A Fijian academic living in New Zealand says to his knowledge, controls on the research of opinion polls, as detailed in section 11A of the Electoral Amendment Act 2022 has never happened in any country which calls itself a democracy.
Professor Steven Ratuva, director of the University of Canterbury’s Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, said the recently announced opinion poll regulations were “a blow to academic freedom”.
He also described the absence of pre-election polls in Fiji as “tragic”.
The award-winning political sociologist and global interdisciplinary scholar was speaking about the non-existence of pre-election opinion polls in Fiji in the wake of the Electoral Commission announcing its opinion poll guidelines in July this year.
“The absence of pre-election polls is tragic in the sense that it removes a critical tool for democracy which can be used to gauge people’s perception and rating of parties and leaders at a particular point in time,” Prof Ratuva said.
“This is part of the process of amplifying the democratic space for free exchange of ideas and views and there’s nothing to fear.”
Prof Ratuva said poll data could also help political parties gauge where they were and inspire them to work harder if their numbers were low “or continue with the good work if their numbers are high”.
He said political parties would have a fear that polls could change voter choice.
“That’s true, but it works both ways — voters can shift away from low-performing parties to high performing ones or they may try to cast sympathy votes for low-performing parties.”
Under section 110A of the Act, any person who publishes an opinion poll, survey or research on elections must comply with the guidelines adopted by the Electoral Commission.
It said if the Supervisor of Elections had reason to believe there was inconsistency between the adopted guidelines, the SOE, by notice in writing must direct the person to furnish information or documents on the methodology used to generate the statistics for the opinion poll, survey or research.
The SOE must also direct the person to remove or correct any information published, and the person must immediately remove or correct the information.
The amendment also outlined the appeals process and said any person who failed to comply with a directive under certain subsections committed an offence and was liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or both.
- Questions sent to Attorney-General and Minister Responsible for Elections Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and Supervisor of Elections Mohammed Saneem on Prof Ratuva’s comments remain unanswered.