Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Election must be constitutional

Election must be constitutional
http://www.sun.com.fj/ - 6/9/2008 by Maika Bolatiki
The call by the National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF) for the Electoral Act to be amended so that communal voting is abolished is disastrous.
Ousted Opposition Leader Mick Beddoes reminded the interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama-led interim government there is no short cut in amending the Electoral Act.

“There is no short cut in amending the Electoral Act as it should be put in a form of a motion in parliament, followed by a parliamentary debate before it is finally passed,” Mr Beddoes said. He also reminded PM Bainimarama to heed his promise of holding the March 2009 election under the 1997 Constitution.
The Soqosoqo Duavata Ni Lewenivanua party in its annual general meeting concluded with 16 resolutions. The first one reads: “We view with great concern the large amount of resources and financial commitments totaling some 2.4 million dollars that the Interim Administration has set aside for the National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF), in its effort to draw up a Charter which is supposed to bind future Governments on future policies and directions for Fiji.
“The NCBBF in our view, has no authority under the Constitution to undertake such work, and similarly its Charter has no authority to bind future Governments elected by the people with their mandate to govern in accordance with Fiji Constitution.
“We urge that in the light of its illegality, its overwhelming rejection by the majority of the people of Fiji, and its expensive operation including its technical support unit and consultants, that the Council be immediately dismantled and its resources be re-directed to other pressing priorities.”
Mr Beddoes said it was grossly 'irresponsible' of Father David Arms and his colleagues to be suggesting changes to the electoral system that could not be correctly implemented without an elected parliament, and by insisting it to be done prior to the election. He said the call by the Prime Minister for the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution in order to include the changes was treasonous and insightful.
We all know PM Bainimarama's way forward is the People's Charter. The government should be reminded of Dr Brij Lal's warning about the charter.
He said: “The whole charter process is flawed and it will fail. It does not have any moral or political legitimacy. It is not derived from the freely expressed will of the people. It is the brainchild of a few well-heeled retired expatriates who think designing the future of a country is a like a consultancy. The charter cannot be binding on future governments. The charter is not neutral. The only true charter Fiji has is the constitution. It is not a flawless document. It can be changed or amended following proper procedures laid down in the constitution. With significant segments of the community opposing the charter initiative, an expensive failure looks like the only outcome. The principles intended for the charter may be noble, but the process is deeply flawed.”
While we're still in the dark about the so called People's Charter, confirmation had been given from the Prime Minister's office that communal voting would be abolished and all the 71 parliamentary seats would be contested under the common roll. Mr Beddoes had warned the government of the day they would be held responsible for their treasonous act when a democratically elected government was in power. We are also in the dark on how the charter will be put in place. We know PM Bainimarama had said the charter would be referred to a referendum for the consent of the people or else it would be promulgated by the President.
Commenting on this option Dr Lal said: “Decreeing the charter into existence is an option for the Interim Administration, but it will have to acquire legality at some point. We simply cannot ignore this fact. The charter aims to put the management of the affairs of the country on an auto-pilot, with elected governments only tinkering at the edges of public policies. It seeks to reduce the play of politics in the governance of the country.
It says: “People do not know what is good for them. We bureaucrats what is good the people. We will do their thinking for them. It sounds like the revenge of the nerds to me. Greater respect should be shown to the good sense of our people. We should not treat like simpletons.” The government should be guided by the report of the Independent Assessment of the Electoral Process in Fiji prepared by the Forum appointed Dr Paul Harris (New Zealand, co-leader), Barrie Sweetman (Fiji, co-leader), Dr Kesaia Seniloli (Fiji), and Bruce Hatch (Canada).
The three member team made an independent assessment on the minimum reasonable time required to prepare for and conduct the next parliamentary elections in Fiji, under conditions that would ensure such elections were free, fair and credible.
In their final report presented to the Forum and later to the government the team recommended, 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. The report from a technical point of view, a parliamentary election in Fiji could be held in the first quarter of 2009.
They also recommended 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.
Now it is a known fact the interim government wants to makes changes to the electoral act in its own way. Mr Beddoes said the way out of this crisis is to refer this matter to an independent political forum. “Regardless of how one feels about current situation, there is no substitute for the positive gains to be achieved from a properly constituted and inclusive 'political dialogue' process which can discuss and agree to an arrangement covering all of the current obstacles and issues, including the electoral reforms, the charter outcomes and any other issues that form part of the problems associated with Dec 5 2006 coups.”
Through this process, he says, agreements can be reached and signed, that will call for necessary action, either before the proposed 2009 elections, or after, so that all those matters that require safe passage through parliament to ensure legal compliance, can be established and agreed to now, so that it can be adopted by the new parliament soon after it is elected.
The international community wants the March 2009 election held under the 1997 Constitution and the Fiji Electoral Act. It is a fact the government of the day cannot bulldoze the changes it wants because the constitution is still in place. The only way forward for the changes it wants to make is through a political forum.
I must admit Fiji would lose out a lot if the election is not constitutional.
Fiji's commitment to the European Union is as follows:
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.
Government should be reminded the fact that the nation stands to lose more than $219million in development cooperation if it fails to honour its commitments to the European Union. Surely there still time for political dialogue and government must not do things its own way in regard to the March 2009 election. Our road to economic recovery is through a constitutional election. An unconstitutional election will only bring evil to the nation.

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