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Parties to tackle Electoral Commission

February 10, 2014

 

Fiji’s political parties are due to meet with the newly-appointed Electoral Commission next week. NFP, SODELPA, Fiji Labour Party and the Peoples Democratic Party were contacted by the chairman, Benn Chung Young. The meeting is expected to focus on a number of election issues, some of which are raised in a letter by the FLP.

The Chairman and Members
Fiji Electoral Commission
PO Box 2528
Government Buildings
Suva

Dear Commissioners

Re: Electoral Matters

We welcome the appointment of the Electoral Commission and look forward to working with it to ensure that the 2014 general elections would be free, fair and credible. The people of Fiji are looking forward to the restoration of democracy and constitutional government after eight years of repressive military-backed rule.

The FLP realizes that the Commission faces a difficult challenge, not the least of which is to set up an independent electoral machinery practically from scratch in a short time frame of about six months, if the elections are to be held in September, as promised. Your Commission may well be apprehensive about its own functional autonomy and authority in light of the fate of the Constitution Commission headed by Professor Yash Ghai.

Be that as it may, you will admit that the current environment is hardly conducive to the holding of credible elections. People and political parties are still not free to express their views openly. Draconian decrees restricting the right to freedom of association, expression and assembly continue to remain in force. With elections due in September, there is a dismal lack of preparation and the electoral process remains under the control of the regime and its Attorney General.

We admit that you have just been appointed to office but we believe that the Commission needs to move fast to take charge of the process, if it is to gain the confidence and approval of the people of Fiji.

The Fiji Labour Party has a number of serious misgivings and reservations about the process as is currently in place. Of equal concern is the restrictive environment in which the nation is expected to go to the polls.

We believe that it is the Commission’s duty to insist that the basic rights and freedoms of the people are fully restored as provided for in the Constitution, if the upcoming elections are to be regarded as free, fair and credible. To this end, the Commission will need to engage with the regime to obtain a satisfactory outcome acceptable to the people and in conformity with internationally accepted norms for free, fair and credible elections.

The FLP Management Board seeks an urgent meeting with members of the Commission to discuss these concerns and to get the Commission’s views on how it intends to address them.

Main areas of FLP concern:

1. Lack of preparedness for Elections :- Supervisor of Elections is yet to be appointed. As a result, staff in the Elections Office operate without direction or an approved work plan. Matters relating to recruitment of appropriately qualified staff and their training for the conduct of the elections remain to be finalized. This unsatisfactory situation is likely to continue until the appointment of a Supervisor of Elections.

2. Electoral Legislation and Regulations have not been promulgated and there has not been any consultation with the political parties on the subject.
We are reliably informed that the legislation drafted by the Technical Assistance team (EU, Australia and New Zealand) was handed to the Attorney General sometime ago and that it is being reviewed by the regime’s legal team which will finalise its contents before promulgation. It has been suggested that the draft legislation may be revised or amended as the regime sees fit, with the possibility that it may not conform to international norms.

It would have been proper to first publicise the draft legislation for public comments and consultation with political parties. As matters stand, and judging from the experience of the Ghai Commission’s draft constitution, it is not unlikely that the regime’s version of the legislation may not be in conformity with internationally accepted norms. Should this happen to be the case, then the integrity and credibility of the elections would be seriously compromised.

3. The Elections Office is still controlled by the Attorney General. This must cease forthwith. The electoral machinery must function completely independent of the regime.

4. A significant 20% of eligible voters are yet to be registered, according to statistics obtained from the Elections Office. FLP had suggested to the Permanent Secretary in charge of Elections to consider house to house visits by elections office staff, particularly in settlements and villages in both rural and urban centres, as in the past, to ensure maximum possible registration. There has been no response to this request.

5. One-day elections. The logistics of holding elections within one day, given Fiji’s geographical and other constraints, is mindboggling. The civil service does not have the capacity and the resources, let alone adequate numbers of experienced and trained personnel to successfully conduct credible elections in the very short span of just one day.

This issue needs extensive discussions/consultations with senior civil servants and political party officials who have the requisite experience in such matters.

We are informed that only 40 copies of the 2014 Budget Estimates were printed for use exclusively by government departments/ministries and that copies of the document are not available to members of the public/ organisations wishing to buy them for their information or use.

It is thus virtually impossible for anyone to accept that credible elections are possible in such an oppressively controlled environment.

Lastly, we deem it important to ask the Chairman and all members of the Electoral Commission whether they would be prepared to declare

• their assets and liabilities, including those of their spouses and children (under 18 years), such declaration to include details of any Contracts (including employment contracts), Assignments or Deeds entered into between them (in their individual or professional capacity) and the State or any para-statal institution or organization.

• Membership of statutory Boards, including Boards of government commercial companies (GCCs) either in their individual or professional capacities.

All such declarations to be published in the media for public information and the cost of publication to be met by the State.

You will note that all candidates contesting the elections – whether political party sponsored or independents – are required to make such declarations under the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding and Disclosures) Decree 4 of 2013.

We feel strongly that if candidates contesting the elections are required to make such declarations, then it is only proper that those in charge of the conduct of the elections should consider doing the same in the interests of transparency.

We thank you, and look forward to an early response.

Yours sincerely

Mahendra P. Chaudhry
Secretary General/Registered Officer

Source – C4.5, Posted by Rusi Varani for SWM
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