Concerns include 1-day poll, decree requirements, electoral commission independence
From left: Pacific Islands Forum Secretary-General Tuiloma Neroni Slade, with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade of Vanuatu Nipake Edward Natapei, Minister for Trade, Foreign Affairs Tourism Enviroment and Labour of Tuvalu Taukelina Finikaso, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia Julie Bishop, Minister of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand Murray McCully, and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration of Papua New Guinea Rimbink Pato during the press conference at the Pacifi c Islands Forum Secretariat in Suva on Saturday. Photo: JONA KONATACI.
By AQELA SUSU and ROSI DOVIVERATA
The four registered political parties met with the visiting Pacific Islands Forum Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) in Suva on Saturday. Representatives from the parties, all operating in opposition to the Bainimarama Government, raised similar concerns about Fiji’s progress towards the General Elections. They criticised some arrangements and requirements. The Forum foreign ministers group later concluded its visit by issuing a statement welcoming significant progress towards the elections. These must be held by 30 September. New Zealand’s Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said the registration of political parties, enrolment of more than 540,000 voters and appointment of an independent Electoral Commission have been recognised. Following are some of the issues the Forum foreign ministers in the contact group heard from the registered political parties:
Views raised by Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) represented by Dr Tupeni Baba. * Extent to which the Electoral Commission can be independent and take full responsibility of its power. “This will enable us to have free and fair elections. The Commission needs to completely take over responsibility.” * Independent observer groups to be in Fiji well before the General Elections, during and after. Dr Baba said the independent observers should oversee the transition right though to Parliament. “We also requested that competent independent electoral observers like the Commonwealth and those from the European Union should also be here.” * The actual organisation of a one day polling is virtually impossible. “To be free and fair it would require that political party representatives be present at every polling station. “We also made it very clear that we cannot see how a one day poll is possible given the fact that the Elections Office is still advertising right now.” * Equal media coverage. “All the political parties should be given equal opportunities in the media,” Dr Baba said. * Conditions of the Political Parties Decree are harsh. “We asked whether the same decree will apply to Bainimarama and his new party.”
FIJI LABOUR PARTY
Fiji Labour Party represented by Mahendra Chaudhry and Lavenia Padarath -There were conditions that had to be met in order for a free and fair election to take place. -Mr Chaudhry along with party President, Lavenia Padarath alleged to the foreign ministers that the Bainimarama Government had failed in fulfilling the expectations of the people for a free and fair election. -They said a free and fair election could only be effective if the Government had followed what was stated in a statement made by the Ministerial Group in April last year: They outlined these and how they believed they were still not being fulfilled.. They also told the Forum ministers that the party wanted the Electoral Commission to take full charge of the electoral process. They said this was because the Government, through the Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, was still mostly in control.
National Federation Party represented by Raman Singh and Tupou Draunidalo. The National Federation Party in their submission to the foreign ministers said that there were no still positive signs of elections being carried out with freedom accorded to all political parties. -They have welcomed the pledge made by government to have elections before the 30th of September this year. However the party said the motive made by government of having free and fair elections were rhetorical statements the party claimed were made to deceive the people. -The party has noted that although there is an Electoral Commission in place they believed the Attorney General and Minister responsible for Elections Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum is still in full charge of the commission. They said the commission must totally be autonomous independent body without influence from anyone. -The Party called on the electoral commission to provide them with a copy of the draft regulations to study and make recommendations on it. They stated that the delay of the promulgation of the Elections Regulations may lead to receiving a great number of invalid votes. Although it had been announced that the regulations will be made official at the end of the month the party said that this leaves them with very little time to carry out voter education to the public as there has been a new voting system introduced for elections this year. -The National Federation Party has recommended that there be a three day polling period so that the largest possible number of voters can have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. -They have called on the Electoral Commission to look into some possible problems that could arise from the one day polling that may result in what they called insurmountable problems and erode free and fair elections. -The party claimed in their submission to the ministerial group that the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding and disclosures) Decree2013 was a strict piece of legislation. They claimed this erodes the rights of each individual and puts paid to the principle of free, fair and a credible election. -The party immediately wants the Electoral Commission to review the decree and make amendments and also remove what they called unnecessary restrictions being placed on trade unionists. -The Electoral Commission to also review the Decree on the restrictions being placed on corporate organisations disallowed from donations either in cash or in kind towards the funding of an effective election campaign. -The party wants the Electoral Commission to ensure that the Media Industry Development Decree is also reviewed to avoid restrictions and penalties being faced by journalists who because of the decree’s provisions may resort to self-censorship. -The party wants the Electoral Commission to warn the current Government headed by Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama and all public servants to avoid campaigning using the money paid for by taxpayers while serving public offices.
PEOPLE’S DEMOCRATIC PARTY Meanwhile, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) officials were also present at the meeting. They were represented by the party’s Interim President, Adi Sivia Qoro and Interim Secretary Sat Narayan. Their representations were not immediately available.