Thursday, March 15, 2007

Go to the Polls Now

Let us have an early election

We need to go to the polls quickly so that we can be accepted back into the global family.We cannot wait for 2010 or longer.International pressure is mounting for Fiji to quickly return to democratic rule.The question is: Will the Interim Prime Minister bow to this pressure?Commonwealth secretary general Don McKinnon last week called on the international community to continue putting pressure on the Interim Government to return Fiji to democratic rule.The United States of America has urged the Interim Government to take rapid and decisive steps to return Fiji to democratic rule and to adhere to the rule of law. Fiji will benefit from a quick return to democratic rule.The USA is willing to ease some of its policy restrictions put in place since December 5.Already the USA has contacted its allies from East Asia and Europe in regard to the situation in Fiji and they all support a quick return to democratic rule.Mr McKinnon says there are no signs Fiji will soon return to parliamentary democracy.In fact, Interim Minister for Justice Aiyaz SayedKhaiyum said there was a possibility the next elections would not take place in 2010.The reason given is that the roadmap gives only six months for the Constitutional Boundaries Commission to draw up the boundaries. But this can only be done after the census is taken and will take longer than six months.The Interim Government has already set a road map for the return to parliamentary democracy.Let us revisit that road map.
The Boundaries Commission will be asked to draw up new open seat constituency boundaries and to ensure that the number of voters is, as far as reasonably practicable, the same. This will entail the holding of a population census in 2007 to ensure that the commission works with the correct figures, in a geographical location, before determining the constituencies and their boundaries.The Bureau of Statistics will take 12-15 months to complete a census report before the commission can gainfully use it. This process will take place in 2007and 2008.The Boundaries Commission will need six months to prepare the new constituency boundaries to be used in the next election.The preparation of the new boundaries is likely to be completed in 2009.The Elections Office will need up to 12 months to prepare for a general election. The preparatory work will be done between 2008 and 2009.There will also need to be a new system of polling, voting, vote counting and declaration of results, which would take 9-12 months to complete.Under the road map, the return to parliamentary democracy for Fiji may become possible after three years. Within that timeframe, all the required tasks to be performed by the Interim Government would have been successfully completed, as part of the requirements of the Presidential mandate. After three years, the country’s economy and government finance would have recovered fully, to be able to fund and sustain the required cost of a general election in Fiji. The road map will be subject to a mid-term review in late 2009. However, taking into account Mr Khaiyum’s announcement, the election may be later than 2010. Fiji has already been condemned worldwide because of the illegal removal of a democratically elected government by the militarySurely we will expect more sanctions because of the new the timeframe.Fiji is a small country and we depend mainly on donor agencies and imports.We have not really felt the impact of the coup because there are no trade sanctions.Let us pray that this state of affairs will continue.There can be trade sanctions and other bans put in place against Fiji if the Government does not adhere to international pressure.
Surely the census cannot be an excuse used especially when a general election in a democratic country like Fiji can happen at any time, like a government losing to a vote of no confidence in parliament.We know the Interim Government is working in accordance to a mandate issued by President Ratu Josefa Iloilo.But the Government cannot function well without the support its international allies.They are willing to help Fiji to return to democratic rule but the Interim Government needs to take the first step.The Interim Government wants the next general election to be free and fair.The Interim Prime Minister said: “For Fiji’s next general elections to be free and fair there are several important requirements that must be fulfilled, including the holding of a national census, determination of new constituency boundaries, new voter registration system as well as a comprehensive programme of voter awareness and education on the electoral system and voting rights.”Does this mean the 2006 general election was not free and fair?The international observers invited to observe the 2006 general election agreed that the election was fair and free.The Pacific Forum’s Eminent Persons Group (EPG) in its report wants the country to return to the polls in 18 to 24 months’ time.Fiji is in isolation because of the undemocratic nature of its government.It had been suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth.We all want Fiji to be back in the Commonwealth and the global fold generally but I must admit this is very unlikely in the near future.We should be glad that the Commonwealth wants to help Fiji to quickly return to democratic rule.However, here in Fiji the Interim Government is taking its own time.Interim Prime Minister Commodore Bainimarama said the global family must understand the situation in Fiji.We are glad of the assurance from the Interim Prime Minister of the country returning to democratic rule.However, it is the timing that needs to be looked at.If the 2000 Interim Administration can return the country to democratic rule in less than one year, why can’t this Interim Government?No one can rule forever and in a democratic country, the people decide on the leadership.It is a fact that they had no say in the recent change of leadership.It is a fact that we are slowly walking the road to democracy.It is slow because we are following the Interim Government’s pace.With the Interim Government’s strong stance, there is no short cut to our return to democratic rule. In the final analysis, we have to bear with them even if we move forward at a snail’s pace.

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