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The Fijian House of Representatives consists of 71 members, all elected from single member constuencies. Fiji used the First past the post system of voting for most of its history, but the new constitution agreed to in 1997-1998 replaced it with the so-called alternative vote. The system employs elements of both electoral fusion, which allows votes for consenting candidates to be aggregated according to a ranking of "preferences" agreed by the candidates or their parties prior to the election, and of instant run-off voting, which allows voters to rank candidates in the order of their preference, with votes for low-polling candidates transferred to higher-polling candidates.

Candidates who receive a minimum of 50 percent of the total vote in their respective constituencies are declared elected. If no candidate receives 50 percent, votes cast for low-polling candidates are transferred to higher-polling candidates, beginning by "eliminating" the lowest-polling candidate and continuing until one candidate has 50 percent or more of the vote.

There are two methods by which the votes are transferred. Electors who are satisfied with the way their preferred candidate or party has agreed to transfer its votes need only to mark that candidate's name in the top half of the paper. If their preferred candidate is eliminated, all votes cast for the candidate in the upper half of the ballot are transferred to the second preference specified by the candidate or party, or to the third preference if the second has already been eliminated, and so on. This system of electoral fusion was adapted from systems used for the New York City Council and the Australian Senate. On the other hand, voters who disagree with the way their preferred candidate has arranged to transfer his or her votes if eliminated may opt for the lower half of the ballot paper instead. Here, electors may rank all candidates in the order of their preference. If their preferred candidate is eliminated, all votes in the lower half of the paper are transferred to the second and subsequent choices specified by the individual electors. This preferential system is based on the electoral system used for the Australian House of Representatives.

Criticisms

Since its implementation, the voting system has proved controversial, with some politicians claiming that it allows political parties to "fix" election results by making electoral pacts for the transfer of votes. Some have alleged, for example, that many indigenous Fijians cast votes for the Christian Democratic Alliance (VLV) or the Party of National Unity (PANU) in the 1999 election, unaware that those parties had signed agreements with the Indo-Fijian-dominated Fiji Labour Party to transfer votes from low-polling VLV and PANU candidates to the FLP, thereby allowing the FLP to win numerous seats. Conversely, many Indo-Fijian supporters of the National Federation Party (NFP) in the 2001 poll may not have been aware that votes for NFP candidates, all of whom lost, were to be transferred to the indigenous-dominated United Fiji Party (SDL). Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase of the SDL has admitted that his party won a number of seats on NFP "preferences," as transferred votes are known.

Vice President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi expressed his own misgivings about the voting system on 3 November 2005. He said it made the work of political parties much easier and denied freedom of choice to voters, as a vote for a political party was ultimately a vote for any other party to which that party had decided to transfer its preferences. "In hindsight, it would perhaps have been preferable to leave the voter to make up his own mind," Madraiwiwi said. He reiterated these reservations on 9 February 2006, and proposed proportional representation as an alternative. His call went unheeded, however, by both the Grand Coalition Initiative Group (a coalition of indigenous Fijian parties) and by the predominantly Indo-Fijian Fiji Labour Party, both of which said they were satisfied with the present system.

Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase added his own voice to the dissent on 21 December 2005, saying that the system might be too complicated for the average voter to understand. A high percentage of the votes cast in 1999 and 2001 had been declared invalid, he said, and he feared that the same would be true in 2006. He called for consultations on a possible return to First past the post.

See also

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