The 2006 election had seen the arrival of Fiji’s largest ever cohort of international election observers. A substantial and well-resourced team had arrived from the EU, and Australian and New Zealand monitors joined a team under the auspices of the PIF. The University of the South Pacific also assembled an official observation mission, as did the Commonwealth. All these teams found some evidence of administrative failings and some serious irregularities, but none concluded that the election had been rigged or that the obvious deficiencies had somehow determined the ultimate result. The outcome of the 2006 poll was largely in line with the expectations of the better-informed locally based and neutral political commentators: It was close and highly ethnically polarized, but the slight edge in the indigenous Fijian share in electorates tipped the balance in favour of Qarase’s SDL.
Chaudhry, whose largely Indian-backed FLP had in May 2006 obtained 31 seats in the 71-member parliament, afterwards claimed that irregularities in voter registration, vote-buying and ‘poll-rigging’ by Qarase’s ruling SDL had deprived his party of victory. FLP claims of irregularities pre-dated the 2006 election; they were raised at the Electoral Commission’s pre-poll dialogue sessions with political parties and in a stream of angry letters to the Supervisor of Elections. The allegations echoed the reaction after the 2001 election, when FLP leaders had difficulty suddenly adjusting to the shock of finding that they could not repeat their 1999 victory and so reverse the injustices of the 2000 coup. Defeated FLP candidates in the highly marginal open constituencies around Suva, like Lavinia Padarath in Nausori–Naitasiri, for many years after the 2001 election vociferously claimed that she had been robbed of victory, and she did so again after her defeat in 2006. None of these allegations were proven for 2001. After long drawn-out hearings, the courts rejected the petitions. Defeated candidates’ and parties’ statements are seldom credible sources of evidence for claims of electoral malpractice. Their incentives to exaggerate, accuse and deceive are self-evident. The FLP needed some way to explain to supporters why campaign trail promises of a return to the pre-2000-coup glory days had failed to materialize in 2001, and electoral skulduggery was the obvious choice. The protests after the 2006 election were far more muted, and far less convincing, than they had been in 2001.
One reason for that contrast was that, in 2001, Qarase’s government had used distribution of outboard motors, pitchforks, spades and other farming implements to solicit support in rural indigenous Fijian communities. One of Qarase’s ministers had himself highlighted the importance of such largesse to the SDL’s 2001 re-election chances. After the 2001 poll, key figures involved in the ‘agricultural scam’ were prosecuted. On the 2006 campaign trail, bags of rice or flour, and the perennial boosts to yaqona consumption filtered along the roads that led through Fijian villages. But vote-buying allegations could equally be levelled against Chaudhry’s FLP, for which carefully targeted gifts had long been a favoured means of fostering political loyalties in the cane belts. The biggest expense for all the political parties was the supply of food and yaqona at the vibrant party sheds set up close to polling stations and outside the counting centres at election time. While the vote-buying allegations thus had some substance, the vote-rigging allegations were extravagant, unproven and inflammatory. Irregularities there were, but these were mainly because seconded civil servants struggled with registering Fiji’s eligible citizens, arranging the printing of the required number of ballot papers, organizing timetables for polling station opening times, shifting the ballot boxes to the counting centres, and tallying the preference votes marked on Fiji’s over-elaborate ballot papers.
In the wake of the coup, the FHRC initiated a commission of inquiry into the 2006 polls; it was undertaken by Suva lawyer G.P. Lala, former MP Taufa Vakatale and a radical political economist from Waikato University, Dr David Neilson. The title of the resulting report was ‘From Roadhumps to Roadmaps’, presumably to convey disdain for the obstacles cast in Fiji’s way by international donors and to outline a more appropriate path back to democracy. It claimed (i) ‘significant failures to ensure citizens’ right to vote’, (ii) ‘significant biases in these failures primarily against Indian voters to the unfair advantage of the SDL’, (iii) ‘inappropriate “vote-influencing”, vote-buying and vote-rigging to the unfair advantage of the SDL’, (iv) ‘the concentration of bias, vote-influencing, vote-buying and vote-rigging in the key urban open constituencies which is where elections in Fiji are won and lost’. The report was sloppy in construction, and full of spelling and factual errors, a sign of what one otherwise sympathetic reviewer generously called ‘undue haste in its preparation’. No reference was made to the difficulty of conducting a retrospective review of an election the result of which had been cancelled out by a coup. Nor did it mention any problem arising from the fact that the report had been commissioned by FHRC director Shaista Shameem, who had previously associated herself firmly with the military takeover. But it did mention the RFMF, describing its role as that of a ‘last resort defender of democracy’ which had needed ‘to suspend “democracy” in order to protect democracy’.
The method chosen by the commission was just as flawed as its inspiration. It reached the verdict that the 2006 result had been ‘rigged’ largely on the basis of evidence gleaned at public hearings, without any independent effort to verify the accuracy of the evidence. When critics said the commission had failed to analyse the statistical plausibility of its extravagant claims, the team replied that this was ‘beyond the resource and time constraints under which the report was prepared’. This was a staggering claim. Public enquiry under conditions of military rule was scarcely an adequate way of testing whether an election 16 months earlier had been free and fair. The vast majority of the 59 submissions drawn upon came from those who had lost the election or, for one reason or another, had an obvious axe to grind. Only one submission came from the former governing party, the SDL. Whatever substance was in the report echoed the far more thorough and careful conclusions, based on more extensive, more independent and more reliable methods of evidence-gathering, by the various May 2006 electoral observation teams. But the FHRC commission ventured to claim systematic ethnic bias and ballot-rigging solely on the basis of hearsay and anecdotal evidence, condemning the other reports as based on ‘first-worldist’ perspectives.
The core allegation that there had been ‘ballot rigging’ by the SDL, and that this was particularly apparent in the key highly marginal urban open constituencies, had no solid foundation. The bases for this claim were (i) the ‘pattern of complaints’ (p.9), (ii) Dr Neilson’s observation of systematic bias in the issuing of registration slips and (iii) the argument that that those administrative deficiencies identified in all the observer reports ultimately indicated such irresponsibility as to legitimately be called an ‘anti-democratic act’ and to generate ‘suspicion of corrupt practice’ (p.35). The story about bias in the issue of registration slips is the only one of these allegations that merits serious attention.
Registration of voters was the weakest element of the 2005–06 Election Office preparations, as all the observer reports indicated. Eligible citizens were left off the rolls or registered in the wrong constituencies, a familiar problem in elections across the Pacific. At the time of registration, citizens were given coloured slips of paper indicating in which two constituencies they were eligible to vote, and these were colour-coded by ethnic group (pink for the Fiji Indians). The FHRC report explained the rather impressionistic sequence of its findings of deliberate bias and ballot-rigging:
It was only when the Commission reached Savusavu that the New Zealand Commissioner, in a conversation with one of the District Officers, realized that the pink slips were only for Indo-Fijians! Registration problems were overwhelmingly confined to this one group. Only once the Inquiry was reaching the end of the submissions, and had returned to the greater Suva area, did it become apparent that one particular registration problem was recurring in a way that seemed more than accidental. Indo-Fijian voters were being registered in the correct communal constituency, but incorrectly in the open constituency. Further submissions indicated that this particular problem tended to occur in the main urban centres, especially around the Greater Suva area. This pattern is suspicious because of one significant fact, as was pointed out by Rev David Arms (submission 52); in Fiji elections hang in the balance around a relatively few number of open constituency seats in the major urban areas. Thus, vote-rigging, if it is going to be pursued, would be likely to be concentrated in these marginal seats (p.13).
This was evidence by insinuation. To jump from alleged concentration of registration errors in the Suva–Nausori area to ‘suspicions’ of ballot-rigging because, if elections were rigged, this is geographically where it would be done, is disjointed reasoning. There are plenty of plausible reasons why registration errors might be largely found in the densely populated Suva–Nausori area, which is covered by many interlocked open and communal constituencies, as compared with the more sparsely populated countryside.
More importantly, the basic premise about the link between the issue of registration slips and the electoral rolls was flawed. Errors on the registration slips handed out to voters were reasonably common, but affected somewhat less than 1 per cent of all voters, and not just Indo-Fijians, but everyone. This did not mean, as the commission apparently believed, that voters were actually registered in the wrong place on the rolls. It only meant that the forms issued to them to tell them where to find their names were incorrect. Polling officials could easily correct this, and often did so if they understood the system, since at the end of the rows, next to each voter’s name on a communal roll, was the number of the corresponding open constituency, and vice versa. Members of the FHRC Commission of Inquiry, like many of the polling station officials, were apparently unaware of this important detail about the methodology used in the Fiji voter registration system. Nonetheless, this was the core reason for claiming evidence of ballot-rigging.
The claim that administrative failings indicated ‘corrupt practice’ or that fraud could be confirmed by submissions from unsuccessful politicians or parties (or those like the government printer with an obvious grudge against the Supervisor of Elections) were even less credible. In other words, despite now having full control over the administrative arms and records of the state, the interim government’s supporters were evidently struggling to find solid evidence that the 2006 election had been rigged. In fact, they were not even looking in the plausible direction. The allegations by interim ministers about electoral fraud were thus largely self-serving bombast and showmanship.
 By-elections in Tavua and Cakaudrove prior to the May 2006 polls had suggested that the forthcoming general election would be sharply polarized, although no one then said those had been rigged. The acutely ethnically polarized political temperature throughout 2001-06 – inflamed particularly by conflict between Qarase and Chaudhry over the multiparty cabinet provisions, the Promotion of Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill, and the treatment of 2000 coup convicts – made the 2006 election outcome likely to be highly divided. Based on projections giving 80% of the Fijian vote to the SDL and 80% of the Indian vote to the FLP, the overall election results were reasonably straightforward to predict. Once the political parties released their rankings for redistribution of preference votes for each of the 71 constituencies, those predictions could be fine-tuned to anticipate results for each constituency. I conducted several workshops for diplomats and for the media in August and October 2005 and March 2006, explaining this methodology for predicting the 2006 electoral outcomes (‘Alternative Scenarios at the Forthcoming Polls’, Understanding the Next Fiji Elections; A Workshop for Diplomats, Tanoa Plaza, Suva, Fiji, 15 August 2005; ‘Analysing Fiji Elections’, Media and Elections Workshop, Suva, 20-22 March 2006; ‘Understanding the Alternative Vote System; Preference Exchange, the Count Process and Getting from Votes to Seats’, 2006 Fiji Media and Elections Workshop, Tanoa Plaza, Suva, Fiji, October 22 2005). As the international observer teams arrived, I publicly briefed both the PIF and EU observers again explaining that methodology (‘Briefing Presentation for Combined International Observers to the Fiji 2006 election, Police Academy, Nasese, Suva, April 2006; Briefing Presentation for Pacific Islands Forum Election Observers, Fale, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Ratu Sukuna Road, Suva, April 2006). Other observers also predicted an outcome that was close to the final result, with FM96’s Yellow Bucket column calling every seat except one correctly.
 Chaudhry, M. ‘Tainted elections’, in Fraenkel and Firth, From Election to Coup in Fiji; The 2006 Campaign and its Aftermath, Institute of Pacific Studies, Suva, and Asia-Pacific Press, Canberra, 2007, pp 347–364.
 In one case – Nadi Open – the result was overturned by Justice Anthony Gates giving victory to the FLP candidate. The Court of Appeal concluded that he had made a serious mistake in law.
 One indication of the temperature of allegations of fraud was the CCF’s ElectionWatch workshops. I attended both the 2001 and 2006 workshops. In 2001, the audience was packed, and allegations of irregularities and malpractice were wild and furious – although most turned out to be bogus. In 2006, the audience was much smaller and there were few allegations of fraud.
 A letter from Minister of Public Works and Energy Joketani Cokanasiga to Prime Minister Qarase, dated 8 August 2001, described a decision by the finance ministry to suspend the agricultural assistance scheme so soon before the general election as ‘political suicide’. The origins of this program were in fact prior to the 2001 election announcement: it was aimed at placating discontent in rural Fijians areas in order to avoid any repeat of the Speight uprising, as were nearly all of the initiatives of the Qarase government.
 Fiji Human Rights Commission, ‘Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Fiji 2006 General Elections’, September 2007.
 David Arms, ‘A Critique of the Report of the Independent Assessment of the Electoral Process in Fiji’, 31 July 2007, included as an annex to the main report.
 Fiji Human Rights Commission, ‘Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Fiji 2006 General Elections’, September 2007, p23.
 ‘Commentary on the SDL’s Response to the Draft Report’, annex to Fiji Human Rights Commission, ‘Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Fiji 2006 General Elections’, September 2007.
 Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Fiji 2006 General Elections, Fiji Human Rights Commission, September 2007, pp.5, p9–10; see also David Neilson ‘What if the Fiji ballot was less than “Free and fair”?’, New Zealand Herald, 15 October, 2007.
 Unlike the Commission, I can offer detailed first-hand evidence of this. I was a University of the South Pacific election observer during the 2006 election. Early in election week, the problem of officials finding the names of voters on one roll, but not on the other, became apparent and much discussed. I personally raised this with the Fiji Elections Office, and was told that – although the colour-coded registration slips handed out to voters at the time of registration were often in error, the electoral rolls themselves were not. Over the following days of election week, I tested this claim by requesting presiding officers in the polling stations to show me their logbook records of voters who had been able to cast only one vote because their name could not be found in a corresponding open or communal constituency. In every case I checked, the Elections Office was correct: it was possible for presiding officers, if they ignored the registration slips, to use any one correct entry on the electoral roll to find the other. In other words, the problem lay with the registration officials and with the training of polling station officials. It was not an indication of systemic bias or ballot-rigging. In any case, during the final days of election week, in somewhat chaotic circumstances, the Fiji Elections Office effectively dispensed with the electoral rolls as a means of avoiding duplicate voting and allowed citizens whose name was found on one roll to cast a second vote on a corresponding open or communal roll, even if their name could not be found. From that point, prevention of duplicate voting depended solely on reference to the ink marked on voters’ fingers.
 The same confusion of registration slips with the actual entries on the rolls is repeated in Dr Neilson’s New Zealand Herald article: ‘The recurring experience among Indian voters in [urban, open] constituencies in particular was of correct registration in the communal constituency and mis-registration in the open constituency’ (David Neilson ‘What if the Fiji Ballot was less than “Free and fair”?’, New Zealand Herald, 15 October, 2007).
 If the Commission had instead chosen to follow up on Fr David Arms comment about the election outcome being decided in key marginal open constituencies around the Suva-Nausori corridor in the Central Division in 2001 and 2006 and the logical likelihood that any ballot-rigging would target these constituencies, they might have noticed that all of the tabulation forms (O-38s and O-39s) had suspiciously disappeared for these key constituencies both in 2001 and 2006, despite firm assurances before the 2006 polls from both the supervisor and the chairman of the Electoral Commission that they would order their release (these assurances were likely to have been genuine, I believe, because the Supervisor’s office successfully obtained every other one of these forms for the Eastern, Western and Northern Divisions). With these O-38 and O-39 tabulation forms an expert eye, such as that of Fr Arms, might well have been able to detect any odd movements of preference votes that suggested resort to ballot-rigging. Most likely, the real reason why these forms were concealed in 2001 and 2006 was that they were a hideous mess, smothered in tipex and full of errors, and the Commissioner Central did not want expert eyes scrutinizing the way they had been completed. The Central Division, covering the Suva-Nausori corridor, covers the vast majority of the close-to-parity Fijian/Indian constituencies and therefore tends to have many more successive counts than other divisions, rendering tabulation particularly problematic. The Commissioner Central, Inoke Devo, was arrested under the post-coup government, and convicted on charges of corruption in issuing liquor licenses, but notably not for his role as Chief Returning Officer in the Central Division.