Special Report

2 September 2014

Top 10 things you need to know about Fiji’s new electoral system

Fiji Elections Office video on how to vote.
2 September 2014

Pacific Media Centre Online Fiji Elections 2014 editor Thomas Carnegie backgrounds the new Fiji electoral system.

BACKGROUNDER: With the first Fiji general election since the 2006 coup less than three weeks away, it is important to understand Fiji’s new electoral system.

Here is Asia-Pacific Journalism’s guide to 10 important things to know when casting your vote.

1. What is the proportional voting system?
Fiji’s voting system was established with an Electoral Decree, introduced by the military backed government which came into force in March 2014. The Decree establishes a proportional voting system for the elections.

The proportional system means the proportion of votes a candidate receives will determine both their position on the party list and the overall number of seats its party will be allocated in Parliament.

2. What is the Electoral Decree?
Fiji’s Electoral Decree sets out in detail the conduct of elections, in particular how to vote and how your vote will be conducted.

The Decree does this through setting out in detail the voting system and polling administration. It also establishes an Electoral Commission to formulate policy and oversee the conduct of the elections.

3. How many votes does a voter cast?
Every registered voter casts one vote. Each vote counts towards both the chosen candidate and their party’s overall vote.

For instance, if a person votes for a Fiji First candidate, the vote contributes to both the candidate and the total proportion of seats allocated to Fiji First.

This applies to each and every vote cast by the public.

4. What is an open list system?
Open list means that votes for each candidate determine their place on their party’s list.

Dr Steven Ratuva, senior lecturer at Auckland University’s Centre for Pacific Studies, says this is one of the major differences between Fiji and New Zealand’s voting systems.

“In Fiji the voters themselves determine the ranking of candidates. In the case of New Zealand, it is a closed system where the party’s themselves determine the ranking,” says Dr Ratuva.

University of the South Pacific emeritus professor Crosbie Walsh says a public list system is actually more democratic than a closed list system.

“In this respect, the Fijian system is actually fairer then the New Zealand system."

5. Do you vote for a constituency?
In this election there is one constituency. This is a move away from the 2006 elections where there were 71 communal constituencies.

These communal constituencies were allocated as follows: 23 seats to indigenous voters, 19 to Indo-Fijians, one to Rotuman Islanders, three to minority groups and 25 to “open” constituencies.

Dr Walsh says the reasoning behind these constituencies was to protect the different ethnic groups.

“I think this was a genuine decision but I am not sure if it were necessary, and certainly over time it was meant to change but it never did,” says Dr Walsh.

Dr Ratuva says the reason for the single constituency is to “constitutionally and socially engineer people’s political behaviour away from ethnic mobilisation.”

He says this is the other major difference between the Fiji and New Zealand voting systems.

“Fiji’s system is single constituency, in other words there is only one national constituency rather then multiple. In New Zealand however, there are several in Auckland alone."

6. Is there a voting threshold?
Under the Electoral Decree there are 50 Parliamentary seats to be allocated. For a party to be allocated a seat in Parliament they must cross a five percent threshold of the overall votes cast.

This is determined by the formula: total number of votes cast x 0.05 = threshold.

For instance, if 500,000 people vote then this is multiplied by 0.05, giving a total of 25,000. This means a party or independent candidate must achieve 25,000 votes in order to gain five per cent of the overall votes.

The threshold is determined by votes across the board for political parties. For instance, if a party has two candidates: one receives three percent of the vote and the other receives two per cent of the vote. Combined, this is five percent and the party will be allocated one party seat.

Some political commentators have criticised this threshold, saying it is too high.

“If a party receives four percent of the overall vote, which will roughly be about 20,000 votes, none of these will be counted. So this is a disadvantage to the independent candidates,” says Dr Ratuva.

Dr Walsh says while the threshold may be high, it is not a peculiarity to Fiji.

“New Zealand also has a five percent threshold. When you have a proportional representation system you just have to put a minimum number of votes to elect somebody to Parliament,” says Dr Walsh.

7. How many parties are there?
There are seven registered parties in this year’s election with 249 candidates. These can be split into major parties and minor parties based on their number of candidates.

The major parties are Fiji First (FF) and the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA).

The minor parties are Fiji Labour Party (FLP), National Federation Party (NFP), People’s Democratic Party (PDF), Fiji United Freedom Party (FUFP) and One Fiji Party (OFP).

8. So how will a government be formed?
Under a proportional voting system, coalitions are often a by-product. This is when no party has more than 50 percent of the seats and therefore cannot govern alone.

This means major parties have to make concessions and agreements with minor parties to form a government.

Under Fiji’s proportional system, it is unclear whether a coalition will be needed. Current polling by the Fiji Sun shows that 78 percent prefer Fiji First in the upcoming election, while polling by The Fiji Times shows 66 percent prefer Fiji First leader Voreqe Bainiarama, formerly a rear admiral, coup leader and head of the military forces, as Prime Minister.

If these polls are accurate, then Fiji First is likely to win enough seats to govern alone.

Dr Ratuva hopes this is not the case and that a coalition is formed.

“The reason for a proportional system is to force parties into coalitions. This is good for the country, as you will have diversity of political groups in power.

“In the case of Fiji, because of the high threshold it is going to undermine the coalition expectation.

“But the possibility of a coalition is still there, particularly now because we have seven political parties,” says Dr Ratuva.

9. Who is observing the elections?
There are 14 international observers monitoring the elections. They are being led by Australia, India, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

Observers will be randomly selected to monitor polling stations along with representatives of political party’s. From the stations all votes are sent to Suva, where international observers will again oversee the vote count.

Dr Walsh says “it appears Murray McCully (New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister) from his recent visit to Fiji is reasonably happy with the process so far”.

However other critics are sceptical about the roll of the observers due to restrictions in place that limit their ability.

10. Can you vote if you do not live in Fiji?
Under the Electoral Decree, you can vote in the election through postal vote. However, overseas registration closed on August 4 and overseas applications closed on August 27.

Asenaca Uluiviti, a lawyer, social justice advocate and overseas registered voter, says there was confusion over the application process.

She says when the Electoral Commission came to New Zealand, she registered to vote and was told by the representatives this was the only step required to vote.

But when she looked online she realised that she also had to send in an application.

She says one of her family members received application forms in the mail. However, she did not and had to download them online. Because of her late application she is unsure whether she will be able to vote.

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