Thursday, May 15, 2008

Timely election reminder

AMEETA NARAYAN
Wednesday, May 14, 2008

THE Commonwealth has called on the interim Government to appoint an appropriate election supervisor and go to the polls before the March 2009 deadline.

This was revealed when the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) had its 29th meeting at Marlborough House, London on Monday where it expressed grave concern at slips in the election preparation.

"It noted the need to appoint an appropriate Supervisor of Elections soon and called on the interim Government to expedite preparations for the election under constitutional arrangements," the Commonwealth secretariat website said.

Former Opposition Leader Mick Beddoes said he was disappointed that things were not sufficiently well advanced to have warranted Fiji's possible re-entry into the Commonwealth.

He said it would be a stepping stone from which to launch Fiji back to democratic rule.

During the meeting, CMAG received an update on the secretariat's engagement with Fiji and developments in the country since it was last discussed by the group on September 29, 2007.

Mr Beddoes said he was hopeful the interim regime would see the need to accelerate its planning to ensure Fiji holds the election on or close enough to the promised date given to the forum and international community by interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.

In reply to CMAG's report, Commodore Bainimarama said the group failed to recognise the reality in Fiji and the progress the interim Government had made in creating an environment for dialogue, consensus building and taking the country forward.

In a Ministry of Information statement, he said Fiji was committed to regional processes including the Fiji/Forum joint working group which was regularly meeting to discuss the progress Fiji had made pertaining to the roadmap for returning to parliamentary democracy. Fiji gave a detailed account of the milestones achieved in this regard at the Forum Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting in Auckland.

Commodore Bainimarama said the electoral-related bodies were independently pursuing their preparatory work base.

"The Constitutional Offices Commission has been working tirelessly to complete necessary processes to recruit a suitable elections supervisor."

He asked the international community to understand the difficulties Fiji faced in convening an election under the electoral provisions.

"The provisions are not only warped and unfair, they have been to some extent, responsible for the ongoing disenchantment and political instability which Fiji has faced since gaining independence in 1970.

"Holding an election under the present electoral provisions of the Constitution will not help us bring about genuine and sustainable democracy in Fiji.

"That is why there is a strong push to get the electoral reforms implemented with the provision that any changes should be considered by stakeholders including all political parties and that they are within the provisions of the Constitution and the laws of the land," he said.

CMAG was concerned at reports which indicated the independence of the judiciary and freedom of the media were being compromised, including the deportation of media personnel in contravention of court orders.

It also expressed concern at reports of continued human rights abuses. In reply, Commodore Bainimarama said it was unfair for the international community to take such reports at face value.

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