Ah, Fiji, one of those wondefully exotic islands stuck away in the South Pacific. It’s also become one of the stranger talking-points in the continuing debate about whether we in the UK should adopt the Alternative Vote.
It’s often been included in lists of other countries, regions & organisations that use the AV system for elections of one sort or another, & this has led to various No campaigners & compliant anti-reform media outlets scoffing at the mere suggestion that we should even contemplate adopting the same voting system as this tiny republic of South Pacific islands. Those who are steadfastly against AV then unearthed what appeared to be an even better use for Fiji in the battle to stop the Yes to AV campaign in it’s tracks- Fiji was planning on abandoning AV for it’s elections. As the recently appointed President of No2AV (& previously deputy leader of the Labour party & Foreign Secretary), Margaret Beckett said last week-
“Only three other countries use AV and one, Fiji, is abandoning it. It led to a significant drop in the number of people voting in Australia – that’s why they had to make voting compulsory. AV doesn’t help democracy, it stands in its way.”
Forthright stuff from Beckett there. We’ll talk about Australia another time, as the ascertion that compulsory voting was introduced due to a drop in turnout caused by the adoption of AV is not really backed up by the actual statistics at all. Let’s stick with Fiji though, & the reason why they’re not using AV any more. Put simply, there was a military coup in Fiji in 2006; it’s strange that Margaret Beckett didn’t mention that in her soundbite citing Fiji as a reason to denounce AV, as she was appointed Foreign Secretary in the same year. You’d have thought she’d been aware even a little of goings-on in Fiji then, especially as it’s in the Commonwealth too.
Another point Beckett & other anti-reformers have overlooked is the form of AV Fiji had previously used, as it is quite different from what’s being proposed in next May’s referendum in one significant way, & it’s this difference that ignited the debate that’s leading to Fijians moving away from it as a voting sytem. In Fiji the candidates who get knocked out in the election can choose who out of the remaining candidates they transfer their votes to, which has led to critics claiming it leads to parties ‘fixing’ elections through pacts to transfer votes that voters might not realise. This wouldn’t happen here in the UK because in ‘our’ version of AV each voter gets to decide on the ballot paper who gets his/her 2nd, 3rd etc preferences, & there’s no ‘closed option’ where you just vote for your 1st choice then leave any vote transferrance to them. In fact, according to Wikipedia, the Vice President of Fiji, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, who had serious misgivings about the voting system, admitted-
“In hindsight, it would perhaps have been preferable to leave the voter to make up his own mind”
Voters making up their own minds- shouldn’t this be absolutely central to any electoral system we employ?! It appears that AV only stood in the way of democracy in Fiji because of the strange variant of it installed by it’s government.
One more thing: don’t you find it strange that the supposed defenders of our current FPTP democracy are effectively speaking in support of a military dictatorship that has been suspended from the Commonwealth & expelled from the Pacific Islands Forum in 2009 due to the refusal to hold elections?
You can read more about the electoral system in Fiji here