Fiji's elections body under scrutiny after court decision
Fiji's Elections Commission's powers weakened by court decision.
The independence of Fiji's Supervisor of Elections has come under scrutiny in the wake of a court decision which effectively finalised the list of candidates for the upcoming election.
The Electoral Commission reviewed the eligibility of candidates, but the supervisor of elections ruled the directives out of time, and the call was upheld by the court.
The decision has prompted questions over the Commission's powers ahead of next month's election.
Alex Perrottet reports.
The Executive Director of the Fiji Citizens Constitutional Forum says the Chairman of the Electoral Commission had told a public meeting this year it would not be beholden to the supervisor of elections. Reverend Akuila Yabaki, says Chen Bunn Young said Mr Saneem was under his authority.
AKUILA YABAKI: Therefore I found it rather strange that the supervisor of election, Mohammed Saneem, took the liberty not to abide, and not to work with the Electoral Commission and by-pass the Electoral Commission.
The decision now means a Fiji Labour Party candidate, Steven Singh is out, and the FijiFirst candidate Praveen Bala Kuma, is on the finalised list of candidates. The court said the decree's provision of three days' to respond to the published candidates list was strictly 72 hours, and time was up at 4pm. But the General Secretary of the People's Democratic Party, Aman Ravindra-Singh, says the Commission has the power to direct the supervisor of elections, and shouldn't be hindered by such a narrow interpretation of the decree.
AMAN RAVINDRA-SINGH: So the law is very clear as to what and how things should have been done. However we are shocked at how the supervisor of elections has intervened and in fact caused a ripple effect, which for us in PDP, screams of unfairness."
Aman Ravindra-Singh also says Mohammed Saneem has compromised the independence of his position by admitting that he took advice from the office of the Solicitor-General.
AMAN RAVINDRA-SINGH: So once again the office of the supervisor of elections has compromised itself because the supervisor has mentioned clearly that he acted on the advice given by the solicitor general and he had sought advice on two occasions before he made the decision.
The Fiji Labour Party lawyer, Anand Singh, says Steven Singh's constitutional rights have been infringed and legal action is an option.
ANAND SINGH: It is quite a peculiar set of circumstances here right now and it is quite extraordinary. So we will end up in court and which would mean if we are successful in whatever we are asking for this may delay the whole election process.
But Akuila Yabaki says it's crucial that the election takes place on September the 17th. A senior lecturer in Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland, Dr Steven Ratuva, says there needs to be agreement on parts of the decree that are open to multiple interpretations.
STEVEN RATUVA: Maybe one of the lessons they can learn from here is then to begin to go through the various provisions in the Electoral Decree until the election and see where the ambiguities, where the grey areas, so that they can come to terms with them and have a common interpretation, because the last thing we want is a series of court cases down the line.
The Electoral Commission declined requests for an interview.
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