As Fijians prepare to go to the polls on December 14, a report by an Indian-based Hindu news outlet is claiming the 2018 election was “conducted” by a Pakistani company.
The Hindu Post article has been shared multiple times on Fijian Facebook pages (including here, here and here), in the process stoking tensions between the country’s Hindu and Muslim populations while also casting doubt on the legitimacy of the nation’s last election.
But the claim is false. The National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA), the Pakistani company referred to, was only contracted to provide election management software prior to the 2018 vote. Experts and the Fijian Elections Office (FEO) confirmed NADRA’s involvement ended in 2017 and its software did not deal with results, voting or counting.
The Hindu Post article in question, published on November 11, is headlined “Is Aiyaz Sayed-(Khaiyum) engaging in Jihad against Hindus through the patronage of the Fijian government and with the help of Pakistan?”
The article leads with the claim that attacks against Hindu Fijians have not stopped under the leadership of Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, despite his intention to unite Fiji – and that Hindu Fijians claim the latest round of persecutions is being headed by Mr Sayed-Khaiyum.
It then reads: “But what stands out as the force behind Sayed-Khaiyum is not the blessings of Bainimarama, who handed over power to him temporarily, while he was recovering from heart attack, but a nation far away, Bharat’s (neighbour) Pakistan.
“Such is the involvement of Pakistan, that the 2017 elections in Fiji was conducted by a Pakistani company NADRA.”
But the claim is false. The Hindu Post article also incorrectly dates the last election in 2017. It was in 2018.
Mohammed Saneem, Fiji’s Supervisor of Elections, said the claim is “absolutely incorrect,” adding: “The Fijian Elections Office conducted the 2018 General Election on its own without any involvement of any 3rd party.”
He told AAP FactCheck in an email that the FEO purchased its custom made electoral management system from NADRA in 2018.
“Since the delivery, the FEO has managed it on its own without any further involvement of NADRA,” he said. “We hired 11 qualified IT staff who managed the software. The software…does not deal with results, voting or counting.”
Mr Saneem told AAP FactCheck the software, among other things, helped calculate the total number of election items such as pens and envelopes that will be required based on the polling station voter numbers, scan forms from political parties into digital records and also track the movement of election materials throughout the country.
Mr Saneem said the FEO has not engaged NADRA since the delivery of the management system in 2017 (see tweet above).
His description of NADRA’s involvement aligns with NADRA’s own description on its website.
NADRA told AAP FactCheck the claim is false.
“The scope of the project was to automate the manual back-office functioning of the (FEO),” a representative said in an email. “However, voter registration, voting on election day and any type of result compilation were not included in the scope of the project.”
He added: “NADRA staff was neither present in Fiji nor remotely involved in any of the election activity.”
Professor Jon Fraenkel, an expert in comparative politics with Victoria University of Wellington and co-author of The 2006 Military Takeover in Fiji; A coup to end all coups, said the errors in the article were legion.
On NADRA, Prof Fraenkel said: “They were just contracted to provide some software for the data management. The elections were conducted by the Fijian Elections Office (FEO).”
He added: “I don’t think one should see Pakistan as a nation as in any way involved in Fiji’s election.”
Robert Nicole, a senior lecturer in politics at The University of the South Pacific, agreed the claim is false.
“As far as we could establish, NADRA’s involvement in the election only went as far as providing the software,” Dr Nicole told AAP FactCheck in an email.
“It was probably involved well before the election in providing the kind of technical assistance necessary to operate the system.”
He added that the election was vetted by a multilateral observer group and that Fijian political parties had extensive access to voting stations and a presence at the counting centres.
Concerns have previously been raised about NADRA’s record.
Prior to the 2018 election, Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry spoke to the ABC and called for the termination or NADRA’s contract over allegations of corruption, ballot stuffing, tampering with voter registration and giving ID cards to terrorists.
Mr Saneem spoke to the ABC as part of the same report and said NADRA underwent and cleared a terrorism financing search.
The claim that a Pakistani company conducted the 2018 Fijian election is false. The Fijian Elections Office, NADRA and political experts confirmed the company was contracted to create election management software prior to the vote.
After handing over the system to the FEO it played no further part in the national election. The FEO conducted the 2018 election.
False – The claim is inaccurate.