SUVA, Fiji (April 20) – If ever there was a need for evidence that the Fiji Elections Office should be in permanent operation, the recent litany of complaints by individuals and political parties provides it. Due no doubt to budgetary constraints, the office becomes dormant after each election to resume activity when the next one is announced.

Thus the quite complex business of preparing for a general election is packed into a month or so of frantic activity of the kind that is all but guaranteed to produce errors. The demographic nature of the electorate changes – sometimes quite dramatically – between elections. People move to different constituencies, they migrate, they reach voting age and they also die.

The task of compiling all of those movements and producing an accurate electoral roll falls to the Elections Office – and it is a daunting one indeed. And it is carried out amid the full blare of protest and counter protest by people and parties often for purely political motives. That the Elections Office team can compile a roll at all verges on the miraculous.

Nevertheless, all complaints need to be examined carefully and action taken where justified. The people's right to vote is too precious to squander through clerical or systemic errors – however understandable these might be. Mistakes must be promptly rectified. But that, essentially, is what is happening. The Fiji Labor Party's very serious allegation that 1,900 voters are listed in the wrong constituency will be checked and action taken if required.

The final rolls are available – to an extent. But more are needed in places where people can easily find them and check whether they are correctly listed. Otherwise, they may lose their right to vote. So far though, the system works – even if it is somewhat creaky. But all this drama could have been avoided if the Elections Office had been in operation since the last election carrying out a continuous process of updating the rolls in the light of emerging knowledge. Such information might well be valuable to private organizations, which might equally represent a source of funding.

Then the office could gear up for a final flurry of activity when the next general election is announced. It would be tragic if even a single individual were disenfranchised through an unnecessary error.

April 21, 2006


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