One Man One Vote One Value: Part I, Pegs and Holes

Trying to Put Round Pegs into Square Holes 
by Crosbie Walsh
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All previous elections in Fiji have been based, to a greater or lesser extent, on its 14 provinces with a reserved parliamentary seat for  the island of Rotuma and Rotumans living in other parts of Fiji (Map 1.1). In this article I will argue that all previous elections have been intrinsically unfair because of this reliance on provinces, and that the only way to achieve one man one vote one value is to dispense with the provinces as the geographic unit around which the electorates are drawn.

 An examination of Table 1, and a quick look at the communal electorate boundaries used in the 2006 election demonstrates some of the problems.

The columns in Table 1 show the very unequal population sizes  of the provinces and the equally unequal distribution of ethnic groups within each province.  For example, Ba has 27.7% of  Fiji's population and 40.2 % of Indo-Fijians, while Lau has only 1.3% of Fiji's population and only 2.2% of its indigenous Fijian population

By contrast, the rows in Table 2  show Indo-Fijians comprised only slightly more one half (54.5%) of Ba's population while 98.l7% of Lau was indigenous Fijian.

These geographic differences account for much of the difficulty in coming up with a fair electoral system based on ethnicity, if the system is based on provinces.

In recent elections 46 seats have been allocated to Communal  electorates and 25 to Open electorates in the 71-member parliament. In this article we will look at the Communal  electorates, and in the next article at the Open electorates as a better way of achieving voter equality.  The maps are from my book Fiji: An Encyclopaedic Atlas, and the election results shown are for 2001.The tables are based on 2006 election and Bureau of Statistics data. MV in the map below stands for Matanitu Vanua (CAMV), the extremist iTaukei nationalist party whose members joined Laisenia Qarase's SDL party in the 2006 elections.

The 17 Fijian Communal electorates  were based on single provinces (Map 16.4). Each province received one seat with the exception of Ba, Cakaudrove and Tailevu which were each given two seats in recognition of their larger populations.   This adjustment still resulted in some people's votes being worth far more than others.  The 19,000 voters registered in Nadroga/Navosa, the 15,400 in Ba West and the 11,600 in Cakaudrove West, for example, each elected only one MP as did the the 6,000-odd voters in Bua, Kadavu  and Lau, the 4,500 in Serua and the  3,000 in Namosi.  A vote in Navua was worth six-times more than a vote in Nadroga/Navosa.

The six Fijian Urban electorates (Map 16.5). were divided equally between urban places  in the North-West (Ba to Nadi), the North-East (Tavua to Nausori and Vanua Levu), the South-West (Sigatoka to Lami), with three seats allocated to Greater Suva urban area.  The number of registered voters was reasonably similar, ranging from 15- to 18,000, much larger than the rural Communal electorates that averaged 9,500 voters, but  urban Fijians were considerably under-represented compared with their rural cousins. Of the 23 seats allocated to Fijians, 62.5% went to the rural  and 37.5% to the urban seats, but  only  55.5%  of Fijians lived in rural areas compared with  44.5% in urban areas (2007 Census).

This  rural-urban discrepancy  favoured the generally less educated, those less involved in the modern money economy, those with fewer opportunities to meet and mix with people of other races,  and those more easily influenced by their local chiefs and church ministers. Local, traditional and racial loyalties would displace all others.  

The 19 Indo-Fijian Communal electorates  (Map 16.6) displayed similar proportionality problems to the Fijian electorates.  The average number of registered voters was similar (10,800 to the Fijian 11,200) but the need to combine and divide provinces to obtain approximately equal numbers in each electorate, compounded by the very uneven distribution of the Indo-Fijian population, resulted in a wide range in the number of voters per electorate. The extremes were VitiLevu East/Maritime, that encompased parts of Ra and Tailevu provinces and the whole of Lomaiviti and Lau, with under 8,000 voters and Laucala, in the Suva urban area, with over 18,000.

The three General Voter electorates (Map 16.6) and indeed the very concept of general voters,  must raise  eyebrows.  The total number of registered voters was 13,800, far less than the number of Indo-Fijian voters in the one electorate of Laucala mentioned above, but they were allocated three seats: the West-Central that included most of  Viti Levu, Rotuma and Kadavu; Suva City,excluding Lami, and North-East that included part of Tailevu and all of Vanua Levu, Lomaivit and Lau. The average electorate size was 4,600. In the 2006 election they comprised only 2.9% of registered voters but occupied 6.5% of the communal seats in Parliament.

In many respects the provision for General voters is a leftover from colonial days when Fijians were outnumbered by Indo-Fijians and  the British thought General voters would ally themselves with Fijians and so protect Fijian interests.  In the census they are called Others, which accurately reflects their composition.  They comprise Europeans, Part-Europeans, Chinese and Part-Chinese, KaiSolomoni, Kai Vanuatu and other Melanesians, Tuvaluans, Banabans, Tongans, Samoans, and other Pacific Islanders. As I have said elsewhere, they are not a race or an ethnic groups and it is doubtful they have a common purpose or can be represented by a person from only one of these groups. I doubt, for instance, that the  KaiSolomoni, the Banabans on Rabi or the Tuvaluans on Kioa Island identify in any special way with the Part-European Mick Beddoes who represented them in the 2006 Parliament.

Mick says he has "a simple solution" about how to ensure parliamentary representation for ethnic minorities. He says let's assume the minorities comprise four percent of the population and merit three seats. “So we divide Fiji into three but every citizen in Fiji votes for that minority.” Having iTaukei and Indo-Fijians voting for the “minorities” is presumably his sop to multi-racialism. The fact that the minority vote would be swamped by the larger numbers would complete their disenfranchisement seems less important than the retention of the parliamentary seats.

Other Races is a a patched together et cetera, a left over. If they require separate representation in parliament, they would be better divided into Part-Europeans of whom there are about 11,000, Other Pacific Islanders (10,000) and Europeans/Chinese and Part-Chinese (9,000) with one national seat each.

The Rotuma electorate  represents about 2,000 Rotumans on the island of Rotuma, some 390 kilometres north of Viti Levu, and approximately 8,000 living in other parts of Fiji. There were about 5,400 registered registered voters in 2006. On the basis population numbers, they were significantly over-represented in Parliament.

In sum,  these communal seats elected 46 MPs on very unequal grounds. Rural Fijians were over-represented, with 37% of the seats but only 33% of the population; Indo-Fijians were slightly  under-represented (41.3 and 42.6%); Urban Fijians were substantially under-represented (13 and 20%); and Rotumans (2.2 and 1.1%) and General voters (6.5 and 2.9%) were substantially over-represented.

It is difficult to see how the one man one vote one  one value principle can be achieved if race and the communal system of elections is pursued. Far better representation will be achieved if the Open electorates are used a guide, but even then some tinkering may be necessary if "special interest" groups such as the ethnic minorities are to be considered. 

Ratu Tevita Moemodonu's submission to the Constitution Commission
Before proceeding to look at the Open seats and the possible membership composition of the new parliament when all the principles and concerns expressed in the past and present situation are taken into consideration,  I wish to look briefly at a proposal to the Constitution Commission by Ratu Tevita Momoedonu of Vuda.  

His submission included a number of noteworthy suggestions, most particularly his agreement that all Fiji citizens should be called Fijians and indigenous Fijians iTaukei, but his suggestions on the composition of parliament as the ultimate protector of iTaukei rights left me very puzzled. As I have argued in a  previous article iTaukei rights, which include their ownership of land, have always been protected by the constitution and I would expect the 2013 Constitution to safeguard the position in Fiji of iTaukei no less than the 1997 Constitution, with the exception that the political (but not traditional) powers of chiefs and the Great Council of Chiefs with be limited or abolished. 

I am well away of iTaukei feelings on this matter and I accept that perceptions however mistaken influence the way people think but objectively the iTaukei  do not need UN or other such protection. They are not an oppressed minority in the UN sense. They are a majority population; they own most of the land; they have a number of special administrative structures to protect their interests than run parallel to parliament; and whatever the election outcome in 2014, the one man-one vote system will give iTaukei a significant majority in parliament.   

His submission also called for the abolition of the position of Prime Minister and the assumption of this role by an elected President and Vice-President. His parliament was to consist of 24 seats based on the "land area" of the electorates, plus two for the President and Vice-President (Table 3). 

I am unsure how Ratu Tevita, who says he fully supports the principle of one man one vote one value, calculated his "land areas" but Lau seems vastly over-represented unless sea area is also included. However calculated, by land or land and sea area, Ratu Tevita's parliament would be even more unequal and unfair than the Fijian Communal electorates (Table 3). For comparison, I have shown the number of seats each province would be entitled to based on 2007 population numbers. I have increased the number of seats to 45 because this seems to be the minimum number needed to produce a relatively equitable provincial distribution, but even then Namosi and Rotuma had no seats. Ratu Tevita is especially unfair to his own province of Ba but the other urbanized provinces (Rewa and Naitasiri are also disadvantaged.


iTaukei identify with provinces for vanua reasons and they may be unwilling to see them abandoned in a new electoral system.  These interests, however, need not be directly represented in parliament or in the selection of election candidates. They are well protected outside parliament by the Provincial Councils and other institutions. Indeed, a case can be made that provincial representation  leads to inter-provincial rivalries that work against national interests.

It should also be apparent from our discussion that the provinces provide a poor base for determining electorates, even when they are divided or combined, if the overriding principle is the democratic one of one man one vote one value.   

Clearly, some other electoral  system is needed that takes into account the Government's non-negotiable  principles, the recommendations of the People's Charter, and the views expressed to the Constitution Commission. I would suggest these include:
  1. Proportional representation: one man one vote one value
  2. A List system, preferably open but possibly closed
  3. A smaller parliament
  4. Most (or all) electorates to be Open with the "best possible" mix of ethnicities
  5. Electorates of similar population numbers
  6. Reduced number of electorates with multi MPs
  7. Identification with a geographic, administrative and/or cultural area
  8. Voter identification with the election candidates and the MPs elected
  9. MP Accessibility 
  10. Protection of iTaukei rights
  11. Protection of Indo-Fijian rights
  12. Representation  of ethnic and other minorities
  13. Representation of "neglected" areas such as Navosa and Yasawas
  14. More equable representation of  women
  15. Possible "reserve" seats to facilitate 12, 13, 14
These issues will be addressed in the next article.


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