Friday, 17 February 2017

Joint Statement by five Opposition Parties calling for Saneem removal and AG to relinquish elections portfolio

OPPOSITION PARTIES’ JOINT STATEMENT ON ELECTIONS SUPERVISOR
AND AMENDMENTS TO THE ELECTORAL DECREE

17 February 2017

The Leaders of the Social Democratic Liberal Party, National Federation Party, Fiji Labour Party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party and the Fiji United Freedom Party issued this joint statement today


L-R: NFP Leader Dr. Biman Prasad, SODELPA Party Leader Maj.Gen.(Ret'd) Sitiveni Rabuka, FLP Leader Mahendra Chaudhry, Peoples Democratic Party President Lynda Tabuya and Fiji United Freedom Party Leader, Jagath Karunaratne

In a joint statement issued following a meeting on Thursday 16th February, the leaders of the five Opposition Parties called for the removal of the Supervisor of Elections and the scrapping  of the elections portfolio assigned to the Attorney General.


“Free and fair elections are not possible in a situation where the ruling Fiji First Party is exercising extraordinary control over the electoral machinery and the electoral process,” the leaders said.


Supervisor of Elections


The Leaders said Mohammed Saneem’s initial appointment in 2013 had been questioned as he did not meet the minimum qualifications required for the position, as advertised.


The previous Electoral Commission has drawn attention to the impropriety of his appointment in its Annual Report for 2014 (para 3.1) in which it pointed out that Saneem’s name was submitted by the Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum after he had informed the Commission  “that overseas applicants who had applied for the position were either not suitable or were not available due to the passage of time.  


“However, the Commissioners expressed some reservations in the manner the position of Supervisor of Elections had been allowed to protract for such a long period since applications for the position had been advertised in 2013”.


The Commission then suggested to the Attorney General that the position be re-advertised. This was not done and Saneem was appointed despite the Commission’s reservation.


Hence the Electoral Commissioners appeared to have no choice but to accept the recommendation of the Attorney General as the Minister for Election for Saneem to be appointed as Supervisor of Elections.  


Subsequent rulings by the Supervisor particularly in relation to the eligibility of political party candidates nominated for the 2014 election showed his clear bias towards the Fiji First Party. He made decisions knowing that they were wrong and then defied the rulings of the Electoral Commission on a mere technicality.  
 
The recent Appeals Court ruling has only confirmed Mr. Saneem’s unsuitability for this important constitutional office. The Leaders said that it is unprecedented for a Supervisor to boldly defy the Electoral Commission.


2017 Amendment to Electoral Decree


The Leaders also objected to the recent amendment to the Electoral Decree which was fast tracked through Parliament last week, appointing the Supervisor of Elections as secretary to the Electoral Commission.


The amendments also prescribe powers to the Supervisor to overturn the results of the count of a ballot box by a Presiding Officer and to do a recount. The amendments also impose limitations and impediments on the Electoral Commission in the conduct of its constitutionally mandated work.


“The amendment compromises the Electoral Commission which is the appeals body from the decisions of the Supervisor and is a subversion of the independence of both the Supervisor and the Commission which are two separate bodies with separate constitutional functions.


“It was aimed at ensuring the newly appointed Electoral Commission remained subservient to the recently disgraced Supervisor of Elections,” the Leaders said.  


The current situation has the Fiji First General Secretary actually controlling and commandeering the process and making the rules as we move towards the next general elections.


The rushed amendment also subverts the parliamentary process and interferes with the work of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice which is still reviewing the report of the Multinational Observer Group (MOG) on the 2014 Elections. The Leader’s maintain that the bill should not have come to the House until the report of the Standing Committee on the same issue was tabled.


The MOG report includes recommendations for improvement of the electoral processes, laws and procedures, which many political parties agree with. The Attorney General has cherry picked and decided to implement only three of the thirty-eight MOG recommendations in the recent fast-tracked amendment to the Electoral Decree.

Minister for Elections


In calling for the Elections ministerial portfolio to be scrapped, the Leaders said:


“The portfolio has been held by Attorney General Aiyaz Khaiyum since 2008. It is wrong in principle for the General Secretary of the ruling party to hold the elections portfolio at the same time as being Attorney General drafting laws and changing the rules for elections in which he will participate.


“The current situation allows the Fiji First General Secretary to actually control the process and make the rules as we move towards the next general elections, a serious conflict of interest that the Prime Minister must remedy to assure the people of Fiji that their right to vote in free and fair elections is not being compromised by the Attorney General controlling the electoral process.


“Free and fair elections require that all political parties operate on the same level playing field, and have access to information about the upcoming elections at the same time.  


“Both the Supervisor of Elections and the Electoral Commission are constitutional offices and as such, should be independent of the executive arm. Besides, both the Prime Minister and the Attorney General hold office in their political party and will likely contest the next elections.”


The Leaders pointed out that in the past there was no ministerial portfolio for elections.  For  necessary administrative accountability, the Prime Minister only tabled the Elections Office submissions for budgetary allocations. The PM’s administrative responsibility ended there. He did not exercise control over the elections office or advise the Electoral Commission, or otherwise interfere with its operations.  


The Leaders also rejected several provisions of the Electoral and Voter Registration Decrees promulgated unilaterally by the Bainimarama administration in March 2014 just 6 months before the elections.


These matters will be pursued and more concrete actions deliberated on by the Party Leaders in the coming weeks.  

Authorised by:      
         

  • Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) Party Leader Major General (Ret’d) S.L. Rabuka
  • Fiji Labour Party (FLP) Leader Mr. Mahendra P Chaudhry
  • National Federation Party (NFP) Leader Dr. Biman Prasad
  • Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Party President Ms. Lynda Tabuya
  • Fiji United Freedom Party (FUFP) Party Leader Mr. Jagath Karunaratne