Fiji elections: opposition parties to stop ballot counting, military intervention

key points
  • The provisional tally uploaded to the election results app was taken offline for several hours on election night.
  • Opposition parties have called for the counting of votes to be stopped and for the military to intervene.
  • Fiji’s election watchdog has hit back at claims the election process lacks integrity.
A war of words over the integrity of Fiji’s electoral system has culminated with opposition parties calling for a halt to vote counting and for the military to intervene.
The leaders of four opposition parties said they would refuse to be sworn into parliament if elected if there is no independent oversight of the count.
All refused to express faith in Fiji’s election office.

The problem began after the provisional tally uploaded to the election results app was taken offline for several hours on election night Wednesday.

People’s Alliance leader Sitiveni Rabuka was leading in the count and Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s FijiFirst government was well down before he pulled the plug.
Their positions had changed when he reconnected.
Supervisor of Elections Mohammed Saneem said there had been an error when the data was transferred to the result application and the results did not match the different candidates.
Some candidates subsequently recorded unusually high numbers of votes. Data was cleared and reloaded.

A final count is underway, with results due by Sunday.

A man in a suit speaks at a press conference in front of the cameras.

Fiji’s election supervisor Mohammed Saneem said there had been an error when the data was transferred to the result app and the results did not match the different candidates. Source: AAP / MICK TSIKAS

Rabuka said the explanation was inadequate, with similar problems or blackouts resulting in a boost to the government’s votes in each of the last two elections.

He said the error and anomalies “call into question the integrity of the entire system.”

Rabuka says opposition observers sent the results of the pink notes published at all polling stations showing the provisional count and the raw data does not match the actual count.

Fiji’s Elections Supervisor Responds to Electoral Process Claims

Saneem responded to the criticism and accused the opposition of spreading misinformation. He said that while the application was down, a substantial number of polling stations reported their results, which is what updated the overall count.
He challenged Mr Rabuka to prove that the number on the pink slips matched the first provisional data before the application was taken offline.

The election supervisor maintained that the final vote tallies had not been incorrect as the system used for the count is offline and the data is connected after manually counting the ballots and verifying the numbers.

Mr Saneem said he had always been open to the fact that there could be errors in provisional results, which are requested from polling stations.
But he maintained that releasing them on election night was the right thing to do to give the nation confidence that the count was underway.
He said scrutineers from all political parties were able to observe the process and the People’s Alliance had collected data from the centre.

“Conspiracy theories have reached a point where political leaders are calling for intervention in the electoral process simply because their own general secretaries did not update them on what is going on,” he said.

He calls for military intervention

Rabuka, a former prime minister and 1987 coup leader, said he would also write to the military commander and ask him to use his powers under the constitution to intervene and oversee a fair count.
Fiji’s constitution gives the military the responsibility to “at all times ensure the security, defense and welfare of Fiji and Fijians”.
Fiji’s military commander has told his soldiers to respect the election result, saying anything less would be an affront to democracy.
Asked if flagging military intervention would cause anxiety in a nation whose history is littered with coups, Rabuka said it would not be a coup.
He said the military would act in accordance with the constitution if they accepted his proposal.
“It will be supporting the civilian system that is being run,” he said.

“They will not enter to lead the government, they will not enter to be ministers.”

He said the president could install an acting prime minister, who is not necessarily the incumbent.
The Multinational Observer Group said it was continuing to monitor the electoral process.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong says the election in Fiji “appears to have been conducted … in a peaceful and orderly manner”.

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