Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Election has to go on

Election has to go on - Maika Bolatiki - Fiji Sun


The commitment by Interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama to returning the nation to parliamentary democracy in 2009 must be applauded.
His critics say he will continue to change his tune on the 2009 election

At the Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting in Vanuatu Bainimarama said: “My aim is to build a better Fiji through the People’s Charter process; for Fiji to then go to an election under a fairer and more representative electoral system as soon as practicable in 2009.”

Some view this as a shift from the March 2009 election as earlier promised.

Whether the election will happen in March next year is a political decision, says Prime Minister’s Office permanent secretary Parmesh Chand.

Mr Chand was responding to comments made by Bainimarama in Vanuatu.

Cdre Bainimarama had earlier committed to Pacific leaders in Tonga in a meeting last year that election would be conducted in March 2009.

Mr Chand said on national television the interim administration was working towards a timeline to the election that deadline remained for March next year.

He however said although the administration had a timeline in place, there was no certainty that elections would happen in March.

All those working under PM Bainimarama are fully aware of the March 2009 election commitment.

It is their job to see that this commitment is achieved

At the Forum Minister for Foreign Affairs meeting in Auckland on 27th March Interim Foreign Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikau said “With regards to demonstrable and the gradual confident progress on Fiji’s return to parliamentary democracy, the Interim Government has so far

q completed the national census last year; (ahead of schedule);

q appointed members of the Electoral Commission;

q appointed a Deputy Supervisor of Elections and an adequate number of staff of the office of the supervisor of Elections;

q appointed members of the Boundaries Commission;

q allocated funds in 2008 National Budget for preparatory work on the 2009

He also said the government was working closely with the Pacific Islands Forum/Fiji Joint Working Group/Elections Donor Coordinating Committee in identifying and securing technical and financial resources from donor sources to assist Fiji’s return to parliamentary democracy

Now that New Zealand lawyer Felicity Heffernan has been appointed Fiji’s new Supervisor of Elections work on speeding up the election process should be put in place.

The Constitutional Offices Commission has said Ms Heffernan has accepted the job and will oversee the process of the promised elections, set down for March next year.

It’s already about nine months to go till the election, so there is still a lot of work to be done by Ms Heffernan.

Progress is being assessed against benchmarks developed by a team of international electoral experts for the Forum/Fiji Joint Working Group, which meets regularly in Suva to monitor developments and is open to all Forum member countries.

It is a known fact that Fiji has been encouraged by the Forum’s Ministers for Foreign Affairs to build on this work by accelerating preparations.

Progress has been slower, and the budgetary allocation remains substantially less, than the independent experts recommended.

Fiji has yet to identify clearly what external assistance it requires from the many donors willing to provide support.

According to New Zealand’s Minster for Foreign Affairs Winston Peters there is still time to complete thorough electoral preparations before the March 2009 target date.

However he says the main burden falls on Fiji.

We that even though NZ is a great critic of PM Bainimarama’s government it has recently sent an electoral expert to Suva to assist Fiji and the donor community assess gaps in resources for election preparations and the donor assistance required.

NZ has also made a financial contribution to a UN civic education programme, and is considering supplying software for drawing electoral boundaries.

“At times Commodore Bainimarama appears to be saying that elections will only take place if those who stand as candidates accept the results of his “People’s Charter” initiative, which seeks radically to re-shape Fiji’s political, economic and social structures.

“Foreign governments invited to support this process, including ours, have declined, citing legal, constitutional and practical reservations,” Mr Peters told ABC News.

It is a fact that the commitment to hold an election in 2009 is there.

It is time for those responsible to speed up election planning.

In an interview with Radio Australia News on 28th May interim Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said the commitment to March 2009 was only made to the European Union last year as part of an agreement to ensure sugar subsidies, and there is flexibility.

“Nobody seems to be reading the line after March 2009, he said.

“What I’m saying is that if you look at those odd 15 or 16 commitments that we did give, it does state that the proper logistics have to be in place.”

The agreed commitment on - Respect for Democratic Principles is as follows:

Commitment No. 1

q That the free and fair parliamentary elections take place within 24 months from 1 March 2007 subject to the findings of the assessment to be carried out by the independent auditors appointed by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. The processes leading to and the holding of the elections shall be jointly monitored, adapted and revised as necessary on the basis of mutually agreed benchmarks. This implies in particular:

q That by 30 June 2007 the Interim Government will adopt a schedule setting out dates for the completion of the various steps to be taken in preparation for the new Parliamentary Elections;

q That the schedule specifies the timing of census, redrafting of boundaries and electoral reform;

q That determination of boundaries and electoral reform shall be carried out in accordance with the Constitution;

q That measures will be taken to ensure the functioning of the Elections Office including the appointment of a Supervisor of Elections by 30 September 2007 in accordance with the Constitution;

q That the appointment of the Vice President shall be made in accordance with the Constitution.

Commitment No. 2

q That the Interim Government, when adopting major legislative, fiscal and other policy initiatives and changes, shall take into account consultations with civil society and all other relevant stakeholders.

q The executive summary of the Report of the Forum’s Independent Assessment of the Electoral Process in Fiji in are as follows

q Before Fiji’s next parliamentary elections, there should be a redistribution of constituency boundaries following the 2007 census, an update of the registers of voters, and voter education and information programmes.

q 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 has 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.

q There should be minimal changes to current 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.

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

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

q 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

q International technical assistance should be provided for the boundary redistribution, voter registration update, voter education and information programmes and to the Electoral Commission and the Election Office.

From the EU commitment we can see that the election promised by the interim government is to be held in March 2009. The Forum’s 3-member team that made an independent assessment on the electoral process had made recommendations for the interim government to follow.

Local Australian based academic Dr Brij Lal has urged the government to honour its March 2009 election commitment.

He said the more the interim regime continued on this path of confrontation, the harder it would be for the international community to engage with the regime.

The Australian National University (ANU) lecturer said the government’s non commitment to holding an election in March 2009 would affect the ordinary hard working men and women and not members and well-heeled supporters of the interim regime.

“I fear that Fiji is slowly descending into a quasi-dictatorship. There are too many hangers-on, too many who have benefited from the largesse of the interim regime, in both public and private life, who does not want to let go of power,” Dr Lal said.

These people, he said are riding a gravy train from which they do not wish to disembark.

The commitment by the interim government to see the Charter put in place before the March 2009 election needs to be clarified.

This commitment was not mentioned at the EU meeting.

The EU wants the March 2009 election held in accordance with the 1997 Constitution.

What we must appreciate is that the commitment to hold election in 2009 is there.

It is the duty of all those in the government to see that this commitment is honoured.

They must now speed up the election planning.

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