Fiji Police have issued warnings after a spate of election campaign-related vandalism and intimidation reported to them, urging the public and political parties to rein in their supporters whilst they exercise their rights provided under the country’s 2013 Constitution.
Of the nine registered political parties, the governing FijiFirst party has reportedly experienced such, from having their billboards damaged, likewise banners and campaign materials on vehicles, to verbal and physical intimidation of their supporters as well as hate posts on social media.
In a statement, Commissioner Police Brigadier-General Sitiveni Qiliho says they will not stand for such “political thuggery”, reminding the public of the heavy penalties that will be meted out to offenders.
Under the Electoral Act 2014, such acts attract a fine of up to $50,000 or a jail term of up to 10 years, or both.
“We also warn all perpetrators and would-be perpetrators that we would come down hard on all offenders and would leave no stone unturned,” Mr. Qiliho said.
“We also inform all political parties that it is equally your responsibility to ensure that none of your respective leaders, party officials, or supporters engage in any acts of vandalism, intimidation, or damage to property. Since such acts fall under electoral offenses, the Police Force will collaborate with FICAC to conduct investigations. FICAC, after final assessment, will institute possible prosecution.”
This week, FICAC charged a man who is possibly the first to be tried for such an alleged breach after “tearing off a billboard placement of the FijiFirst Party campaign material” in Tavua a week ago. Eveni Cokiverata Koroituku is alleged to have done this a week ago. He is currently in FICAC custody and will be appearing before a magistrates court in Tavua on Wednesday 23 November.
Meanwhile, Mr. Qiliho has said they would continue to monitor all political activities “to ensure that we have a safe democratic environment for the conduct of free and fair elections.”
The Police are also appealing for public support in reporting such occurrences which Mr. Qiliho says all police stations have been told to prioritise.
This week, it convened meetings with leaders of People’s Alliance Party Sitiveni Rabuka, Fiji Labour Party Mahendra Chaudhry, Social Democratic Liberal Party Viliame Gavoka and National Federation Party’s Biman Prasad “to personally deliver the assurance of Fiji Police that all necessary safety and security measures are being adopted to ensure political parties, candidates and supporters are able to freely exercise their political rights as guaranteed under the Fijian Constitution.”
Chief Operations Officer (COO) Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Abdul Khan and Commanding Officer (CO) Police Special Response Unit (PSRU) Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Livai Driu represented Police in those meetings, and will most likely attend similar ones with the remaining parties in the coming days.