Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Interim PM must walk the talk

ROBERT MATAU
Saturday, October 20, 2007

INTERIM Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama's announcement to the Pacific Islands Leaders Forum that he will hold elections in 2009 was like lighting a field of dry grass with a matchstick.

The Fiji Labour Party and military sympathisers were saying the country should not be bullied into quick elections while the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua party is ready to rumble as soon as possible.

For no sooner was he out of the Forum than Commodore Bainimarama was again saying they would not accept the likes of Qarase's 'racist-like policies' and that the People's Charter was going to be the way forward.

Weeks before the Forum he told the United Nations he wanted a one-man one-vote system.

A review of the Constitution to accommodate these issues can only be done by an elected government under the 1997 Constitution, legal experts say.

But coming back to the elections the State's top legal eagle, interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said several of the requirements for a national election in 2009 had already been carried out or were in the process of being so.

"We have already put in place many of the machinery and processes that will lead to the holding of elections," he said.

"Obviously some of these matters have to be nutted out into finer details."

The boundaries commission, he said, would reconfigure boundaries with available raw data.

But Labour insisted Australia and New Zealand should not be allowed to bully Fiji into holding the next election, claiming they were victims of massive vote buying, vote rigging and political interference.

"It will be a mockery of the right of the people of Fiji to freely elect a government of their choice," its president, Jokapeci Koroi said.

The National Federation Party, which has failed to win a seat in the past two general elections, said the journey towards the next election should start now and that unless they stuck to their promise to the Eminent Persons Group and the European Union the election promise would remain hollow.

SDL spokesman Peceli Kinivuwai said under the systems and machinery an election could be held as early as October 2008.

However, he said if the interim Government wanted to implement the People's Charter and the one-man one-vote policy it would never be achieved within the 2009 deadline and that there was simply no provision in the Constitution to implement the two policies.

"It is too late we cannot just pluck it out from thin air and shove it down the people's throats the only way under the Constitution to test political ideologies or have a referendum would be through a democratic vote under the Constitution," he said.

"With 98 submissions in for the charter and without 87 per cent of the voters under the SDL and 214,000 registered Methodists this charter is not going to get majority support."

Former Supervisor of Elections, sacked by the regime amid FLP claims of voter-buying, Semesa Karavaki said the more important aspect of such an exercise being ready in time would need the input of the Boundaries Commission to draw up the boundaries.

"As far as the work being done by the commission is concerned they should have completed by mid-2008," he said.

But Mr Karavaki said the election deadline would only be realistic if they stuck to the Constitution as it was too late to implement a People's Charter and a one-man one-vote system under the Constitution.

And he emphasised that the work of the boundaries commission was not easy.

"The Constitution states that each open constituency must have equal voter distribution. All communal seats must follow the provincial boundaries," he said. "The political parties that complained said the distribution of voters was not equal but our commissioners worked within the Constitution, which clearly spells out their work."

He referred us to Barrie Sweetman, the former Boundaries Commission chairman who was overseas watching the Rugby World Cup in France.

However, a report he and Dr Kesaia Seniloli and two experts from New Zealand and Canada helped compile found the following:

Before the next election, there should be a redistribution of constituency boundaries following the 2007 Census, an update of the registers of voters, and voter education and information programs;

From a technical point of view, a parliamentary election in Fiji could be held in the first quarter of 2009. However, if the Bureau of Statistics had additional resources to allow it to bring forward the release of provisional and final population figures from the census, the election could be held in November 2008;

There should be minimal changes to electoral provisions and procedures before the next election. Changes to election provisions should be confined to the reinstatement of the voter's clear intention as the overriding consideration in determining the validity of a vote, to prohibit the use of State resources for election campaign activities, and to provide for offences concerning disclosure of donations;

The Electoral Commission should issue a regulation establishing an interim system of disclosure of significant donations made to registered parties and to election candidates;

Remaining appointments to the Constituency Boundaries Commission, the Electoral Commission and the Supervisor of Elections should be made without delay;

It is vital that there is continuity in the staffing of the Elections Office, for which the Interim Government of Fiji should make continuing budgetary provision without delay;

The report suggests help from overseas, which Australia and New Zealand have always been willing to provide.

However, from Mr Karavaki's point of view as a Supervisor of Elections, the most important role will be to put in place a voter registration roll and at the same time create voter awareness about how to vote and all details of the exercise.

Another observation Mr Karavaki made was that the Elections Office was now idle, with most of its staff re-deployed.

He said if Commodore Bainimarama was honest about the commitment, the office should start to be gathering momentum now.

"It is worrying that the office is idle as this is not the sign of the commitment he made to the Forum," he said. And on getting a Supervisor from overseas, Mr Karavaki said no person with the right legal background would want to come to Fiji as a political appointee under pressure to perform this duty. "Then again Australian supervisors do not need legal backgrounds to conduct their elections so whether a person with a legal background could come in and conduct our elections under the circumstances as a political appointee would not be desirable," he said.

He said if something went wrong, the supervisor would be the easiest target.

He said it was time for Commodore Bainimarama to stick by his word as that would be the measure of the man and how he would fare on the international scene.

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