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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08SUVA147 2008-04-18 03:12:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Suva
Cable title:  

FIJI'S PREPARATIONS FOR THE PLANNED 2009 ELECTIONS

Tags:   PGOV PREL PHUM KDEM FJ 
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VZCZCXRO1236
RR RUEHPB
DE RUEHSV #0147/01 1090312
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 180312Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY SUVA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0488
INFO RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 1997
RUEHPB/AMEMBASSY PORT MORESBY 1518
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON 0094
RUEHNZ/AMCONSUL AUCKLAND 0628
RUEHDN/AMCONSUL SYDNEY 1041
RHHJJAA/JICPAC HONOLULU HI
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 SUVA 000147 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/16/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM KDEM FJ
SUBJECT: FIJI'S PREPARATIONS FOR THE PLANNED 2009 ELECTIONS
- OFF TO A SLOW START

REF: SUVA 145

Classified By: Ambassador Larry M. Dinger per 1.5 (B,D)

Summary
-------


1. (C) While the Fiji Interim Government (IG) continues to
give mixed signals about a March 2009 election, preparations
are starting at a pace slower than donor countries would
like. After months of delays, a New Zealand lawyer was named
Supervisor of Elections April 17, to take up the job in early
May. With the help of Australian and New Zealand electoral
experts, the Elections Office has identified several
opportunities for foreign assistance. The international
community is willing to help, but wants to know how much the
IG plans to invest of its own money. The Ministry of Finance
(MOF) has not released FY 2008 funds allocated for staffing
the elections office nor given any indication how much will
be allocated for FY 2009. A massive door-to-door update of
electoral rolls is scheduled for June, pending funding. The
drawing of new electoral boundaries has yet to begin, though
adequate data from the 2007 census is available. It appears
the boundary-drawing process, which will take at least six
months, will not reach high gear until final decisions are
made about what form the electoral system will take (see
reftel). While donor countries like Australia and New
Zealand are concerned about IG inclinations to radically
change the electoral system, there are no plans at present to
stop technical assistance to the Elections Office and the
Constituency Boundaries Commission. A cut off would play
into the hands of IG officials who want elections delayed.
End summary.

Supervisor of Elections Named, A Technical
Assistance Coordinator Soon to Follow


--------------------------




2. (SBU) After months of delays, Fiji's Interim Government
(IG) named New Zealand lawyer Dr. Maurice Coughlan Supervisor
of Elections April 17. Australia is helping to fund the
position but had no role in choosing Dr. Coughlan. Based on
inquiries by Embassy Suva and AmConsul Auckland, Dr. Coughlan
does not appear to be well known in government or legal
circles in Fiji or even in his Auckland base. A
sole-practitioner lawyer for the past 15 years, he reportedly
spent several earlier years working for the PNG government
and as a consultant in the region. Dr. Coughlan is scheduled
to begin work in early May.



3. (SBU) Pio Tikoduadua, Permanent Secretary of the
Ministry of Justice and chair of the Election Donors
Coordinating Committee (EDCC), told EDCC members April 10
that the IG has accepted an EU offer to fund a "Technical
Assistance Coordinator" in the Elections Office. The EU
assistance is untied, but the IG has indicated it wants a
European to fill the position. Tikoduadua said the IG would
announce the coordinator very soon, probably within the next
few weeks.

The Elections Office is Working Hard; The
Constituency Boundaries Commission Is Not


--------------------------




4. (SBU) The Elections Office currently has 13 employees,
including a competent Deputy Supervisor of Elections who
regularly briefs donors on election preparations. The office
plans to hire 38 more staff (for a total of 51), but has not
yet received funds allocated in the FY 2008 budget to do so.
Australia and New Zealand funded a visit of two electoral
consultants in late February, early March. Their report laid
out technical assistance and logistical support needs of the
Elections Office, along with the pros and cons of various
voter registration methodologies. Assuming the MOF releases
funds, the Elections Office plans to hire 4,000 temporary
staff to conduct house to house visits to update electoral
rolls in June and July. After reviewing options presented by
the two consultants, Fiji's Electoral Commission decided to
update electoral rolls from 2006 instead of embarking on a
far more costly effort to create new electoral rolls from
scratch. Even so, updating will cost over FJ$2 million (over
USD $1.4 million), more than half of the FJ$3.5 million
allocated to election preparations in the FY 2008 budget.



5. (SBU) While the understaffed Elections Office appears to
take its tasks seriously, the same cannot be said thus far of
the Constituency Boundaries Commission (CBC). The Chairman
of the CBC, lawyer Suresh Chandra, told the EDCC April 10

SUVA 00000147 002 OF 002


that the CBC is still in the process of setting up an office
and a secretariat. Chandra noted that the MOF has only
allocated FJ$30,000 to the CBC to date, far below the sum
needed to begin operations. (Note: Earlier in the year, CBC
turned down a suggestion from EDCC Chair Tikoduadua to
co-locate operations with the Elections Office.) New Zealand
has offered technical-assistance help, but the CBC has not
yet identified its needs. At the April 10 EDCC meeting, New
Zealand again offered to work with the CBC to determine IT
and software needs.



6. (SBU) At the EDCC meeting, Chandra agreed with comments
by donors that the CBC has all the information, if not the
technical expertise, it needs to start work. Provisional
figures from the 2007 census have been available since last
October, showing the locations of 488,000 eligible voters in
Fiji. The final figures, said Chandra, will not be much
different. (Note: A U.S. consultant working with the Fiji
Statistics Bureau told us the same last week. He said final
figures could be available within a matter of weeks, but the
preliminary figures are sufficient to draw boundaries.)
Chandra noted that the statutory requirements for redrawing
boundaries require a 150-160 day process. If the Commission
begins work by June, he said, it should finish by the end of
the year.



7. (C) Comment: It appears very unlikely that the
Boundaries Commission will seriously get to work until the IG
makes a final, or close to final, determination about changes
to the current electoral system. As noted reftel, the IG has
endorsed a call by the People's Charter process to make major
changes, perhaps moving entirely to open-seat constituencies
under a proportional-representation, New Zealand model, and
is planning to hold a "forum" in May to discuss next steps.
The process of deciding on changes, and then "enacting" them
through constitutional or other means could take months.
Worries that, despite rhetoric to the contrary, the IG plans
to delay elections are based, in part, upon the assumption
that the CBC won't start work in earnest until electoral
changes are finalized. End comment.

EDCC Chair Asks Finance to "Show Me the Money"


--------------------------

--


8. (SBU) MOF reluctance to release funds already earmarked
for elections is clearly slowing the preparation process. At
the April 10 EDCC meeting, Chairman Tikoduadua pressed MOF
representatives on when FY 2008 funds earmarked for the
Elections Office to increase staffing and update election
rolls are going to be released. He also told MOF officials
the EDCC urgently needs at least a ballpark estimate of how
much the FY 2009 budget will allocate to holding elections.
Without such an estimate, he asked rhetorically, "How can I
tell donor countries how much we hope they can chip in?"

Donor Countries Wary of Proposed Election Changes,
but Remain Engaged


--------------------------



--------------------------




9. (C) Officials at the Australian and New Zealand High
Commissions told us they intend to continue providing
technical assistance to Fiji's Election Office and CBC
despite any IG endeavors to change the election system.
Cutting off such assistance would only provide the IG an
excuse for delaying the elections. At present, most
assistance has been in the form of technical expertise,
payment of consultants' salaries, and provision of a limited
amount of software and computers. Electoral education
programs, implemented jointly by UNDP, the EU, and Fiji's
Ministry of Education, are also ongoing. Neither Australia
nor New Zealand has decided how much, if any, budgetary
support they will give the IG to ensure the election takes
place. (Note: That support would be placed in a special
"trust fund" to be used only for election-related purposes.)
Those funding decisions likely await how the IG addresses the
election-system-change issue in the coming months.
DINGER