The ruling FijiFirst party has written to the Supervisor of Elections alleging breach of electoral laws including vote-buying tactics by certain aspiring Fiji 2022 election candidates, eight of whom are provisional candidates of The People’s Alliance (TPA) party including its leader and former Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka.
Submitted to the FEO yesterday, the complaint was outlined in two separate documents, one a 19-pager write-up that listed their concerns spread over nine subheadings, and the other, 71 pages long, featuring newspaper and social media clippings showing incidents of the alleged breaches.
Implicated as well were two of TPA’s three deputy leaders in Lynda Tabuya and Daniel Lobendahn, provisional candidates Sajal Narayan, Liliana Warid, Cecil Browne, Filimoni Vosarogo, Keni Dakuidreketi, and Ajay Bhai Amrit all of whom were copied in the documents. Others who were mentioned in the complaint were SODELPA and one of its provisional candidates Faith Grace, as well as the Fiji Sun newspaper.
In a presser held at the FijiFirst office in Suva yesterday afternoon, FijiFirst General Secretary Mr Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said their concerns stem from the need to ensure a level playing field for all political parties for a free and fair electoral process, and one in which the voting public was protected and could make informed choices when casting their vote.
“In order to achieve a free and fair election, and ultimately protect its integrity, it is imperative that all political parties and all stakeholders are compliant with all laws surrounding elections, whether these are for political donations, fundraising activities, political promises, and financial commitments or publication of any campaign material and political promises,” he said.
“FijiFirst believes that election campaigns should open genuine public debate on policies, and this can only be made possible by voters receiving full information from political parties in respect of their election promises and financial commitments, as well as timely compliance by political parties of all campaign rules as laid out in the Electoral Act and Political Parties Act.”
In their letter to the SoE undersigned by Mr Sayed-Khaiyum, FijiFirst mentioned and enclosed newspaper clippings and Facebook postings and photos published between mid-May and mid-July this year by certain TPA provisional candidates including Narayan and Tabuya, some of which also showed or made mention of other TPA candidates either making certain promises including job offers or aiding various communities including youth groups with sports equipment, solar power generators, etc, that it alleged pander to bribery, undue influence and vote buying, and thus breached sections 116(3) h, 140 and 141 of the Electoral Act.
“There is no doubt that TPA has handed out the sports equipment, wheelchairs, walking sticks, solar power generators, ration packs, school packs, and food packs for the purposes of gaining or influencing votes. In the Narayan posts,TPA logos, banners and hashtags are present. TPA cannot disassociate itself from Narayan and his activities as it has done with other members in the past.
“TPA Provisional Candidates, members and officeholders have openly flaunted their disregard and indeed disrespect for the electoral laws by engaging in vote buying, not once, not twice, but on multiple occasions. No party or member of any party can be donating any item or providing any service free of charge, at a preferential price, or promise to provide any monetary relief, gifts, material goods or services of any value, during the campaign period. At times TPA has done this under the guise of performing community service and other times, it has blatantly flaunted the law. We are of the view that TPA must be severely dealt with and bear the full brunt of the law.”
In their letter, the FijiFirst called on the Fijian Elections Office to deal with the matter “decisively and expeditiously as it has a bearing on the credibility of the entire electoral process.”
“The matter is so egregious that it will undermine our nation’s democracy and which will need to be brought to the attention of the Multinational Observer Group. Accordingly, we believe it is in the interest of the Fijian Elections Office and the Electoral Commission to ensure their constitutional duties and obligations are adhered to and fulfilled.”
The FijiFirst also lodged complaints in relation to TPA merchandise TPA Bula Shirts that it submitted does not carry an authorisation label as required for all campaign materials under section 112 of the Electoral Act.
“A concerned Fijian brought to our attention TPA Bula Shirts which are for sale at the TPA Offices. These Bula Shirts are sold for $50.00 each and do not have any authorisation details in compliance with Section 112 of the Electoral Act.
“It is evident that TPA is selling party merchandise and campaign material without any regard to the requirements under the Electoral Act. Further, the receipt provided by TPA for the purchase of the Bula Shirts is also not compliant with the requirements of the electoral laws. The purchaser was not issued with an official party receipt specifying that the purchase is indeed from TPA for its merchandise, and the purchaser was also not asked to provide any source of identification or details to confirm his or her address.”
FijiFirst also queried about donations received by TPA, as well as its Rock the Vote Fiji initiative alleging that it has been used by the party to exploit young voters.
It also called on the TPA to inform the FEO where earnings from the Rock the Vote Fiji were going citing possible breach of sections 21 and 22 of the Political Parties Act relating to approved sources of funds for a political party and independent candidate.
As such, the FijiFirst said it was critical that the FEO sighted donation lists of TPA and the National Federation Party to verify the donations being received, and whether these were being received from genuine individuals, Fijians and former Fijians, those who were qualified to donate to the parties.
Against SODELPA, the FijiFirst referred to comments by its provisional candidate Faith Grace in a newspaper article early this month. Grace was quoted in the Fiji Sun stating that a SODELPA Government would write off TELS Scholarship Debt, comments the FijiFirst says amount to a financial commitment. Furthermore, because neither Grace nor SODELPA has, to date, stated how it would implement the commitment financially, FijiFirst contended that it was in breach of Section 116(4C) of the Electoral Act.
“The requirements under Section 116(4C) and (4D) apply to all political parties and candidates, as well as any person representing or acting under their direction. If any party or any individual makes a financial commitment, whether orally or in writing, a written explanation must be issued to the electorate explaining in detail how those promises will be financially realised.
“This allows for voters to better understand the policies proposed by political parties and candidates, the financial aspects of such policies and how such policies would be implemented.”
In publishing the article as it was, the FijiFirst was also of the view that Fiji Sun was irresponsible. It also made a call-out to other media organisations to be mindful of the part they play in any general election and must ensure that their reporting and publication of any political campaign or message follows the electoral laws.
Responses to the allegations are being sought today from the various political parties and individuals mentioned in the complaint.