4 Dec 2013

Elections on track says Fiji regime

6:03 pm on 4 December 2013

Fiji's Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, says the body tasked with overseeing Fiji's elections will be set up by the end of the month.

He says the country is on track for elections by the end of September next year and has dismissed claims the Bainimarama government is stalling.

Applications for the job of supervisor of elections are now with the solicitor general and most of the overseas electoral experts have given their recommendations.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum told Sally Round the next few weeks will focus on the structure of the elections office and the appointment of commissioners to the body which will direct it, the Electoral Commission.

AIYAZ SAYED-KHAIYUM: We've approached a few people, and some were initially hesitant to join up because of travel bans posed by Australia and New Zealand. 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. So we do have the letter and we have that assurance from them. Of course, given the past six-year history of travel bans applied rather widely some people are still hesitant and don't want to take that risk. But we're still looking at getting some good, credible people on board. We've identified some people and we'd like to appoint all seven of them at once, or at least recommend the names of the constitution office submission.

SALLY ROUND: So do you have any idea of a time frame for that?

ASK: Well, we'd like it done yesterday, of course, but we hope to do it at least in the next few weeks.

SR: Now, the election date, are you still looking at December 2014. Is there a date more refined than that?

ASK: No. The elections, the constitution says, cannot be held any later than 30 September 2014. It also says in the constitution that the date of the election must be announced at least 60 days before the actual holding of the elections. So you most definitely, at the very latest, would have the election date at least two months before the actual elections are held.

SR: There have been concerns that the Bainimarama government are leaving things too late for a credible election next year, that the government is stalling because it's in its interests to leave things as late as possible. What's your reaction to those concerns?

ASK: Well, that's really quite a stupid thing to say, frankly, on your part, to say that there's some kind of delay tactics. The prime minister has said right from the beginning, and so have all the other arms of the Bainimarama government. We want to have transparent and credible elections, which obviously requires making sure that all the ducks are lined up, all the T's are crossed and the I's are dotted, which means perhaps spending a bit more time in respect to the nuts and bolts of running an elections office. And none of the experts have actually said to us that they're concerned about time frames. We'd rather have their opinion than to listen to the people that you are perhaps talking to. Indeed, many of the people who are making these sorts of criticisms are turning a blind eye to any of the anomalies that existed in the 2006 elections. The actual commissioners, of course, they need to be credible people, they need to be independent people, they need to be able to bring a particular skill set to the commission itself, and not simply appointing people for the sake of appointing them. So we believe that we still are very much on track. And indeed in any case, as required by the constitution, the election date will be announced two months before the elections are actually held. So it's not like anybody will be able to pull a fast one, so to speak, in terms of having an election date.