MOG delivers interim statement

The following statement was delivered by the MOG co-chairs in handing down the MOG Interim Statement on the 2018 Fijian General Elections:

Seven weeks ago, the Multinational Observer Group was established at the invitation of the Fijian Government to observe the 2018 Fijian General Election. The MOG’s terms of reference mandated us to observe and evaluate a wide range of electoral processes and assess:

1. whether or not the outcome of the election broadly represented the will of the Fijian voters and

2. whether or not the arrangements in place for the election assisted Fijian voters to exercise their right to vote freely.

Since the MOG was formed, we have undertaken an extensive program of work, observing all key electoral processes and meeting a wide range of stakeholders. This has only been possible through the hard work of our 25 long-term observers and MOG Secretariat staff.

Our efforts were also supported by the addition of 52 short-term observers from ten participating countries, as well as representatives of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the Melanesian Spearhead Group, who came from a range of countries.

Overall the MOG consisted of 77 observers, from a range of countries, including:

Australia, Canada, the Federated States of Micronesia, France, French Polynesia, India, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of Korea, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, Tonga, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Vanuatu.

Today we, the MOG co-chairs, are here to hand down our interim statement on the conduct of the 2018 General Election. We understand that there still is voting to take place tomorrow at 25 polling stations due to inclement weather conditions on Election Day – however as voting and counting has concluded at more than 98 per cent of polling stations at this time, we think it remains appropriate for us to deliver this statement today as scheduled.

Please note that these are only interim findings, and that the MOG will issue a detailed final report containing recommendations, following the conclusion of all electoral processes - including the voting at polling venues where voting was suspended, the dissemination of the final results, as well as the formal dispute period.

The findings in this interim statement have been formed through the systematic collection of information by all of our observers – who visited more than 460 polling stations on Election Day across all four divisions – and reflects a consolidated view that reflects their observations and perspectives from pre-polling and Election Day, as well as the weeks preceding. It also reflects analysis that has been done on the overall electoral landscape here in Fiji by our long-term observers.

We wish to congratulate the people of Fiji on the conduct of the election. We note that while the campaign has been robust, Election Day was peaceful and free of any security incidents.

The wet weather conditions on Election Day did make it difficult for many voters. However, all election stakeholders, especially the Fijian Elections Office (FEO), did their best to encourage voters to turn out to vote, and we commend them for that. Our observers also noted the strong enthusiasm amongst the voters who battled the rain to turn out to vote.

The voting process was conducted professionally and largely without error. As we said in our pre-election statement, the MOG has been impressed by the professionalism and transparency of the FEO and its staff. The successful conduct of Election Day was a testament to this professionalism and their degree of preparation. Polling was administered smoothly, and procedures were followed. The vast majority of polling stations were correctly set up, ensuring privacy for voters, and the opening and closing procedures, in the main, were carried out to a high standard. In addition, it is clear that the FEO has taken on board many of the lessons learnt from the 2014 General Election and refined many of its internal processes over the past four years.

Similarly, the counting of votes has so far been conducted professionally and largely without error, though we note this process is still ongoing. While the counting process itself can be time-consuming, we acknowledge this is the result of the high numbers of checks and balances. All votes are counted by hand, and by multiple election officials in the full view of political party agents if they wish to observe. This means that it is difficult for errors to occur, and easy for observers and political party agents to follow.

We do note that there were some minor issues on Election Day that are worth mentioning.

The decision to close polling venues due to dangerous wet conditions would have been a difficult decision for the Fijian electoral authorities to make. We believe though that it was the correct decision. While it is disruptive to the process, the safety of voters has to be the paramount concern. If voters, or election officials, had been injured due to a decision to leave the venues open, it would have been unacceptable. We also note that this decision fully complies with electoral laws and international good practice.

We understand that the FEO is making the logistical arrangements required to re-run the election at these polling venues tomorrow. Our observers will be deployed once again tomorrow for the vote and count at these locations.

We note there have been some reports of voters not being on the voter list at the location where they were believed they were due to vote. Our observers did encounter some limited instances of this in the field. In the vast majority of cases it was clear that either the voter had not checked where they were listed to vote, or the voter had changed their details with the FEO at some point over the past few years and had forgotten. MOG teams observed election officials assisting these individuals how they could, including by helping voters locate their polling venue, and we acknowledge that the FEO at all times has acted in line with electoral laws. We also note the large effort made by the FEO in the weeks and months leading up to Election Day to encourage voters to check their polling venue using an easy to use SMS platform.

We also note that our teams did observe some minor inconsistencies in a small number of polling stations in how certain electoral procedures were followed by the Presiding Officer. Our observers commented that these inconsistencies were clearly the result of human error, and not intentional misconduct. In addition, we have assessed that these issues were very small in nature and were insufficient to affect the outcome in any significant way. The FEO trained their Presiding Officers extensively, and this has shown results through the overall professional conduct of election day.

In terms of pre-poll voting the MOG has observed all elements of the process. We understand that there are some members of the public who have concerns about the integrity of the pre-poll ballots, and therefore we recognized the need to look closely at this process.

The MOG was present for the packing of sensitive materials, the distribution of sensitive materials, the transport of ballot boxes, as well as pre-poll voting and pre-poll counting. In all of these observations, the MOG saw no evidence of wrong doing, and is of the view the process was carried out professionally. Similarly, with postal voting, the verification process was thorough and ballots were transported securely to the count centre following verification.

Beyond the conduct of Election Day and polling, we would also like to provide some interim comments on a number of elements of the broader Fijian electoral framework. We note that these will be explored in more detail in the final report.

The MOG assesses that the legal framework underpinning the electoral system complies with the fundamental international principles of universal suffrage and non-discrimination. This framework has provided a generally good basis for the election to be held.

Voter information and awareness campaigns since the last election have been extensive, and the FEO should be commended for this. This led to a good level of understanding of how to cast a vote under this still relatively new electoral system. Even with these efforts, the MOG did encounter some voters in remote areas who were uncertain about the election process.

One shortfall is the stipulation in the Electoral Act that there shall be no political party identification in official voter information. For a proportional representation system, this lack of political party identification is unusual, and many voters told the MOG they were confused without this information being officially provided.

Women participated actively as both candidates and voters. It is promising to see more women candidates this election. We also welcome the strong female representation in the administration of the election. And we want to commend the FEO for the new provisions in this election for better facilitating voters with disabilities being able to exercise their rights to vote.

Due to all of these factors, the MOG’s assessment is that the outcome of the 2018 Fijian General Election is on track to reflect the will of Fijian voters and that Fijian voters were able to exercise their right to vote freely. We congratulate the Fijian Elections Office and all election officials for their hard work, dedication and professionalism in delivering this result.

I want to reiterate that these interim findings have been based on comparing the conduct of all electoral processes with both Fiji’s electoral laws as well as international good practice. And I want to emphasise that our assessments have been made independently and are objective and impartial. A full copy of our interim statement has been provided to the media, and following this, the MOG will publish the statement online for all Fijians and the international community to see.

In closing, we want to take this opportunity to thank a few important groups. Thank you to all of the stakeholders, including political parties, legal institutions, government agencies and civil society organisations for meeting with us and for providing us with your insights. Your perspectives were vital in allowing us to shape our assessments.

Thank you to the Fijian Elections Office for your transparency and availability at this busy time. You and your staff provided the volumes of information we requested and gave us unfettered access to every part of the electoral process. Thank you to all the polling day

workers for your professionalism on the conduct of voting and counting, and for being so courteous and open with our observers.

And most of all, thank you to the Fijian people, including the communities, the chiefs, the turaga ni koro, and the everyday people for being so open to us on your views of the electoral system and for welcoming us so warmly to your country.