Fiji election countdown: Blackout period begins

Fiji Supervisor of Elections Mohammed Saneem speaks to media

Yesterday banners, billboards and building hoardings bearing the faces of Fiji politicians and electoral candidates dotted Fiji’s landscape. Taxis, market buildings, carparks and private residences displayed candidates’ visages.

But by the time Fijians woke this morning, most of the signage had come down in accordance with Fiji’s election laws, and the campaign blackout period, which commenced at midnight and continues until voting ends on Wednesday evening.

Supervisor of Elections, Mohammed Saneem, says generally, there has been a lot of compliance with the blackout regulations.

“The law says that the Supervisor of Elections can ask a party to remove any material that is in breach, so we have done that. But if it is continuing and they are adamant that they will not remove it, then of course we will have to go to the next step which is one, direct the police to take action, and then two, report it to FICAC. We haven’t been to that stage.”

While some political advertisements were still appearing on social media accounts this morning, it’s believed parties are working to stop those campaigns, which are often pre-booked and loaded onto platforms such as Facebook. Some political parties have gone to the extent of covering the signs displaying their names outside their offices, although the ruling FijiFirst party’s signage is still visible outside their Suva headquarters.

There are 342 candidates from nine political parties contesting the election, and 693,915 people are registered to vote. Pre-polling last week saw 69.63% of those registered turn out to vote.

On Wednesday voters will converge on 2054 polling stations around the country. One designated polling venue, Vatuwaqa Primary School, suffered fire damage overnight. Voters initially assigned to that station will now vote at Yat Sen School.

This morning Saneem briefed the 97 election observers hailing from 16 countries, who have been accredited to observe the election.

“The observers will be deployed from tomorrow to various parts of the country where they will be observing electoral processes on the day of polling,” Saneem said.

“It was appropriate that we introduce the observers to the Fijian election so that they have contextual knowledge, cultural familiarity and understanding of election processes as well as the efforts undertaken in the preparational stages that will now culminate on Election Day as Polling Stations open and voters come in to cast their ballot,” he continued.

Two regional organisations, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and Melanesian Spearhead Group, are also observing the elections.

The Fiji Elections Office has reminded voters they can enquire about free transport services and check their polling stations by calling or texting the 1500 number.