The Dispute between the Electoral Commission and the Supervisor of Elections

 Upstairs, Downstairs. What Can and 
Cannot Happen in 72 Hours
 
  Opinion by Crosbie Walsh

For readers who have no idea what happened to cause the Electoral Commission and Supervisor of Elections to disagree last Friday and why the disagreement went to  Court, the EC was required to submit its findings on the 21 appeals and objections on who should and who should not be able to stand as candidates in the election by Friday, but what time on Friday was arguable.

Mohammed Saneem, Supervisor of Elections
 The Supervisor, backed by the Solicitor-General, and ultimately by the Court, said 4:15pm, 72 after the time the appeals and objections closed.

The Commission, however, took the definition of the Interpretation Act, in which a day is defined as running from midnight to midnight. They had made their decisions by 2pm but needed to write them up properly, and not just provide the Supervisor with one liners.

At this point one might have thought the Supervisor, anxious to obtain the Electoral Commission's report on time, might have trotted up one floor and urged them to hurry up. Or a Commissioner could have trotted down to the ground floor to explain the Commission's delay. After all, they had been in almost constant contact with each other for days, and there were no outward signs of personality clashes or stubbornness.They were both on one side, working for an efficiently run, fair and free election. There was even time for them both to consult the Solicitor-General.

Chen Bunn Young, Chair, Electoral Commission
But no. The Supervisor, with the earlier backing of the Solicitor-General, a Government officer, and the Commission, with earlier advice of legal counsel in Australia and New Zealand, both sat on their respective high horses and did nothing about talking to each other.

I can accept that the Commission wished to maintain its independence —and, equally important, the public's perception that they are a truly independent body— but I do not think they would have compromising their position had they spoken with the Solicitor-General sometime on Friday. What constituted a day needed confirmation. There need have been no delay in the allocation of candidate numbers on Saturday, no redraw was needed, a simple switching of two names was all that was required. This was a confrontation that need not have happened.  Both parties, the Supervisor and the Commission, seem at fault, if only for their short-sightedness, though to what degree is not known.


The A-G's Three Other Hats
But the Attorney-General must also accept some responsibility . He blames the Commission for the delays and final outcome, and said they need not have sought overseas advice. All they had to do was ask the Solicitor-General.

But it is the function of an independent commission to seek whatever advice it thinks necessary. It is not the  function of the Attorney-General, or anyone else, to tell  them who they should or should not consult.

I think the A-G's interventions, however well intended,  could well have exacerbates the situation and if this were the case it does not look well coming from a person who wears three other hats.

In one hat,  as  Election Minister, he was required to be objective and independent. In the second, as the FijiFirst Secretary, he could not be expected to be independent. And wearing the third hat, as a subject of an objection to the Commission, he could not be expected to be either objective or independent. It could be asked which hat he was wearing when he intervened, and whether, indeed, it is humanly possible to do justice to three hats at any one time.

We know the Commission and Supervisor have been working under pressure. The same is true, and more so, of the A-G, a  man I highly respect. But on this occasion, I think he would have been wiser to have said nothing, at least publicly.

What are the outcomes?
So, what damage has been done to the integrity of the elections? Fortunately, not too much.

The position of the Election Commission was  temporarily undermined but the "business as usual" statement today from chairperson Chen Bunn Young has restored the situation, with their collective reputations untarnished.

In only one particular were the Commission's rulings aborted. They refused all objections and appeals except two. They ruled that FijiFirst candidate Parveen Kumar Baal was ineligible, but he remains a candidate, and that FLP's candidate Steven Singh should stand,  but his name has been deleted. 

Unnecessary as the this case has been, there is one important positive: all parties have complied with the law, and the law stands.

As Commission Chair, Chen Bunn Young says "the disagreement has been resolved through court and it's time to carry on with the work of conducting polls on September 17th.

“There was never a time when we were at opposite poles. We disagreed as organisations and institutions do. The court settled one of our disagreements. Even at the time we had filed the proceedings, we were still working on this poll Notice together. I want the people to know that we were co-operating even in the midst of the court action.”

Comments

Anonymous said…
Not too much damage ?

Well none if you are FijiFirst. In fact you have just been delivered an additional candidate you would not have got ( some will argue should not have got ).
Anonymous said…
And plenty of damage if you are the Labour Party. They just lost a candidate who should not have been ruled out.

This is on top of a number of candidates for all opposition parties that got ruled out by a last min decree introduced by none other than the secretary of FijiFirst. Yet Croz you continue to call everything fair....it's not
Crosbie Walsh said…
Anon I agree but this point was noted in the article and will make no difference to the election outcome except, of course, for the two individuals concerned.
Crosbie Walsh said…
Anon. I did not say it was fair. Singh should be a candidate, and Bala should not be. As for those you say were excluded by the amendment to the Electoral; Decree, I can only think of Makareta Waqavonovono, and I also said this was unfair. But, and here were come back to fairness again,. overall and in the vast majority of cases the election process has been fair.
Anonymous said…
croz
You need to mind your own business and be careful what you say about khaiyum and his dictator sidekick. They run the nation and have back up thugs to prove it. In a dictatorship you can do what you like as we have seen in the latest horrendous murder by the militarised police. It does not get much more serious than dying in custody from major rectal trauma - unless of course you are beheaded?
Anonymous said…
The AG has done what he had to do. His loyalty is to Fiji First and the elections are a serious competition. A smart operator such as the AG knows that if he can weaken the opposition, the chances for his own outfit get better. Some say, there is no need for such heavy handedness given the substantial lead of Fiji First in the polls. But the AG knows full well that there is considerable risk with regard to the choices people are really going to make come election day. And there is also the wish of his boss to win all seats. This can only be achieved by systematically eliminating as many opposition candidates as possible. All very rational, all very predictable. Whether you like it or not, the unique style of Fijian democracy is at play here.
Anonymous said…
@ AnonymousTuesday, August 26, 2014 at 7:14:00 PM GMT+12

Whilst I agree with you in terms of certain cases, that is, party candidates being excluded and vice-a-versa, in terms of overall fairness and quality of candidates, I think this year's election is a huge improvement. You don't need to go much further back then the 2006 Election whereby some really "dodgey" cases were highlighted, for example, way more ballot papers than registered in a particular constituency. If 2006 Election is the barometer you are using to judge this year's election, then maybe you need to look at the issue further afield.
Anonymous said…
Huge difference between Military and Police. Stop lumping them together because it makes you sound silly.
Anonymous said…
If Chen and others had any ethics and self respect; they would have resigned en masse after the AG's comments. Prior to that it was okay--democracy in action being tested in court. AG, who is a political prostitute, and also secretary of FFP, are insulting, demeaning and lecturing/hectoring to the Commission.
Anonymous said…
What is the difference? Except the police are more intelligent as they at least have some Indians unlike the racially biased I-Taukei military?
Anonymous said…
Generalisation is a known debating technique of people that have absolutely no idea what they talking. Infact, yours borders on being racist.
Anonymous said…
Anonymous @ 12:10 pm ...go back to C4.5 where you belong you racist scum-bag!
Anonymous said…
Anon @ 12:48 AM ......you make it sound so Machiavellian. There is a website dedicated to conspiracy theories conspiracy.alt.com which may interest you. If you believe that there is a conspiracy behind every human decision, then this site is for you. I am sure you will find it absorbing. All the best.
Anonymous said…
The disagreement between the election commission and the supervisor of election could all just be a diversion or a distraction to make us all think that they are truly independent., when it could have all been actually planned out to make us think that we are in unbiased hands, when in fact we have all been played right under our very noses. See when the PM said before submitting his party candidates list that they will all win their 50 seats they are contesting?, the example runs here in the case where a Fiji first( Praveen Bala) candidate was being objected to because of his recent murder case was accuited by the courts ( its not new because the Courts of Fiji always favors regime government no matter what and has lost the peoples respect) so the supervisor of election has allowed a man with a murder conviction to run for election and the other candidate from another party to miss out- because the PM has said 50 will stand and will bend the law to get his way. Than on the a local newspaper recently the PM explained how they did to get all 50 through- LOW AND BEHOLD, he said that they checked that everyone of their candidates was not carrying excess baggage meaning that none of them was in trouble with anything. Well that sums up the freedom of this nation.
Anonymous said…
Machiavelli was real and so are Khaiyum's politics. Like it or not, free and fair elections look a bit different.
Anonymous said…
Anonymouse @ 12.48

He hit a man in a road accident and that is not murder you moron and the case is before the courts so he is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Get your facts right dude,
Anonymous said…
What do you mean "free and fair elections look different'? Obviously its a glib throwaway line without any serious thought attached to it. You must have just finished reading 'The Prince'
Anonymous said…
He would appear a perfect candidate for the Fiji's First Scumbag party.
Anonymous said…
@friday , august 29, 2014 at 5.09.....do not deny the fact everything i said is true ( clearly is ,even fiji first supporters will admit it) you are on the wrong side, its not to late to set things right .

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