Fiji Sun

SUVA, Fiji (Nov. 16) – The right - or duty - to vote in elections is at the very heart of our democratic system. And, unfortunately, few would dispute that many were denied this fundamental right in the recent municipal elections.

There would be a number of reasons for that with laziness and incompetence high on the list. However, there do appear to be basic flaws in the system of registering voters for local elections. The process is a function of the municipal councils themselves and cannot therefore be deemed to be free of political interference or influence. Whether or not interference took place, the mere possibility of it is enough to bring the system into disrepute. Indeed the alarming number of people who could not vote because their names were not on the roll - despite the fact that they had registered - may have nothing to do with political interference and much to do with sheer incompetence.

Whatever the reason, the system has to change and the Government is right to seek to change it. The Minister of Local Government, Pio Wong, is considering a review of the whole process with a view to improving the system. That will be welcome. But the Government and the minister could go further by having the investigation overseen by an all-party team of experienced MPs. This is because all parties have complained more or less equally about the registration process and all have alleged irregularities in the polling process. Thus an all-party investigation would not only address the concerns that exist across the political spectrum but would also reassure the voters that any inquiry would be above board. Organising an election is a complicated task - one for which the local authorities are ill-equipped in terms of expertise, manpower and money.

The Elections Office - which will be responsible for the general lection - might be a better candidate to take on the job - but it too would need the resources to do it successfully. No doubt all of this and more will come under the minister’s review. But until something is done we damage our democracy by removing people’s right to vote - whether it be by design or accident. Whatever the outcome of the inquiry, we really need to make voting easier. It's in everybody's interest.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


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