Changes to electoral act passed despite objections

The Fijian Parliament this week passed Bill 49, making amendments to the Electoral Act 2014 despite stiff objections from Opposition parties.

Opposition MPs expressed concern about how the powers granted to the Supervisor of Elections would be used, particularly the changes to section 6 of the Act by way of clause 3 that gives his office the right to acquire information in carrying out his work stipulated under the Act.

Opposition leader Ratu Naiqama Lalabalabu said such provisions are a “gross overreach and intrusion” and a means to intimidate candidates, donors, and political parties to participate in the electoral process. SODELPA leader Viliame Gavoka and Inosi Kuridrani questioned the timing of the changes, with the latter saying it was done out of the Fijian Government’s fear that they would lose the election. Mr Gavoka echoed the sentiments shared by NFP MP’ Lenora Qereqeretabua and Pio Tikoduadua that the Bill should be taken through the proper process of allowing the people to have their say on it.

Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum however fired back saying the provisions are already contained in other existing laws including the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding and Disclosures) Act 2013 thus the powers granted to the Supervisor of Elections (SOE) via the changes are no different from that granted to persons concerned via those other legislation. He said under the Political Parties Act 2013, the SOE Mohammed Saneem has the same powers provided to him in section 26 of the Act.

In his right of reply, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum questioned the basis and timing of the opposition’s objection to the changes. He said it had been in numerous other legislations for some time including the Political Parties Act for nine years. Mr Sayed-Khaiyum was of the view that the opposition objected to the bill for political reasons and that they only did so because they knew that they would lose the 2022 election and were looking for an excuse to justify their performance.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum added that the powers that were being provided to the SoE were confined only to the duties that he had been entrusted with via the Act.

To do otherwise gives persons or entities affected the right to challenge the SoE.

People’s Alliance Party leader Mr Sitiveni Rabuka weighed in on the issue, voicing his objection to the amendment to section 6.

Condemning the way the amendment was tabled under Standing Order 51, he said that there was strong merit in the concerns raised by the Opposition, including the Fiji Law Society whose position was fully supported by the Law Council of Australia on the enlargement of the powers of the SoE.

Mr Rabuka said that the fact that the amendment copies similar provisions in the Political Parties Act is no justification.

“If anything, it has made the public aware of the existence of such provisions in other legislations and the need for careful monitoring of their application.”

The bill was passed along party lines.

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