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The No2AV campaign and a nasty dictatorship

Oliver Wright

104482644 300x292 The No2AV campaign and a nasty dictatorship It has become something a catchphrase for the Conservatives and the campaign against electoral reform to say that there are only three countries in the world who use AV and that one of them – the pacific island chain of Fiji – is so fed up with the system that it that it’s planning to scrap it and move back to First Past The Post.

Take this piece written by Matthew Elliot, head of the No2Av campaign, entitled Tried, Tested and Failed:

“In Fiji, plans are currently afoot to change the electoral system and move away from AV. In his 2009 New Year’s message, the Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, gave a damning indictment of AV, saying: ‘Elections must be held under an electoral system that is truly democratic. This means the value of your individual votes must be the same.’”

The similar claim is made on the official Conservative Party website.

“Only 3 countries actually use AV – Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea. In Fiji they want to get rid of it,”

So what do we know about the political situation in Fiji and its leader Prime Minister Bainimarama?

Well, it’s not just AV that Mr Bainimarama wants to get rid of. He doesn’t much like democracy, an independent judiciary or a free press either.

The last time Fiji had elections of any sort was in 2006 and shortly afterwards Bainimarama – then the commander of the Fijian armed forces – organised a coup which overthrew the democratically elected Government.

Initially he promised fresh elections in 12 months (which never happened), then elections in 2009 (again cancelled) then 2010 (you get the idea). Currently the regime is promising elections in 2014.

A lack of elections is not Fiji’s only problem. Bainimarama is not too keen on an independent judiciary either.

In 2009 – the same year Bainimarama made his remarks about AV – the regime abolished the country’s constitution, sacked the judiciary and established a “new legal order”. The reason? Fiji’s second highest court had just ruled that Bainimarama’s military coup was illegal.

Next target was the independent press. Last year Bainimarama introduced a Government decree imposing jail terms on journalists whose work was deemed by the authorities as against the “public interest or order’”.

It has also banned foreign ownership of news organisations. This was a move designed to force News Limited (the Australian arm of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation) to sell the respected Fiji Times to a potentially more malleable owner.

All this has resulted in Fiji being suspended from the Commonwealth and the imposition of sanctions from the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

Oh, and Amnesty International said earlier this month that the Fijian military had been arbitrarily arresting political opponents, and at least 10 people had been targeted and subjected to torture and beatings.

So what do the No2Av campaign say to all this?

They claim they “do not hold Fiji up as a role model”. But lets go back to Mr Elliot’s article again:

“In Fiji, plans are currently afoot to change the electoral system and move away from AV. In his 2009 New Year’s message, the Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, gave a damning indictment of AV, saying: ‘Elections must be held under an electoral system that is truly democratic. This means the value of your individual votes must be the same.’”

The wider point here is that regardless of whether one is in favour of AV or not we should be able to trust both campaigns to be reasonably honest with the facts.

There are many good arguments against AV – but Fiji is simply not one of them. It is distasteful of both the Conservatives and the no campaign to think that it is.

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  • ranawai

    Alternative Vote is used in Australian Senate elections and a number of variants in used in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. In Fiji, Alternative Vote was supposed to moderate the racial schisms that had plagued the country since the arrival of indentured workers in 1879. The problem with the Fiji experiment was that the electoral system of Alternative Vote was on a collision course with the 1997 Constitution that had 45 communal seats and as a result political parties continued appealing to their communal constituency. The similar problem was faced by the Alternative Vote in Sri Lanka. Donald Horowitz at Duke University has written extensively on Alternative Vote and to make it work you will require a new typology on a non-ethnic political party backed by multiparty governance model.

  • http://twitter.com/wheyaye83 David Lienard

    A poll of one person can’t be used as a representative sample, how about a comprehensive analysis of different countries and their various voting systems. that would be fairer, and more honest.


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