contest the elections, participate in observation of the elections as well as do anything necessary just like any other person who is not in this category and to do this we must make sure that we constructively prepare for the election in a manner that is conducive to such group of people.

Going forward to the next election it will be very interesting to see what this Terms of Reference will realize for us. On behalf of the Electoral Commission and the people of Fiji, I would like to wish all the OPDs and the Fijian Elections Office the very best of success in realizing this Terms of Reference. We must not leave anyone behind.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I was appointed the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission in February 2017. During my first term as Chairperson, I oversaw the successful conduct of the 2018 General Election. The Multinational Observer Group in its report held that the 2018 General Election was fair and credible and it broadly represented the will of the Fijian people. It was one of the most well organized elections in the history of our country.

 I was subsequently re-appointed as chairperson for another 3 year term. I am privileged to work next to 6 very diligent, respectable and established individuals who are the Electoral Commissioners. I also acknowledge Mohammed Saneem, the Supervisor of Elections and his team at the Fijian Elections Office for effectively handling all election tasks and responsibilities. I congratulate Saneem for completing his Masters in Electoral Policy and Administration- truly an asset to Fiji.

The preparations for the next election have already begun and I have been closely keeping track of the progress. Things are definitely shaping up.

It is with a heavy heart that I wish to advise that I have informed His Excellency, the President and the Constitutional Offices Commission that I am stepping down from my appointment as Chair of the Electoral Commission and today is my final day in Office.

I would like to thank H.E the President, the COC and the people of Fiji for entrusting me with this tremendous responsibility and I would like to wish the Electoral Commission, the Fijian Elections Office and the people of Fiji all the success in the upcoming General Election.

I started my career as a civil servant and I held my appointment as Chair of the Electoral Commission with dignity, pride and honor. I am joined by my wife here this morning as I bid farewell to you all.

Thank you, Vinaka Vakalevu and may God bless Fiji.

Signing of MOU between NZEC and FEO and Handing over of Cardboard Voting Booths

Statement by the Chair of the Electoral Commission
Mr Suresh Chandra
Signing of MOU between NZEC and FEO and Handing over of
Cardboard Voting Booths
Venue: FEO HQ
Date: 21/10/21
Time: 2pm

The CEO of New Zealand Electoral Commission, Ms Alicia Wright
The New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Fiji, Excellency, Mr Jonathan Curr
The Supervisor of Elections
The team from the Fijian Elections Office
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Ni sa Bula Vinaka and a very warm welcome to you all. A special welcome to our counterparts in New Zealand via Zoom. It’s good to see you Alicia and team.

Today marks a very auspicious day as we strengthen the partnership between our agencies with the extension of our Memorandum of Understanding. Our longstanding partnership, support and cooperation continues.

We will also receive the generous donation of 2,000 boxes of Cardboard Voting Booths from the New Zealand Government. The Cardboard voting screens are a recent feature in Fijian Elections. You will note that the FEO has been using cardboard voting screens in polling stations around the country since 2014. These lightweight, convenient, yet durable platforms are directly suited to the demands of the terrain and transport in Fiji. These are much easier to store, setup, fold back and transport in comparison to the large wooden compartments and the cloth screen curtain. Ladies and Gentlemen, the cardboard voting screens are a classic example of innovation in elections. I would like to heartily thank the New Zealand Government  and the people of New Zealand for this support in kind towards the 2022 General Election.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Electoral Commission’s overall responsibility under Section 75 is to conduct free and fair elections in accordance with the  law. The Electoral Commission does this through the Fijian Elections Office. And the Electoral Commission wants this process to be done in applying  best international practices and standards. The Electoral Commission not only wants the elections to be free and fair, but wants it to be credible. It  wants the process and the service delivery to be of the highest possible standard. And to do this, as chairman, I recognize that there is no need to  reinvent the wheel.

Ladies and Gentlemen, each country is unique in terms of context. Unique in terms of our capacities. The capacities in elections that have been built  in NZ can be useful for Fiji simply through knowledge sharing. The question we ask simply is what do we know about elections and what do they know  about elections? How much experience do we have of elections? How much experience do they have? This is where the Pacific sharing comes in  place, the world wide based sharing of election best practices.

There is no one standard definition for democracy, it’s a continuously evolving concept. So as the Electoral Commission, this partnership adds value  to the election that we will be having.

Whilst there may be some instances where there are circumstances unique to Fiji, there are global issues and  challenges in elections that are not limited to or specific to any one country alone. For instance, the constant battle with misinformation is no longer a  feature unique only to developing democracies, but it is something that is now gripping developed democracies as well. The second is the motivating of voters to come forward and vote.  Turning interest into participation, converting disinterest into interest. These are now things that are universal to all EMBs. Then the global  challenges of cyber terrorism and risks with technology continue to grow and require sharing of experiences and successes as well as lessons learnt.

The challenges seem substantial, but we can overcome or even manage these threats through collaboration. This partnership between our two entities will be a major contributing factor in approaching these challenges.

Ladies and gentlemen, just like the 2018 General Election, we want the 2022 General Election to be a platform for Fijians to express their will with  confidence, security and freedom. Heading into the polls the Electoral Commission is committed to ensuring that this sentiment of the Commission is translated into action.

Following the continued support from our counterparts in New Zealand and the NZ High Commission in Fiji, we are certain that this contribution will greatly allow the realization of our goals.

With those few words ladies and gentlemen, I thank you all for your attendance.

Vinaka Vakalevu.

Briefing by the SOE, Mr. Mohammed Saneem on preparations towards the 2022 Fiji General Elections

by Electoral Commission

Speech by Chairperson of the Electoral Commission Mr. Suresh Chandra for the “Briefing by the SOE, Mr. Mohammed Saneem on preparations towards the 2022 Fiji General Elections” to the International Community (via ZOOM) at 11.30am on Monday 20 September, 2021.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you are aware, we will be approaching the 2022 General Election which is scheduled to be held anytime between 9th of July 2022 to 9th of January 2023. As such, it has been part of our practice that we provide an update to the international community as important stakeholders being donor partners as well as affiliates of Fiji on the progress as well as plan in approaching the general election. Whilst this maybe very novel for some of us, it is a practice we have adopted since 2014, we feel that it is necessary considering Fiji is still a developing electoral democracy. The plan that we have in place are indicative of the actual event that will take place subject to change as when require based on the circumstances. However, overall, it is intended to give you an indication of an extend to which we will prepare for the next general election. The Electoral Commission in undertaking the supervisory role will be carrying out a thorough monitoring and compliance perform function, in doing so we will be ensuring that the activities that are necessarily required for the conduct of free and fair elections in Fiji are carried out by the team at the Fijian Elections Office with utmost care and diligence.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I also draw your attention to certain debates that are currently taking place in the media in Fiji concerning the Voter List. The Electoral Commission is in the process of carrying out an independent audit of the Voter List using preferably an international partner so as to be able to confirm that the Voter List that will be used in the 2022 general election complies as far as practicable to highest standard of accuracy. We will be working with partners, we will come forward to seek assistance from development partners so that we engage with a suitable international agency that carries out the functions of auditing the voter list so that we can assign it to that particular agency for the next general election. The Fijian Elections Office is also carrying out extensive verification works on the data in the National Register of Voters so that it is able to keep the register up to date and in confirmation with accepted international standards.

The second matter I would like to speak about ladies and gentlemen is the difference between the data maintained in the national register of voters as against the data published by the Fiji Bureau of Statistics. I agree with the Supervisor of Elections who in the recent media conference stated that the data will be different due to the different methodologies used to collect the data. As some of you may be aware this was an argument that was considered by MOG in the 2018 General Election and the MOG also appreciated that the data collection mechanisms for the census as against the National register of voters is different and therefore the numbers will also be different. The purpose is also very different, now ladies and gentlemen, the Supervisor of Elections did issue a very comprehensive statement on this and you may be able to access it on the Fijian Elections Office facebook page for further understanding.

However, as far as The Electoral Commission is concerned we unanimously agreed that the numbers of the census will be different from that of the National register of Voters and we are convinced that there are sufficient mechanisms in place by the Fijian Elections Office to ensure that there is thorough adjudication in cleaning of the voter list to ensure that the voter list is cleaned, accurate and verifiable at all times.

The third matter I wish to raise is in terms of the next General Election, the Electoral Commission welcomes opportunities to work with projects funded by donor agencies to promote free and fair elections in Fiji.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I will not take more of your time. I’m sure you are all interested in the presentation that follows as we demonstrate to you our plans for the conduct of the 2022 General Election. I would like to now handover to the Supervisor of Elections Mr Saneem for him to take you through the presentation for the planning for the 2022 General Election.

Thank you, Vinaka Vakalevu

EC Submission on the Electoral Amendment Bills 2021

by Electoral Commission

Statement by the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission

Mr Suresh Chandra

EC Submission on the Electoral Amendment Bills 2021 to the Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights

24/02/21 – 9.30am

 

The Chairperson and Honorable members of the Standing Committee

Bula Vinaka and warm greetings from the Electoral Commission

On behalf of the Electoral Commissioners’ would like to present our submission on the following bills:

  1. Bill Number 50 of 2020 – Bill to amend the Electoral Act 2014
  2. Bill Number 51 of 2020 – Bill to amend the Electoral (Registration of Voters) Act 2012
  3. Bill Number 52 of 2020 – Bill to amend the Political Parties Act 2013

General Comments:

Firstly, the Electoral Commission welcomes this move by Parliament to review the laws governing elections. We are in the middle of the Electoral Cycle and the FEO will shortly commence the full scale preparations for the 2022 General Election under the guidance and supervision of the Electoral Commission.

We also wish to highlight that it is regarded as best practice to make changes to electoral laws well in advance of an election. The Electoral Commission also notes the efforts to reform some of the prescribed procedures in the laws to make them consistent practically with the international norms around such activities.

Following the 2018 General Election, the Electoral Commission and the Supervisor of Elections issued a Joint Report. In the Joint Report, we made various recommendations on the legal and operational frameworks. The rationale for recommending such changes was that we have had 2 general elections under the framework and it is a suitable time for us to determine which of the projects, policies and procedures are practical and contextually relevant in Fiji’s electoral system.

Having had the opportunity to peruse the 2018 Joint Report with the recommendations on the electoral framework, together with the MOG Report on the same election, Parliament is at the central position to make high level policy decisions to reflect on the legal framework so that the next General Election, having been held under the duly considered laws, not only raises the standards in the delivery of elections but further strengthens the core of our democracy.

The Electoral Commission has taken the strategy to analyse each of its recommendations against the current amendments in Parliament. The Committee is invited to refer to page 25 of the 2018 Joint Report from which the Electoral Commission has recommended various practical reforms for Parliament. We shall address each of the recommendations and how the legal framework is being reviewed in light of the recommendation:

  1. Voter Lists

The Electoral Commission had recommended that the law is amended to require the FEO to publish provisional voter lists at-least 18 months before the first date the writ can be issued.

Section 40 (8) of the Electoral Act is being amended to require that the provisional Voter List is published annually on or before 30 September every year.

It is the Electoral Commission’s view that this amendment will allow Political parties to work with the FEO to verify and update the voter lists.

  1. Polling Venues

The Electoral Commission recommended that the law is amended so that the FEO proposes the full list of polling venues for the next election at-least 2 years prior to the first date the writ can be issued.

Section 41 (7) now requires the SoE to identify the physical locations of all polling venues and submit the list of all such venues to the Electoral Commission for approval by 30 June every year. The section 41(8) requires the Electoral Commission to publish the approved list of venues within 30 days of receipt of the list by the SoE.

This amendment provides the SoE with an approved list of venues to register voters during the election cycle. Political parties will also have a conclusive idea on the number of venues on an annual basis.

  1. Overseas Voters

The Electoral Commission recommended that a polling arrangement is made for voters, who had registered overseas and are in Fiji but did not apply for postal voting, to be able to vote.

Section 41(9) now allows the Supervisor of elections to establish a polling venue in Suva for voters who are registered overseas but are not postal voters to attend to cast their vote and special procedures for the conduct of polling at such polling stations as approved by the Electoral Commission.

The introduction of this provision allows the FEO to facilitate franchise for voters who may have travelled to Fiji after the Writ to be able to vote. It would also allow any voter that may have missed the deadline for postal voting to travel to Fiji and cast their vote.

  1. Voter Instruction Booklet

The Electoral Commission and both the MOG from 2014 to 2018 had recommended that the National Candidate’s list that is given to every voter when they come to vote should contain political party information. In the Joint Report, the Electoral Commission suggested that the candidates of the parties are listed according to their party. The MOG had recommend that the restrictions on Party identification in the National Candidates List is removed.

Section 36(6) has removed the restriction on political party identification and it now allows the SoE to determine whether it contains the Political Party name or Symbol or any other information as the SoE approves.

This amendment by Parliament will allow a voter to identify their candidate by the Party. Since nominations in Fiji are by Party Lists, and also considering that the electoral system is based on parties, having the symbols or names of parties on the National Candidates list will make the process more consistent.

  1. Definition of Campaign Period

The Electoral Commission recommended that the campaign period is defined in the law for effective monitoring and implementation of the laws. MOG had recommended that the law should clarify the start and finish of the campaign period.

Section 109A has been insert in the law and it clearly defines the campaign period as starting not earlier than 30 days before the completion of 3 years 6 months from the first sitting of parliament after the last General Election and ends no later than 48 hours prior to the date of the General Election.

It is the view of the Electoral Commission that this is essential amendment will clarify Campaign laws and the enforcement of the rules relating to campaign. The setting of a proper timeframe also allows all stakeholders to prepare for the election.

  1. Use of State Resources

It is necessary to prohibit the use of state resources in the use of Campaign.

Section 113(4A) makes it unlawful to use Government Vehicles to conduct campaign.

The Electoral Commission notes that in 2018, the media highlighted one candidate who went in his official vehicle to campaign in Cunningham. The change in the law is welcome particularly in terms of levelling the playing field.

  1. Enforcement of Blackout Period

The Electoral Commission recommended that the law allows powers for the SoE to enforce the Campaign blackout and to allow the SoE to issue directives to remove campaign material that is in breach of the law.

Section 116(4A) authorizes the SoE to remove or to direct any political party, candidate or police officer to remove any material that is in breach of the campaign rules. Section 116(4B) introduces offenses for failure to comply with the directives.

The Electoral Commission is of the view that it was necessary for practicality sake that the election management body was able to take immediate action to enforce the blackout period. The current amendment will provide the necessary mechanism to protect the voters.

  1. Provisional Results

The Electoral Commission recommended that the Provisional Results for the election are published by the SoE until 7 am on the day following the election. The Commission notes that there are no specific provisions in this regard although the SoE has been releasing provisional results until 7am the day after polling in 2014 and 2018.

 

Section 102A of the Electoral Act will allow the SoE to publish the provisional results until 7am the day after polling.

Provisional results are a necessity in developing democracies as it signifies the progress in count and helps to build peace and calm in the stakeholders. These results are normally received through phone or electronically and are intended to be indicatory only.

 

  1. Final Report on the General Election

The Electoral Commission, considering the experiences in 2014 and 2018, recommended that the final report by the SoE on the General Election is to be due at least 3 months after the General Election.

Section 109 is amended to allow the SoE to provide the final report on the General Election within 3 months after the General Election.

This amendment facilitates the compilation of the final report after the conclusion of the Petition Period with is 42 days (21 days to file and 21 days for their decision). It was difficult in 2018 for the SoE to compile the final Report while the Election Petitions were in session in court.

 

  1. Political Party Disputes

The Electoral Commission recommended for Parliament to allow it to mediate or if necessary, arbitrate disputes between political parties.

Section 30A of the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding and Disclosures) Act has introduced dispute resolution processes in the law. The decision of the Electoral Commission on whether to mediate or arbitrate is final and is not subject to any further appeal or review by any Court, tribunal or any other adjudicating body.

This critical amendment introduces expeditious dispute resolution mechanisms between political parties. In an election, timelines are essential and taking legal action may not fit within the expected timelines of the election. Proceedings in court may give a desired outcome but the event may have passed its necessity.

 

Additional Comments:

  1. The Electoral Commission welcomes the re-introduction of the appeals and objections provisions in the Electoral (registration of voters) Act. These provisions compliment the amendment to the Electoral Act where the SoE is now required to publish the Provisional Voter List annually.
  2. The changes in the annual disclosure requirements of Political parties now requires registered political parties to compile and publish their own disclosures and finances, including audited accounts on an annual basis. The law further enhances the self-compliance of political parties.
  3. The Electoral Commission also notes the introduction of laws regarding publication of false information on elections. In 2018, 1 political party official was found guilty of publishing false information regarding voter lists. The new amendment in section 144A will allow electoral authorities to take action to prevent further publication of false information. These provisions promote fairness in election and also protect voters.
  4. It is also noted that the amendments in the Electoral (Registration of Voters) Act, have made provision for the Voter Card, one of the most prominent ID cards in Fiji. The SoE is required to issue every voter who is registered with a Voter card. All voter cards remain the property of the FEO. The law has also required voters to select their polling venue at the time they apply for registration. Voters are also required to select an alternative polling venue. However, the voter will only be able to vote at the polling station they are registered to.
  5. The new provisions in the Electoral (Registration of Voters) Act greatly improves the transparency in the management of the National Register of Voters. The amendments now require the SoE to publish the National Register of Voters. This will be done as Provisional Voter List under the Electoral Act. The SoE is also required to publish the list of voters who will be deleted from the NRV.
  6. Prior to these amendments, Candidates to the election were required to file their disclosures with the SoE 30 days before the General Election but there were no requirements to provide any disclosures after the Election. The new amendments now require candidates to an election to file a second phase of disclosures after the General Election as well. This will allow all stakeholders to verify the pre and post-election disclosures of the candidate.

Additional recommendation:

The Electoral Commission has, since 2018, continued its task to review and analyse the electoral environment. The Commission has considered various events and we have collectively formulated the view that section 7 of the Electoral Act be amended and penalty provisions are introduced for any person or entity, except the Courts, for interfering or attempting to interfere with or, directing or attempting to direct the SoE and the Electoral Commission in the performance of the functions of the SoE or the Electoral Commission.

Overall, the Electoral Commission’s view is that the amendments to the laws are well designed and these amendments will further strengthen the electoral system. We duly welcome the introduction of provisions that enhance the transparency in election management.

There are some new provisions that will rationalize the electoral processes over the full 4-year cycle rather than only in the election year.

In conclusion, we support the proposed amendments to the laws and we welcome the timeliness of Parliament in introducing the amendments.

 

Vinaka