Rear Admiral Frank Bainimarama’s Fiji First is now free to campaign and fight the election in September after objections were dismissed and it was formally registered last week.
The rival group was among objectors, saying the Fiji First name is theirs, but the Registrar of Political Parties said the claim lacked evidence.
The group’s leader Anit Singh explained to Sally Round the group has been around for years and it was originally called the Girmit Heritage party, but they decided to change its name to Fiji First in 2008 to appeal to more people.
ANIT SINGH: The supervisor of the election at that time, Felicity Heffernan, she guided us through the process of our name change and she met me twice in our office to explain to me and that at that point in time there were no laws in the Electoral Act that strictly applied to applications for a name change so she was to treat our party as a new party and the Gazette notice came out on the 12th of December so it was a due process but it was never declined or disapproved.
SALLY ROUND: But was the process actually completed?
AS: After our party was advertised in the Gazette, there were objections from the leader of the Fiji Labour Party Mr Chaudhry and the supervisor of elections advised us that he was querying the authenticity of the members and he wants to verify each of the signatures and we made arrangements for me to travel to the rural areas where our members were with the elections office staff and verify each of their signatures which I did and I brought it back and then she [Felicity Heffernan] wrote and informed us that the investigation into your party from the complainant was finalised last week and has no substance. ‘I have invited the Fiji Labour Party to discuss the complainant’s part of the process and I will show them the newspaper advertisements and radio shows and the process is now complete’. So as far as we are concerned the objections were investigated and completed. She also said in the same email – she wrote that on Tuesday – that on the Friday the notice would be gazetted. In our minds the whole process was finished.
SR: The registrar says there is no evidence of this?
AS: I think the registrar is not telling the whole thing.I don’t think it was investigated thoroughly. They are supposed to acknowledge our application and in that reply of acknowledgment he said a response has been received from the applicant which can be viewed at a pre-arranged time in his office. We are the ones that are complaining. We are complaining about protecting about our intellectual property and he is treating us like we have nothing to complain about. We really feel shortchanged. Where is the discussions of findings or the chance to counter respond? I mean is this strictly applying the letter of the law in this case.
SR: What will you do now?
AS: The position of the registrar seems to be that our name and the Fiji First that Bainimarama has applied for are two different things – is not one and the same. That means our name is still available for us to register. That is what I think he is trying to tell us. I will apply for our name to be reregistered.
SR: So you are talking about the Fiji 1st party with the number in it and not the word as they have – a variation of the Fiji First name?
AS: That’s right with a number in it so I think we still have access to our own name.
SR: And will you come back and fight the election? Will Fiji First, under the number one Fiji 1st, will that be a participant in the election in September?
AS: I think we are really looking forward to it. We have always looked forward to the elections. If we are able to register our party name with that party we will be fighting elections, yes for sure. We have got a different logo and a different name.
SR: This is not just a ploy to try and outwit the regime – you really are interested in fighting the election?
AS: We are interested in fighting the elections, yes. I think there has to be a lot of people fighting the elections because this is what democracy is all about.