The Fijian Elections Office [FEO] conducted elections for the Fiji National University Students Association [FNUSA] last month – marking the formalization of months of preparatory work by the student steering committee and laying the foundation for the formation of the first ever Student Union within the university.
The Fiji National University [FNU] was formed in 2010 by bringing together various different schools and colleges throughout the country under the FNU umbrella. These schools, now called Campuses, either had student unions that were not very active or they lacked such associations entirely.
On 2 August, The Minister Responsible for Elections, exercising his power pursuant to section 154 of the Electoral Decree 2014, approved a request from the Office of the Chancellor of the FNU for the FEO to conduct FNUSA Elections.
Following the approval, FEO immediately began preparing for the election. The first challenge was formulating election standards, given that there were no regulations governing the procedural conduct of FNU elections and the Draft FNUSA Constitution only contained guidelines for candidacy. In response, the FEO decided to derive the procedures for the conduct of the election based on standards previously implemented in the successful Trade Union Elections.
The FEO implemented the following basic principles, which have consistently developed good electoral practices in small scale elections in Fiji to bring about consistency and high standards:
- clear and accurate timelines for elections processes;
- an accurate voter list;
- a proper and independent nomination process;
- a transparent and impartial polling process; and
- timely reconciliation of results and naming of office bearers.
The FEO prepared a proposed timeline for the election which was presented to the FNU team, as well as the representatives from the student-led Steering Committee. Once the proposed timeline was agreed, FEO advertised the Notice for the opening of nominations for the ten campuses. During the electoral process, the FEO worked in close conjunction with the Vice Chancellor’s Office at the FNU, which provided all the necessary information and logistical support that made the electoral process a success.
The table below breaks down the demographics behind the elections:
|Campus||Number of Positions for elections||Number of Voters|
At the close of Nominations period, it was found that many of the positions were returned uncontested. Those positions were immediately announced, however, there were 12 positions that were contested and which required the FEO to conduct campus elections.
The election itself was the largest ever conducted by FEO outside of an election year, spanning four different campuses and involving about 3,301 voters. The contested positions were President, Treasurer, Secretary, Public Relations Officer, Social and Cultural Chairperson, Assets Chairperson, Education Chairperson, Sports Chairperson and Religious Chairperson, which were to be selected from a pool of 32 candidates.
At universities in India, such as Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Aligarh Muslim University, student parties spend millions in campaigning and conducting elections. They also follow similar concept in the United States of America [USA] Presidential elections, where student unions hold days of debates, promoting greater student engagement in the electoral process. These student representatives often go on to pursue careers in national level politics.
Supervisor of Elections, Mohammed Saneem, said FEO used the FNUSA election as an opportunity to educate young people about how election systems operate, and he encouraged tertiary institutions to explore course offerings in electoral studies to boost national awareness and engagement with the electoral process.
“Our students are the future of this country, and it is vital that we impart an understanding of our electoral systems to our young people so that they can uphold our democratic systems. By getting involved in these FNUSA elections, we had a rare opportunity to engage with young Fijians and demonstrate electoral best practices so that we can increase voter understanding and participation down the road,” he said.
The 2016 FNUSA Election was conducted in line with recognized electoral best practices, which included:
- The appointment of Mr. Mesake Dawai, FEO’s Review and Compliance Officer, as Returning Officer, which created an independent and impartial electoral environment. Mr. Dawai was also able to act as a conduit between the FNU and the Steering Committee during the process to ensure all stakeholders were able to cooperate and support the process.
- The publication of election notices in the media, which enhanced voter access and boosted interest in the election.
- The campaign guidelines in the FNUSA regulations that helped foster a peaceful, ethical and calm electoral environment.
- FEO’s implementation of a standard Nomination Form for all Candidates. This allowed for appropriate vetting, as per the Constitution, and greater transparency, in case a nominee wished to appeal the decision of the Returning Officer.
- The Office of the Registrar at FNU’s submission of a list of eligible members who were entitled to vote in the election five weeks prior to the election. This comprehensive list assisted the FEO in determining the validity of Nominations.
- The “barrel draw” conducted by the FEO to determine the order of candidates on the ballot paper. This event was open to all candidates and other stakeholders.
- The FEO’s Postal Voting and Attendance Voting programmes which ensured maximum access for students. The polling stations were open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at all four campuses. Postal voting was available to those students who were on industrial attachments on the day of elections.
- The Polling Place setup, which replicated the General Election Setup, and the polling materials, which were the same as the General Election. The FEO did not use indelible ink in this election, as there was only one voter list and only one polling place – this is sufficient to prevent double voting in a small scale election.
- The 12,000 ballot papers printed by the FEO for this election. Printing was done in-house and it was decided that different positions up for election would be assigned different color ballot papers. Depending on the polling locations, voters received up to five different ballots to select candidates.
- An open ballot counting held on Wednesday, 26 October at venues assigned by the FNU. The counting was widely covered by the media.
- The formal announcement to the media, the Steering Committee, the Registrar’s Office and all the candidates following the Count.
Throughout the election, the Fiji Sun, Communications Fiji Limited and the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation all demonstrated consistent interests in the electoral process and outcome. These three media organizations actively reported on the elections and showed a strong commitment to supporting election events. Their invaluable support played a major role in publicizing candidates in the media – adding a layer of excitement and encouragement for those young people interested in pursuing politics.
According to FNU Vice Chancellor, Professor Nigel Healey, it is in the interests of students to have a very strong representative student body, and the FNUSA is now more qualified than ever to speak on behalf of students.
“It is very important that we have a student association that actually provides services to our students– that’s actually supporting them — in place. Because people come to university, not just for an education, they come in for a holistic experience,” he said.
The FEO recognizes that there is a need to develop capacity in elections in Fiji, not only for FEO staff, but for all Fijians. And this new involvement in Student Association elections at FNU is an effective step towards this goal. The Supervisor of Elections had also indicated that in the future, the FEO will directly involve students as election workers as well.
At the declaration of Results, Returning Officer, Mr Dawai, acknowledged and thanked the FNU and the FNUSA for inviting FEO to conduct elections for the various positions. He concluded with the following remarks.
“This is the first time election was conducted in a single day for FNUSA and we believe that, as such elections become periodic and consistent, we will receive positive turnout and increased active voter participation,” he said.