Fiji’s Leader of Opposition Inia Seruiratu doubts Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka’s reasons for the delayed sitting of the Constitutional Offices Commission (COC) and subsequent postponement of filling vacant seats on the Electoral Commission (EC).
In a post on FijiFirst Facebook Seruiratu argued that the delay “has completely undermined democracy and denied hundred and thousands of Fijian voters their constitutional right to be heard and who votes in their reps in parliament” on the premise that the delay also meant FijiFirst participates in this week’s debate of the 2023-2024 Fiji Budget with two of their 26 seats still to be filled.
Seruiratu said Rabuka had ample time between March and before FijiFirst’s suspension in May to convene the COC.
“I was appointed the LOP on March 29. And FijiFirst was suspended on May 17. Rabuka as COC chair had over a month (49 days) in between these events to convene the COC, appoint four EC, and ensure that the opposition has full membership. Rabuka’s claim in a press conference that the reason the COC did not convene because there wasn’t any opposition leader, and then there was no opposition is a very poorly made-up telltale because anyone can look up the date of the events and verify them. During this period, parliament debated and voted on bills.”
Since March of this year, two FijiFirst party seats have remained vacant, following the resignations of FijiFirst leader Voreqe Bainimarama and Dr. Ifereimi Waqainabete, after Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Dr Mahendra Reddy Rosy Akbar resigned by February. The five garnered a combined 82% of FijiFirst’s 200,246 total votes. Of the five, three have been replaced by Alipate Nagata, Penioni Ravunawa, and Virendra Lal. Sachida Nand and Veena Bhatnagar, the next two highest-polling FijiFirst candidates, are expected to fill Bainimarama and Dr Waqainabete seats. The replacement MPs account for 1.4% of the party’s votes.
As of now, there are six vacant seats on the EC, resulting from a combination of commissioners resigning and their terms coming to an end. The most recent departure occurred on June 22 when lawyer Mukesh Nand, who served as the EC chair, resigned with 20 months left in his 3-year term.
During their meeting last Friday, the COC concluded their deliberations and finalised their recommendations for the vacant positions. These recommendations will be submitted to President Ratu Wiliame Katonivere for consideration and action.