Fijians in the Cook Islands during the Fiji Day Celebration in 2020. FILE PICTURE/22112328
With Fiji heading to the polls in less than two weeks, Fijians residing in the Cook Islands are frustrated they won’t be able to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming general election.
Most Fijians in the Cook Islands are expecting a change in
government in Fiji after this year’s general election, says Roana Mataitini,
the president of the Cook Islands Fijian Association.
Unfortunately, they won’t be able to have their say in
who should lead their country for the next four years.
The hotly contested Fiji general election will take place
on December 14, 2022.
According to Mataitini, no one from the Fijian Elections
Office (FEO) had been in touch with them regarding the elections process for
eligible voters living here. There are more than 2000 Fijians residing in the
Cook Islands including children.
Mataitini said the association reached out to Fiji’s High
Commission in Wellington, New Zealand, who told them to make direct contact
with the FEO.
Fiji’s Supervisor of Elections, Mohammed Saneem told Cook
Islands News voters residing overseas were not required to re-register for the
2022 general election but they needed to apply for a postal ballot using their
existing green coloured voter card.
Postal voting applications available on the FEO website
closed over a week ago and according to a statement, FEO will not be receiving
any more applications past the deadline.
Mataitini said there had been a lack of awareness from
the Fijian Elections Office.
A team from the Fijian Elections Office visited Rarotonga
in 2018 to register voters for the 2018 election but Mataitini claimed there
were no postal voting packages sent to the Cook Islands.
“We did not want to get the hopes up for our members and not
have an answer when ballot papers don’t arrive for members to cast their vote.
“People are expecting a change in government but
unfortunately we can’t see it through in the coming elections given our
David Tangaroa Vakalalabure who is part of the Friends of
Fiji Inc group in Rarotonga shared similar sentiments.
According to Vakalalabure, Fiji citizens in the Cook
Island have a history of being “disenfranchised” in the Fiji election since the
current government came into power.
He also claimed that in 2018 a team from Fiji was in the
Cook Islands to register voters but no one got to vote.
“The 2022 election is a repeat of the same. The Fiji
government sent a team here recently for immigration purposes and renewal of
passport but nothing relating to awareness and registration of voters for what
most Fijians consider the most important election in the history of the
nation,” Vakalalabure said.
“No political party can do anything if the responsible
election entity does not see the need to register voters in the Cook Islands.”
Vakalalabure was also critical of Fiji’s leadership under
its current Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and Attorney-General Aiyaz
Sayed-Khaiyum, saying their leadership had reduced Fiji “as a regional economic
power from attaining economic self-sufficiency – the objective of every
consecutive government from 1974 up until 2012 – into an abyss of unprecedented
level of foreign indebtedness”.
“The grave impact of their fiscal mismanagement of
national revenue and resources is illustrated in the historical level of
unemployment, poverty and outward economic migration that is evident here in
the Cook Islands and around the region of the increasing arrival of Fijian
foreign workers,” Vakalalabure said.