“Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi: on launching the Voter Education Kits in 2005” (13 Oct. 2016)
[Author’s note: In 2005, Vice President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi launched my Voter Education Kits (in English, Fijian and Hindustani). His speech, while brief, reveals a lot about the breadth of his understanding of the role of elections in democracy, and the responsibilities of parties to behave decently, and the responsibility of voters to do their part. I publish the late Ratu Joni’s speech as yet another indication of this leader’s great concern to use his high office, to assist the democratic processes in Fiji, however complicated and cumbersome they were.]
KNOWING THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM: A FEATURE OF DEMOCRACY
Vice President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi
(Remarks at the launch of “Electing your Parliamentarian: A hands on training kit” by Dr Wadan Narsey and Elections Workshop, FTA Hall, Thursday 3 November, 2005 9.00am)
Thank you for the invitation to be present this morning at this very significant but unheralded occasion. Unheralded, because the media and the public have become blasé about launchings and workshops, regarding this as just another one. Significant, because it goes to the very core of democracy: the process of electing representatives. The alternative vote system was introduced under the present Constitution. The high informal vote in the 1999 and 2001 general elections suggests there continues to be a lack of understanding about the process.
Concerned about the implications of meaningful citizen participation in elections, Dr Wadan Narsey has produced a booklet explaining the process simply and briefly. It is made all the more effective by the liberal use of cartoons and pictures to help convey the meaning. Most importantly, it is published in English, Fijian and Hindustani for the benefit of everyone. That is particularly pleasing as many of us are more comfortable with the vernacular. While it would offend Dr Narsey’s modest nature, the nation owes him a debt of gratitude for this wonderful initiative. It will be of immense benefit to those using it both as a teaching aide as well as those of us learning first hand.
The detail and intricacies of the alternative vote system, I leave to others. However, I wish to make a few observations. Firstly, the right to vote is a duty and a responsibility. Leaving aside for a moment its mandatory nature in this country, it is implied in our role as citizens. A general election confers upon us the opportunity to pronounce upon the performance both of the Government and our representatives. Withdrawal or non-participation is an option open only to idealists and cynics. We live in an imperfect world and our politicians are no exception. No one is. But we owe it to our country and ourselves to deal with circumstances as they are, not as we would like them to be.
One of the features of our system is voting above and below the line. The former means the adoption of a political party’s preferences. The latter is a matter of the voter’s personal preference. This situation has made the work of political parties far easier. In hindsight, it would perhaps have been preferable to leave the voter to make up their own minds. The listing of political party preferences on the ballot paper diminishes the element of choice. It is there in front of the voter to consider, whereas it is more appropriately confined to a party “how to vote” cards for one to consider as one pleases. While the present arrangements suit all the political parties, it raises questions about their propriety in the context described.
It should be apparent to all both from the last two elections and from evidence elsewhere, that voting under this system is a tactical matter and requires a strategic approach. To that end, smaller political parties need to carefully consider their exchange of preferences. If they are not to be footstools for the larger political players, it is important they seek a quid pro quo for their support. This can be by way of Cabinet positions as there are no limits on senators, the Prime Minister can appoint. Or Senate appointments as well. I say this not to encourage factionalisms or instability, but because the smaller parties add legitimacy to the process in representing particular interests that may often be subsumed in larger groupings.
By the same token, the larger political parties need to be very pragmatic about the exchange of preferences. Personal animosities ought not to intrude on the imperative of gaining as many seats as possible. It therefore seems rather pointless to give each other last preferences, thereby enabling other candidates to get ahead. However, I accept that politics may sometimes generate strong emotions. What do I know, I have never participated in politics? Yes, the comfort of knowing that one has denied an opponent a seat, enabling an outsider to win, is often counted as the next best thing. The enemy of my enemy is my friend or sentiments in that vein.
What the kit does, apart from educating the voter about the practicalities of voting is knowing exactly how multiparty governments are formed. Only parties with eight (8) seats are eligible to be invited into Cabinet. The Prime Minister may choose as many as he/she likes from minor parties which are included in his/her share: Or he/she may chose as many as he/she likes from Independents and the Senate additional to his/her share. This, of course, is a work in progress. It lacks structural support from within the Constitution itself and is dependent on goodwill and personalities, a somewhat unblendable cocktail in present circumstances.
Knowing exactly how senators are nominated is another benefit of the kit. Only those parties eligible to be in Cabinet can make nominations. Minor parties with less than eight (8) seats have no right to nominate. Why would any political party wish to be in the second chamber given its less prominent role? Several reasons come to mind. It provides a significant platform from which to address the electorate. There are opportunities to sit on joint parliamentary committees that play an important if unpublicized role in the work of Parliament, and the formulation of legislation. There is relatively easy access to members of Cabinet and other parliamentarians who have a leading role in the governing of the country.
The kit very helpfully lists all the critical steps in the election process which party workers and any citizen can monitor to encourage free and fair elections. Knowledge and information empower. They allow citizens to be engaged: to ask the right questions and recognise when things are not as they should be. The conduct of free and fair elections is not solely the responsibility of the Electoral Commission and the Elections Office. It is ours as well and derives from our entitlement to participate, which is our right as citizens. Finally, important dates in the election timetable are noted once Parliament is dissolved by His Excellency the President on the advice of the Prime Minister.
The virtue of this publication lies in its consideration of the subject in an informative, educative and above all neutral approach. It will appeal to political operatives and lay people alike, because it engages the reader simply and directly. The author does not disguise his intention to shed light on a hitherto arcane subject . That, of course, is not an end in itself. The ultimate purpose is a better-informed electorate, the people of Fiji. They are then well-placed to make critical decisions about their future, thereby strengthening democracy in the process.
I now have great pleasure in launching “Electing Your Parliamentarian A hands-on training kit” and opening the related workshop at the same time. Thank you and good morning.
En\speeches\Knowing the Electoral System 3 Nov 2005