Father Arms Corrects Me on an Election Posting

For much of last year a number of readers persisted in saying that the Government Roadmap for Democracy and Sustainable Socio-Economic Development (RDSSED) 2009 to 2014 did not exist as a document because it had not been published. In June Pacific Island leaders at the Engaging with the Pacific meeting at Natadola had been informed in sufficient detail of the Roadmap and the Strategic Framework for Change to support them. My understanding was that the Roadmap did exist but only in draft, and it main provisions seemed reasonably clear from what Government was actually doing, but none of this satisfied the critics.

So, in January and early February I published a three-part article showing the linkages from the People's Charter to the Strategic Framework for Change to the elusive Roadmap. Links to the postings are: Part 1 (22 January), Part II (29 January) and Part III (5 February).

Last week I received an email from Father David Arms, a Columban priest who has served in Fiji for many years. A qualified linguist and an authority on the Fijian language, a regular commentator on the Fiji body politic, he took an active part in the discussions that resulted in the draft People's Charter and he is a member of the Citizens' Constitutional Forum. He has some kind — and some kindly critical — comments on Part III of my paper, some parts of which he said  were incorrect, to which I shamefully agree.  Fr Arms would particularly welcome comments on the Open List system recommended in the Charter draft.

Comments on Croz Walsh’s blog (5 February) on Elections 
By Fr David G Arms

This blog, like so many you have produced, is a valuable contribution. There are, however, a few errors which I think it would be good to correct, and I also have an occasional comment or clarification which might be helpful. I will comment briefly only on those paragraphs (within the numbered sections) where I believe there are errors or where further elaboration might help.
Initial paragraph “Electoral reforms 2013”
I would not be so pessimistic about the starting of work on electoral reforms. I have no special information on the matter, but I would think they would start in September 2012 (not 2013) at the latest, and hopefully even before that. Electoral reform will be a part of constitutional reform (due to begin in September 2012) but a lot of its detail can be drafted beforehand (as has already happened to some degree within the proposals of the Charter).
Section 3, paragraph 4
It is not correct to say (third sentence), “In both cases [NZ and Fiji] voters will have two votes.” NZ indeed uses a closed list, whereas an open list is proposed for Fiji. But NZ uses MMP (with two votes per voter), whereas a simple Open List system is proposed for Fiji, not MMP. There will be only one vote per voter, not two – (as per the saying, “one person, one vote, one value”). Having said that, the idea of using MMP in Fiji was not entirely thrown out (whereas using the Single Transferable Vote form of PR was), so the suggestions made here (and later in the blog) about two votes in Fiji could come back into consideration. Nevertheless, the system holding the floor at the moment is a simple Open List system, and statements and detail emanating from the Charter on electoral reform are based on this presumption.
Section 3, paragraph 5
This paragraph also presumes (wrongly) that Fiji voters will have two votes. One of the advantages of a pure list system is that it prevents vote-splitting and the manipulation, often unfair, this can give rise to (as seen in NZ).
Section 3, paragraph 6
This paragraph explains well the difference between open and closed lists and that there are advantages and disadvantages with both types. However, your conclusions, which seem to favour a closed list, seem to be based on presumptions only. First of all, NZ has never used open lists, so one cannot legitimately conclude that closed lists are better (in NZ or anywhere else) on the basis of the better representation NZ now has. That is a result of the list compartment of MMP, (as distinct from the individual electorate compartment, which is still first-past-the-post with its concomitant defects). That the parties will provide a representative list is also a presumption. If it has happened in NZ, very good. But it cannot be guaranteed for Fiji or indeed anywhere. Whether letting the people decide (through an open list) will fare any better, cannot be guaranteed either. But one thing clear about open lists is that they are more democratic and hence I favour them. Parties have tremendous power over the whole process as it is. I prefer to give the voters as much power as possible on the one day in every so many years that they do have an effective say!
Section 4, paragraph 1
In relation to electorates, this paragraph reads, “The NCBBF recommendation is to have localities, suburbs, towns and even provinces in Fiji that are closely associated with one or the other major ethnic group.” I am not sure what this is supposed to convey, but I don’t know of any such recommendation. What the NCBBF did decide was to do away with separate communal representation – the communal seats. Voters of all ethnicities will vote together having a single vote and having candidates before them of whatever ethnicity.
Section 4, paragraph 2
This paragraph gives the opinion that, because the voting paper will have a lot of names on it, “voters would be confused when faced with so many candidates to choose from”. Really? Is there much evidence for this? The people of Fiji handle mobile phones, telephone directories and other “complicated” appliances as easily as anywhere else. Large ballot papers with lots of names are used in many countries round the world (e.g. Indonesia, a huge democracy which uses a semi-open form of list system) and to the best of my knowledge it is not a huge problem. I quite like the idea of having all the names there and the voter explicitly choosing one. However, if the fear of confusion you speak of is too pervasive, it is possible to have a very simple ballot paper, as in Finland (which operates an excellent form of open list system) where the voter simply writes the pre-given number of his or her candidate.
Section 4, paragraph 3
This paragraph, talking of electorate and list seats, is not applicable, as it is again working on the incorrect assumption that there will be two kinds of seats.
Section 4, paragraph 4
There is a comment made in this paragraph that “larger constituencies would benefit the larger parties”. This is back-to-front. Larger constituencies benefit the smaller parties, provided of course that there are also more seats for the larger constituencies, which there has to be in a fair PR system. They provide broader representation because the more seats there are in the constituency, the less percentage of the total constituency vote is required to win one. That is one of the reasons why the Charter has suggested having 3, 4, or 5 large constituencies in Fiji and no more.
Section 9
The present opinion, I think, is to stay with the present five-year term for parliament. The enormous cost of running an election in a far-flung island country like Fiji was a serious consideration. But the matter may be raised again.
Section 11
A number of options about the Senate were brought up (including the option of abolishing it), but not discussed at much length, depth, or finality.
Section 15, paragraph 1
The tenor of this paragraph about international observers is good. However, by the reasoning of the paragraph itself, it is not at all clear that the Commonwealth should be included. They have been dominated by Australia and NZ in the past, when dealing with Fiji. They also threw Fiji out of their institution. Their team in 2006, although composed of nice people, was by no means outstanding. Involving Sir Paul Reeves again at this stage is also a doubtful proposition. He may have, or be seen as having (which is just as problematic), too much of a vested interest from his past association with Fiji.
Section 15, paragraph 2
Contrary to what this paragraph says, there will be no electronic voting in Fiji. What there will be is electronic voter registration – a very different thing. This should improve no end the quality of the electoral rolls, and a lot of preparatory work has already been done for it. The second half of the paragraph is fully correct. The plan is to have all the voting done in one day. The Elections Office has done the research and believes this can certainly be done. There may have to be some advance voting, which I would support, but hopefully not postal voting, which has been very open to abuse in the past.
Conclusion, paragraph 4
I feel the suggested timing here for electoral reform is again pessimistic (like the introductory paragraph). The electoral reforms are likely to be done along with the constitutional reforms (at worst), but hopefully a lot of the work will actually be started beforehand.
In a susequent email he wrote:
Thank you for your email reply. As I indicated in my revised "Comments", your blog on this was still valuable in spite of the occasional error. You will note from my revised version of "Comments" that you were not entirely off the mark in suggesting an MMP-like solution for Fiji. 

MMP has not been ruled out, but a pure Open List system is what holds the floor at the moment. Indeed it was because you put forward MMP that drew a response from me. A lot of thought and discussion went into the Open List option that was eventually put forward. - (perhaps you are unaware that there was a special brochure put out explaining it at the time of the Charter's publication; I could try to get you one if you would want it). 

Anyway, I am very keen that people discuss the Open List option rather than the MMP one, since it does, as I say, hold the floor and a lot of the reasoning behind it would seem to make it very suitable for Fiji, whereas there will undoubtedly be pressure from outside to use MMP (because NZ uses it and people understand it) just as Fiji was pressured into the Alternative Vote disaster (because Australia uses it). The Open List system is not so well known in this part of the world, but looks very suitable for Fiji, so should be given a fair go and full consideration in the ongoing discussions.


What a pity said…
What a pity. Everyone is having a say about the future of Fiji except the people themselves - who are repressed, have no free media and cannot vote? Even blind freddy can see where Fiji is heading.
Croz Walsh said…
@ With respect What a pity ... this is nonsense. The draft People's Charter was widely discussed and approved by well over half the adult population. My recent postings are commentatories on what was recommended. The full text of the draft Charter is available on line at several websites, including this one. The Advisory Committee and the Strategic Framework for Change committee check on the work of individual ministries to see they are following Charter guidelines. The general outcomes are reported in the Fiji media.
MJ said…
in Section 9 I think that staying with a 5 yr term is a mistake and one of the causes of the "coup culture". When an election is lost, 5 years seems a very long time before you get another chance. Reducing this to 4 years would help the losing party accept the result as it would not be too long before they get the next chance.
Sloan Ranger said…
@ MJ ......5 years is too long

Five years is too long a period in power becoming accustomed to the upholstery of public remuneration. Three years (as in NZ) is too short. Four years should be more than adequate to achieve some measurable outcomes and then submit to full accountability of the Poll once again.
not the charter again said…
croz = you, like the PM love to talk about the charters approval by the people. There is enough doubt about the process at getting to this so called approval but let us give you the benefit of the doubt. The people also approved the constitution remaining in place which the PM ignored. You, like the PM are very selective in referring to the charter. Under law the PM should have stood down and a interim government taken this place. And please don't go on about the "aussie judged" caus I never hear you complaining about the shrilankin ones now - they are as you say qualified and part of the judiciary,

Of cause one way to solve this would be a vote. But the PM is smart enough to know he will not win one today. He has to stamp out and silence all opposition first and keep his military to ensure no one competes with him if he has a election in 2014.

For all your good intentions you faul to see the importance of power to our PM and his desire to stay above the law. Self preservtion is a very strong thing.
Dismal Science said…
All Governments are funded by taxpayers. They may be corporate of individual. We need to ask ourselves: if any individual were unable to obtain a Fiji Passport upon application, why would they pay tax? If any corporate entity were to be compelled to pay arbitrary wage hikes without a concomitant increase in productivity, why would they pay tax? There is a fundamental principle at work here. There can and will be no growth in any economy without attention to it: entrepreneurship cannot be compelled. And double standards are self-defeating. If we fail to "get this", then we are gone!
Time to "muscle in"? said…
@ Dismal Science.....

We've got it! Recently, two men appeared in the Lautoka High Court. Prior to being charged, one of them was obliged to part with THREE Fiji Passports. Yes, three! So, what conclusion might we come to? That a shortage of available passports is solely due to some persons acquiring more than their FAIR SHARE? Since it takes more than one person to be corrupt, who else has benefited in this? Time to move swiftly and it is time for the taxpayers to ask relevant and pointed questions. After them, the Fiji Police and FICAC must move in. They must do so transparently so that we are all in the picture on this. There is much more to this sordid story than meets the eye. Time for the FT under new management to muscle in?

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