Fiji polls rigged, says M Chaudhry | india | Hindustan Times
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Fiji polls rigged, says M Chaudhry

The Opposition leader said that polls are rigged in an attempt to exclude ethnic Indian voters in Fiji.

india Updated: May 09, 2006 12:59 IST

Fiji's trouble-plagued election has been rigged in an attempt to exclude ethnic Indian voters and ensure that the mainly indigenous government retains power, opposition leader Mahendra Chaudhry said on Tuesday.

He said the printing of thousands of extra ballot papers after voting began on Saturday and the exclusion of thousands more names from electoral rolls amounted to an attempt to influence the outcome of the week-long poll.

"There are moves afoot to systematically rig the election," Chaudhry told Reuters after casting his ballot in the capital Suva.

"It definitely throws doubt on the integrity of this election."

Indigenous Fijians make up 51 per cent of the 906,000 population and fear that the economic clout of Indians, who dominate the sugar- and tourism-based economy, will be matched by political power.

Fiji has suffered three racially motivated coups against Indian-dominated governments since 1987. The last, in 2000, toppled Chaudhry's elected government.

Labour Party head Chaudhry blamed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and his indigenous Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) party and Election Supervisor Semesa Karavaki for what he said was a series of irregularities.

Karavaki and the government rejected Chaudhry's claims.

"Some of his story is made up in order to sew some kind of picture that is not right," Karavaki told a media conference.

Chaudhry said he had made a formal complaint to police.

Voting in the former British colony started chaotically when thousands had to wait up to four hours in fierce tropical sun after ballot boxes and papers were distributed late in Suva and across the rural west of the main island of Viti Levu.

Many more were turned away because their names were not on electoral rolls or the wrong ballot papers had been sent to polling stations. International election observers voiced concern about how the poll was being run.

A tense build-up to the racially charged election was made worse by public disputes between Qarase and outspoken military chief Frank Bainimarama.

Both Chaudhry and Qarase, who won free elections in 2001, say they expected to win a majority in the 71-seat parliament.

But Chaudhry said many ethnic Indian voters were being disenfranchised.

"There is a very definite trend which is appearing. Voters of ethnic Indian origin are finding it difficult," Chaudhry said.

He said he told police that 9,000 extra ballot papers had been printed in his electorate of Ba in northwest Viti Levu alone.

Karavaki said it was not unusual to print extra ballot papers because some voting slips could be "spoiled" by voters.

Chaudhry said at least 13,000 voters were unable to cast ballots because their names were not on the rolls or they were registered in the wrong constituency.

"Misplacing votes in many constituencies is another huge thing, they have amounted to thousands," he said.

Karavaki said some voters had been turned away but did not know exactly how many.

Even though barely more than a tenth of Fiji's roughly 480,000 voters had cast ballots, Chaudhry said Qarase's SDL knew it was losing the election. Counting starts on Monday.

He said he did not fear another coup if he regains power. Chaudhry and most of his multiracial government were held hostage for 56 days during the 2000 coup.

"The security forces have made it very clear that they will not brook another coup," Chaudhry said.

The election is run over seven polling days mainly because of the difficulty in transporting ballot boxes and papers to and from Fiji's 320-odd islands, about a third of which are inhabited. A result is expected to be announced on May 18.