2 Dec 2013

The Fiji regime scotches claims it's stalling on key election preparations

5:51 pm on 2 December 2013

The Fiji regime says everything is on track for elections by the end of September next year and an independent Electoral Commission will be in place in a matter of weeks. But its critics say the Bainimarama government is stalling on crucial elections' machinery and jeapardising the chance of free and fair polls.

Sally Round reports.

Commonwealth Heads of Government have urged Fiji to rapidly set up an independent electoral commission to oversee the elections due by the end of September next year. The leader of the Fiji Labour Party and a former Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, says he's never seen Fiji so ill-prepared for an election.

"MAHENDRA CHAUDHRY: We don't have an Electoral Commission. We don't have a supervisor of elections. So much more could be done. We don't even have electoral legislation in place at the moment. So all this lack of preparation points to doubts in the minds of the people whether we are going to have elections as scheduled for September next year."

The Sodelpa Party's Pio Tabaiwalu says with a whole new voting system ahead, time is particularly short. He feels the regime is stalling because Commodore Frank Bainimarama wants to leave his run for election as late as possible. The regime leader announced earlier this year he would stand for election and probably win.

PIO TABAIWALU: I mean it's to their advantage to be in government right up to the eve of the election so that they can of course utilise government machinery, government funds, government media, government PR, public relations for their political aims. And I think they should declare early, form a party and get out of government.

But the Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says overseas electoral experts have submitted their reports, applications have closed for the position of Supervisor of Elections and the Electoral Commission will be announced in a matter of weeks. He has also scotched claims delaying tactics are being used to retain control in the run up to the polls.

AIYAZ SAYED-KHAIYUM: We want to have transparent credible elections which obviously requires making sure all the ducks are lined up, all the T's are crossed and I's are dotted which means perhaps spending a bit more time in respect of the nuts and bolts of running the elections office.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum says potential candidates have been identified but the government is still on the lookout for good, credible and independent people for the seven member Electoral Commission.

AIYAZ SAYED-KHAIYUM: We've approached a few people and some were initially hesitant to join up because of travel bans but we do have letters from the Australian and New Zealand governments confirming that travel bans won't apply to people who are appointed as commissioners. Some people are still hesitant and do not necessarily want to take that risk.

Paul Buchanan of the political risk consultancy 36th Parallel Assessments says the clock starts ticking if the regime can't get key machinery like the Commission up and running by the end of January. But he says a six-month run-up to the polls is enough for them to be seen as legitimate, as long as there is good faith on the part of the regime and its opposition. Dr Buchanan suggests a couple more reasons why a commission has not been set up before now.

PAUL BUCHANAN: There are many who are reluctant to be part of what they consider to be a rubber stamping exercise that will result in the election of Commodore Bainimarama as the first supposedly democratic civilian president on the other hand the regime may be delaying in order to find people who will see the correctness of their views if you will.

The Attorney General says none of the international experts who've been working on electoral arrangements have expressed any concern about the time frame. But the Labour and Sodelpa parties want to see international pressure to see things speeded up and a hands-off approach as elections draw near.