Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Set the Date to Obtain Mandate to Govern

It’s time to name the date
Maika Bolatiki -Political Editor- www.sun.com.fj - 5 Feb 2007.

‘The Interim Government should be mindful of the fact that we need to have an early election so that our beloved nation is accepted back into the global family’

The Fiji Law Society has joined ousted Prime Minister Qarase in calling for an early election. Mr Qarase said that, when he was Interim Prime Minister in 2000, he was given a very clear mandate: to return the country to democratic rule, restore the economy and law and order. The election was held within six months. Mr Qarase has said the Bainimarama-led Interim Government should follow suit.
The Fiji Law Society wants an early election because as a result of the coup, Fiji has been expelled from the global community. FLS president Davinesh Sharma says the Interim Government should set a date for the next general election. Fiji, he says, has lost a lot because of the military takeover.
The Methodist Church of Fiji said in a press release dated February 2: “The interim regime must immediately set a timetable and a road map for returning Fiji to democratic rule. This will give individuals, communities and all sectors of Fiji’s economy some direction as to where we are moving from here. More importantly, because the interim regime is already in place, the military should return to the barracks.”We should be happy that Interim Prime Minister Commodore Bainimarama has said, “Fiji should return to democracy as soon as possible.” However, he said, this time, the election must be fair.
The Interim Government is now guided by the mandate given by President Ratu Josefa Iloilo. According to the Interim Prime Minister, they are now prepared to engage with partners bilaterally, regionally and multilaterally in their efforts to fully implement the mandate given to the Interim Government by the President and to take the country forward. I think it is unlikely that the elections will held within two or three years’ time.
The Eminent Persons Group (EPG) from the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) was in Fiji last week and met with the President, Interim Prime Minister, the ousted Prime Minister and some other groups.Interim Prime Minister Commodore Banimarama described the outcome of the meeting as informative, useful and positive. The EPG’s Terms of Reference included: n To assess the underlying cause and the nature of the overthrow of the Government of Fiji by the Republic of Fiji Military Forces; n To assess the prospects for appropriate resolution of the present situation in Fiji in the short and medium term and obstacles to such resolution; n To identify steps that the parties in Fiji may take to move swiftly and peacefully toward the restoration of democratic government, within the boundaries of Fiji’s constitution and rule of law; and n To consider the role that the forum and its immediate members might most usefully play in assisting Fiji to achieve this outcome.
Commodore Bainimarama said the EPG’s mission was very important for Fiji as it created a pathway to full engagement with the region and the rest of the world. The Commonwealth, the United Nations and the European Union will all be using the outcome of the EPG mission in determining their future relationship with Fiji. Commodore Bainimarama highlighted that the restoration of parliamentary democracy in Fiji would require the holding of a general election. For Fiji’s next general elections to be free and fair, there are several important requirements that must be fulfilled.These include: the holding of a national census; the determination of new constituency boundaries; a new voter registration system as well as a comprehensive program of voter awareness and education on the electoral system and voting rights.
The capacity of the elections office would also need to be significantly enhanced and there also needs to be a more modern system in place that utilizes electronics and information technology for voting and vote-counting. Well, we can rest assured, the Interim Government will be making some changes to the electoral system. Surely it wants to see that a fair election is carried out so there can be a new, democratically elected Government back in office. Some members of the current Interim Government, such as Commodore Bainimarama and Interim Minister of Finance Mahendra Chaudhry, claimed the last general election was rigged and unfair. According to the Commonwealth Observers Group report on the 2006 general elections, on several occasions, Mr Chaudhry claimed that, as he put it on May 10, “ballot papers were being printed in far greater excess than required for many constituencies and that many of these ballot papers remained unaccounted for”. After complaining to the Supervisor of Elections, the Labour Party referred the matter to the police. After investigations involving the Government Printers and the Elections Office, the police decided not to pursue the matter, because of lack of evidence.
The Supervisor of Elections repeatedly told the media that it was usual for election management bodies to print more ballot papers than there are electors, because it is not known where voters will choose to vote when they have a selection of polling stations available, because it is critical that the polling stations should not run out. We now have an apparent case of vote-rigging and evidence provided by international conman Peter Foster is now with the military and will be investigated by the Anti-Corruption Commission. After the 2006 general elections, questions are being asked as to which electoral system would best suit the nation.We currently have the alternative vote to elect members of Parliament from open and communal seats. To be frank, we need a simple voting system such as the first past the post, where the candidate with the most votes wins the elections. This system is easy to understand and was used in seven elections. The present one is very complicated for an average voter to understand. Surely the Interim Government will spend a huge sum of money to carry out the changes it wants done. We cannot force a general election and that is a fact, so we have to bear with the current leadership. But for how long?
The Interim Government should be mindful of the fact that we need to have an early election so that our beloved nation is accepted back into the global family.
We know that our international trading partners have put some sanctions in place because they condemn the illegal removal of a democratically elected Government. We have to have an early election and for that to happen, we urge the Interim Government to speed up its work on our electoral system.
New Zealand has remained open to discussions on Fiji’s pathway back to democracy and could reconsider sanctions once a firm timetable for free elections is in place. We are going to be accepted back into the international fold as soon as a democratically elected government is put in place, but we cannot wait for long

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