Political parties need to critic electoral bills ‘apolitically’: Electoral Commission

Electoral Commission Chair Suresh Chandra says political parties need to take an apolitical stance when evaluating electoral provisions for the benefit of voters adding that “attempts to unduly attack election institutions will only hinder prevalence of free and fair elections in Fiji.” 

Chandra was reacting to submissions made by political parties towards three electoral bills that are currently being reviewed by the Fijian Parliamentary Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights – Bill 50 of 2020 – Bill to amend the Electoral Act 2014, Bill 51 of 2020 – Bill to amend the Electoral (Registration of Voters) Act 2012 and Bill 52 of 2020 – Bill to amend the Political Parties Act 2013.

In their submissions, five of seven registered political parties, all part of the opposition grouping, strongly criticised proposed electoral changes, offered alternatives, made further recommendations on other provisions of the principal acts. They also raised concerns on the impartiality of the Electoral Commission, and called for a clear demarcation and separation of roles for the Supervisor of Elections and the Registrar of the Political Parties, insisting that having one person oversee both roles, as per current arrangement, diminishes public as well as political parties’ confidence in the electoral process.

Referring to the parties’ submissions, Chandra said the EC acknowledged their views and commended their improved “level of understanding of the electoral system and its rules”, however believes commentaries should be restricted to the provisions of the three Bills under review.

He said laws are progressively reviewed to ensure it is “current and relevant …[and] it will also maintain a stable platform for credible elections to take place.”

“Submissions that do not emanate directly from the amendments or are based on partial readings of the amendments only serve as a poor interpretation and will lead to confusion, “ Chandra said. “As was put forward by the Commission in its submissions to the same Standing Committee, as we have more elections, there will be greater understanding of the electoral process and every election will also present its own set of challenges.”

He also said the commission notes that there are some processes that need to be regulated in the law and there are also some futuristic provisions in the law that will require the relevant stakeholders and agencies to make processes for, both of which are essential in a functioning democracy.

 “The Commission reiterates that the credibility of the electoral process and the institutions that implement it are absolutely necessary in order to substantiate victory in an election.” 

Political parties that have made submissions before the committee on the three electoral bills are Freedom Alliance Party, SODELPA, National Federation Party, Fiji Labour Party and Unity Fiji.

Meanwhile, face-to-face public consultations continue today at Nakavu Village in Nadi, beginning at 1.30pm.

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