Counting Down: Ratuva on Progress and Parties
On Fiji’s progress towards September 2014 and Government’s role in this process:
The government says that the required technical processes seem to be in place except for the constitution. Beyond that, I suppose the critical questions have to do with allaying people’ concerns about whether the elections will be free and fair and the other concern, given Fiji’s election history since 1987, is the guarantee that the results of the elections will accepted by whoever loses. At the end of the day these will determine people’s confidence in the electoral process.
On using the proportional representation system in next year’s election:
There are different types of PR electoral systems and Fiji, like about 80% of other countries using the PR system will be using party listing, a type of PR system. Under the PR system, suggested both by the Ghai and government constitutional drafts, the number of seats a party wins is proportional to the percentage of the votes won by that party. For instance if a party wins 20% of the votes, it will be allocated 20% of the seats in parliament. This system provides for equity in seat distribution and also gives the chance for small parties to win seats. Because of this, there will be no outright winner and thus in the end there would have to be a coalition. The process involves political parties providing either an “open” or “closed” list. While the Ghai draft proposed a closed system where parties determine their own list, the government draft proposes an open list which involves voters determining the list. There are four different ways to determine the open list but the government draft does not specify how their proposed open list will be determined. While the PR party list system (used in many countries around the world such as Brazil, South Africa, Norway, South Korea, Netherlands, etc,) is one of the fairest, it is also criticized for giving too much power to political parties and undermines the voters’ real intent in choosing people they want in parliament. NZ has tried to solve this problem by having both the First Past the Post (FPP) to elect individuals and the PR system to choose parties, so voters have two votes each. The PR system has allowed for minority parties like the NZ Greens to win seats.
On how effective this voting system is compared to the last two that Fiji had used – first past the post and alternative voting system:
The PR system is vastly different from the 1990 constitution’s FPP system and the 1997 constitution’s Alternative Voting (AV) system where there was often wide discrepancy between the number of votes and the number of seats won. The PR system ensures that seat distribution in parliament is directly proportional to the votes won. Both the Ghai and government drafts do not suggest any threshold for parties to win a seat. For instance what is the minimum percentage of the votes a party should win in order to be eligible for a seat? In most countries which use PR, there’s a threshold, for instance in NZ it is 5% and in Israel it is 2%. But the other alternative is to have an informal or “practical” minimum—but again this is not specified in the government draft.
Of these three systems of voting, which is best suited for Fiji?
The PR system is much fairer than the FPP and AV systems and is one of the most popular voting systems in the world. The FPP tended to exacerbate ethnic competition for power in Fiji while the AV system led to a large number of informal votes. The PR not only distributes seats fairly, it also ensures power-sharing between parties. No party will have a total monopoly as in the FPP system and we will end up with three or more parties sharing power. The smaller parties and even independent candidates will make a lot of different in terms of holding the balance of power. Given Fiji’s population distribution and assuming that there will be a general distribution of ethnic votes (although there are no ethnic seats), parties with greater chances of winning are those which would attract the youth voters. Remember that about 50% of Fiji’s population is below 25 years.
On whether Fiji has the structures in place for a free and fair election:
This is the major concern by political parties, voters and international observers of Fiji politics. Fiji’s post-coup political climate had not been easy for political parties opposed to the government to operate in. Government has firm control over the constitutional process and the running of the election. For people to have confidence in the process the government needs to provide not only open guarantee for minimal intervention in the electoral process, they also must be seen to be openly and actively doing it. Also, the constitutional review process and the election are mere “state building” processes to address the issue of state governance. We also need a deeper process of “nation building” through national dialogue and reconciliation between political parties, civil society and diverse representatives of society to address the social fractures, pain, anger, anguish and grievance of people after the 2006 coup. This is important for the long-term stability of the country and failure to do this will continue to haunt us in the future. ON how political parties can contribute towards the election:
This election will be anticipated after a long time because it is a way of getting Fiji out of the political quagmire as well as provide the exit strategy for the coup makers who of course are actively trying to return to power through the electoral process. The role of the political parties would be crucial in ensuring a peaceful transition and stability. The old ethnic-based political parties will need to reinvent themselves and all face massive challenges of reimaging, organisational reconfiguration and developing their mobilisation capacity. For instance, the National Federation Party will need to shed its old ethnic image, look for a strong leader and make explicit a new political position which would make it different from other parties. The SODELPA will need to extend its multi-ethnic appeal under the new team and devise new strategies to appeal to the young and women because that’s where the winning votes are. The Labour Party will need to try and reclaim its support lost after the split, shed its ethnic image and reinvent a new ideology. The proposed People’s Democratic Party needs to have a strong and vibrant leader and work extra hard to keep its urban workers support as well as use its new image to appeal to the young. While the proposed party by the government may be happy with its rural support, it will struggle to win the support of the urban middle class who felt victimised by the coup. At the moment it has the logistical and resource advantage because of its links with the current government. Parties will be horse-trading with each other for the formation of a post-election government and I’m not surprised if those opposed to each other now will eventually make up and go to bed together without any qualms whatsoever. It has happened before and may happen again. After all, in politics, politicians don’t often do what is right but what best serves their interests.
May 23, 2013 | Filed under: Fiji News | Posted by: newsroom
By ROSI DOVIVERATA