Foreign observers for elections in Fiji

Auckland (New Zealand)/Vienna, 16 June 2001/P/RE/17198

Fiji's government has allowed the proposed August elections to be observed by three groups of foreign observers. The media reports that the government has given permission to the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, and the European Union to observe the elections. The Qarase government, however, states that no other organization or nation will be allowed in for this purpose. Earlier the US government had proposed that the Carter Centre could be involved with ensuring that the elections are free and fair. Concerns have been expressed by many that the government may attempt to rig the elections. While the Elections Office has reasserted its independence, questions over the impartiality of returning officers and polling agents remain. The actual election work is conducted by the civil servants, many of whom have been placed in their positions by the present government. A glimpse of this was seen in Rakiraki recently during the Sugar Cane Growers Council election where the District Officer had ruled that a candidate opposing the government-backed candidate was not qualified to contest. The candidate had to seek legal assistance to remain in the running, and successfully won the contest.

In consultations with members of the Coalition for Democracy in Fiji - a New Zealand-based NGO that was established as a response to last year's coup d'état in Fiji -, leading members of the Fiji Democracy Movement have expressed the view that a presence of international jurists or principled citizens to oversee the Fiji post-coup elections planned for late August, would be beneficial. Dr. Hans Koechler, President of the Vienna-based I.P.O., was suggested as a candidate for such a citizens' watchdog team.

END/Foreign observers for elections in Fiji/16-06-01/P/RE/17198