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Poll backed

Nasik Swami
Monday, June 19, 2017

MOST of the political parties in the country believe that having photos of candidates alongside their candidate number on the ballot paper is the most practical and logical approach in ensuring voters make informed choices when casting their votes in any general election.

Responding to the May results of the Tebbutt-Times Poll which revealed that most people prefer having photos of the candidates alongside their candidate number on the ballot paper, leaders of the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), National Federation Party (NFP), People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the Fiji United Freedom Party (FUFP) believe this is something the Fijian Elections Office should consider.

SODELPA leader Sitiveni Rabuka said the poll results underscored the need for Government to take a more systematic and co-ordinated approach on issues of national interest.

"The most popular choice (44 per cent) of those surveyed in the poll, on their preference for general election ballot papers, is to have photos of each candidate alongside their candidate number," Mr Rabuka said.

"This is the most practical and logical approach to ensure that people make a more informed choice when they cast their vote, rather than the current practice of forcing them to memorise candidate numbers and to pick that number out of a sea of numbers on the ballot paper."

He said the current practice could be confusing in the pressured voting environment and voters could easily forget who was represented by a particular number.

"This is worsened by the requirement in the law that voters may not take into the voting booth 'how to vote' materials," Mr Rabuka said.

"It is significant that more people in the rural areas (19 per cent) prefer having political party names placed alongside candidate names and ID numbers compared with their urban counterparts (12 per cent). We have to appreciate that the results of this Tebbutt-Times Poll reflect and confirms that our rural people are not given regular updated information on issues of national interest."

Mr Rabuka said a more co-ordinated and phased approach should have been adopted rather than a "leapfrog" process so that voters could be well informed, have a better understanding and appreciation of major issues that affected them directly and the choice they have to make."

NFP leader Professor Biman Prasad said the poll confirmed that an overwhelming 90 per cent of voters wanted changes to the design of the ballot paper for the 2018 General Election.

"The poll confirms the strong belief of the NFP that the design of the ballot paper should be changed to make it easier for voters to identity candidates and political parties instead of choosing numbers," Prof Prasad said.

He said the poll matched the recommendation of the Multinational Observer Group for changes to the national candidates list and the ballot paper.

"Most importantly, the MOG noted that the absence of political party identification from the ballot paper and National Candidates List was unusual - the lack of any names, symbols and photographs on the ballot paper. The MOG observed that voters were prohibited from bringing 'how-to-vote' pamphlets into polling stations and anyone caught breaching this provision faced a hefty fine of $50,000 or imprisonment of a term up to 10 years, or both."

Prof Prasad said the NFP made submissions to the Electoral Commission before the 2014 elections on the need to change the ballot paper to include symbols of political parties and names of candidates.

He said a ballot paper with numbers denies people their right to make informed choices and erodes the principle of free and fair elections.

"We maintain a voter is unable to exercise a meaningful choice in the absence of names and symbols.

"Voters recognise political parties by their symbols. The Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding and Disclosures) Act 2013 requires political parties to set out the symbol of any proposed party.

"This is reconfirmed in the Act's second schedule that outlines the contents of the constitution or rules of a political party, which among other things, requires the logo and symbol of a party."

PDP leader Lynda Tabuya agreed with the poll results, saying placing the photos of candidates alongside their candidate numbers would be a fair measure.

Ms Tabuya said based on the principles of fairness and equality, placing the photo and name of the candidate would ensure that voters get to choose their candidate without any doubt or fear.

"Political parties that have near unlimited access to campaign funds and the media have an unfair advantage with their profiles plastered everywhere, whereas those who have been limited for whatever reason in their exposure due to the uneven playing field prevailing from 2014 get some level of redemption with voters being able to see their faces on the ballot paper," she said.

Ms Tabuya called for a change in the electoral laws to adhere to the recommendations of the Electoral Commission in 2014 and the independent Multinational Observers Group which advocated that photo, candidate name and party name to be included in the ballot paper.

FUFP leader Jagath Karunaratne said every politician had a unique identity that carried a perception about what he or she stood for.

"Same with a political party. The symbol of the political party represents the values, principles and ideologies it stands for," Mr Karunaratne said.

He said this was the very reason political parties had been advocating and insisting on having those unique identifications on the ballot paper even before 2014 elections.

"The identity of a person, an entity, a political party is in fact a legal right that should not be disregarded.

"The voter ID in itself is another example where it carries the photo and all the details of the voter," Mr Karunaratne said. "These information are used by FEO and the databases are used for voter profiling and many other statistical information. The poll clearly outlines what the political parties have been demanding for and raising concerns about with the Electoral Commission."

Request for comments sent to FijiFirst party leader, Voreqe Bainimarama and general secretary, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and also to the Fiji Labour Party (FLP) leader, Mahendra Chaudhry last Wednesday remained unanswered when this edition went to press yesterday.

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