Calling for Removal of Supervisor of Elections

OPPOSITION PARTIES’ JOINT STATEMENT ON ELECTIONS SUPERVISOR
AND AMENDMENTS TO THE ELECTORAL DECREE

17 February 2017

The Social Democratic Liberal Party, National Federation Party, Fiji Labour Party, the
Peoples’ Democratic Party and the Fiji United Freedom Party.

In a joint statement issued following a meeting on Thursday 16​
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February, the leaders of the
five Opposition Parties called for the removal of the Supervisor of Elections and the
scrapping  of the elections portfolio assigned to the Attorney General.

“Free and fair elections are not possible in a situation where the ruling Fiji First Party is
exercising extraordinary control over the electoral machinery and the electoral process,” the
leaders said.

Supervisor of Elections

The Leaders said Mohammed Saneem’s initial appointment in 2013 had been questioned as
he did not meet the minimum qualifications required for the position, as advertised.

The previous Electoral Commission has drawn attention to the impropriety of his
appointment in its Annual Report for 2014 (para 3.1) in which it pointed out that Saneem’s
name was submitted by the Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum after he had informed
the Commission “​ that overseas applicants who had applied for the position were either not
suitable or were not available due to the passage of time​ .

“However, the Commissioners expressed some reservations in the manner the position of
Supervisor of Elections had been allowed to protract for such a long period since
applications for the position had been advertised in 2013”​ .

The Commission then suggested to the Attorney General that the position be re-advertised.
This was not done and Saneem was appointed despite the Commission’s reservation.

Hence the Electoral Commissioned appeared to have no choice but to accept the
recommendation of the Attorney General as the Minister for Election for Saneem to be
appointed as Supervisor of Elections.

Subsequent rulings by the Supervisor particularly in relation to the eligibility of political
party candidates nominated for the 2014 election showed his clear bias towards the Fiji First
Party. He made decisions knowing that they were wrong and then defied the rulings of the
Electoral Commission on a mere technicality.

The recent Appeals Court ruling has only confirmed Mr. Saneem’s unsuitability for this
important constitutional office. The Leaders said that it is unprecedented for a Supervisor to
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boldly defy the Electoral Commission.

2017 Amendment to Electoral Decree

The Leaders also objected to the recent amendment to the Electoral Decree which was fast
tracked through Parliament last week, appointing the Supervisor of Elections as secretary to
the Electoral Commission.

The amendments also prescribe powers to the Supervisor to overturn the results of the count
of a ballot box by a Presiding Officer and to do a recount. The amendments also impose
limitations and impediments on the Electoral Commission in the conduct of its
constitutionally mandated work.

“The amendment compromises the Electoral Commission which is the appeals body from the
decisions of the Supervisor and is a subversion of the independence of both the Supervisor
and the Commission which are two separate bodies with separate constitutional functions.

“It was aimed at ensuring the newly appointed Electoral Commission remained subservient to
the recently disgraced Supervisor of Elections,” the Leaders said.

The current situation has the Fiji First General Secretary actually controlling and
commandeering the process and making the rules as we move towards the next general
elections.

The rushed amendment also subverts the parliamentary process and interferes with the work
of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice which is still reviewing the
report of the Multinational Observer Group (MOG) on the 2014 Elections. The Leader’s
maintain that th​ e bill should not have come to the House until the report of the Standing
Committee on the same issue was tabled.

The MOG report includes recommendations for improvement of the electoral processes, laws
and procedures, which many political parties agree with. The Attorney General has cherry
picked and decided to implement only three of the thirty-eight MOG recommendations in the
recent fast-tracked amendment to the Electoral Decree.

Minister for Elections

In calling for the Elections ministerial portfolio to be scrapped, the Leaders said:

“The portfolio has been held by Attorney General Aiyaz Khaiyum since 2008. It is wrong in
principle for the General Secretary of the ruling party to hold the elections portfolio at the
same time as being Attorney General drafting laws and changing the rules for elections in
which he will participate.

“The current situation allows the Fiji First General Secretary to actually control the process
and make the rules as we move towards the next general elections, a serious conflict of
interest that the Prime Minister must remedy to assure the people of Fiji that their right to
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vote in free and fair elections is not being compromised by the Attorney General controlling
the electoral process.

“Free and fair elections require that all political parties operate on the same level playing
field, and have access to information about the upcoming elections at the same time.

“Both the Supervisor of Elections and the Electoral Commission are constitutional offices
and as such, should be independent of the executive arm. Besides, both the Prime Minister
and the Attorney General hold office in their political party and will likely contest the next
elections.”

The Leaders pointed out that in the past there was no ministerial portfolio for elections. For
necessary administrative accountability, the Prime Minister only tabled the Elections Office
submissions for budgetary allocations. ​ The PM’s administrative responsibility ended there.
He did not exercise control over the elections office or advise the Electoral Commission, or
otherwise interfere with its operations.

The Leaders also rejected several provisions of the Electoral and Voter Registration Decrees
promulgated unilaterally by the Bainimarama administration in March 2014 just 6 months
before the elections.

These matters will be pursued and more concrete actions deliberated on by the Party Leaders
in the coming weeks.

Authorised by:

➢ Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) Party Leader Major General (Ret’d) S.L.
Rabuka
➢ Fiji Labour Party (FLP) Leader Mr. Mahendra P Chaudhry
➢ National Federation Party (NFP) Leader Dr. Biman Prasad
➢ Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Party President Ms. Lynda Tabuya
➢ Fiji United Freedom Party (FUFP) Party Leader Mr. Jagath Karunaratne

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