Monday, 17 December 2018

Fiji's Christmas Political Pantomime

Jon Apted, SODELPA/NFP petition lawyer pn205
SODELPA leader Sitiveni Rabuka's address on Parliament's opening day was a well rehearsed mix of polite well wishes to Government alternating with quick jabs in the ribs, the deepest one heralding the future court challenge  of the election results.  The stage was set for the pantomime that followed.

Three weeks have passed since then and nothing particularly new happened until just before the weekend when SODELPA-NFP tried unsuccessfully to serve writs on all 27 FijiFirst MPs and the Speaker. 

I have not commented on the SODELPA-NFP petition that claims the election process faulty and the results rigged because I was waiting for some "hard facts." 

Instead, we've been treated to a bizarre Christmas pantomime, and even this is hard to read.  If the cat is playing with the mouse, which party is cat and which one mouse? Or are they taking turns?

Did the Speaker and all FijiFirst MPs really hide for 48 hours in Suvavou House to avoid being served the court writs as SODELPA and NFP claim, or only some of them, and were they really hiding?  Or was it, as Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said, a special two-day meeting to discuss urgent  policy?   

I'm inclined to believe the avoidance explanation. With Bainimarama overseas, it seems unlikely that major decisions would be made in his  absence.  But I can't see how temporarily avoiding the writs served any worthwhile purpose.  So perhaps there really was a policy meeting.

On the other foot, I cannot see what the claimants expected to gain by waiting 21 days before submitting their appeal in the afternoon of the last day, and Lawyer Jon Apted's delaying tactics mentioned below. 

Unless this is a tactical move to keep pumping the idea of an illegal election — and hence, an illegally elected government, insecurity, and the possibility of another coup— in the public's eye for as long as possible.

I am  conscious that the 77-member Multinational Observer Group found no serious fault in the election process, saying the results were "transparent and credible" and of  NFP leader Dr Biman Prasad saying such a claim was "ridiculous." 

The Opposition disputes some of the tallying and allocation of seats and numbers; alleges unlawful activities during the blackout period, and the supposed gifting of "freebies" by FijiFirst Ministers. MOG's only negative comment was that the borderline between government loans and election bribes needed to be made clearer. 

Another area where doubt could be spread was in the huge difference between turnout figures in the Eastern Division, which the Opposition drew attention to before voting ended, but this seems almost certainly due to the Supervisor of Elections' decision to share the burden of tallying votes more evenly between divisions. The Eastern Administrative division table shows 17,181 people voting; the Logistical division's 76,750. No  manipulator in his right mind would even think of trying to hide close to 60,000 votes!

This morning SODELPA lawyers said they had eight witnesses and 108 people who claimed they had been prevented from voting. Devanesh Sharma for the Supervisor of Elections said they had not received the affidavits and had no record of these people.  

Justice Anjala Wati asked the SODELPA lawyer Jon Apted about their allegations and evidence.  Apted said they had no need to file the affidavits. Asked what he was expecting when the affidavits are filed, Apted said 108 people had been denied their right to vote.

Asked by the Judge how the Supervisor of Elections was supposed to respond when he does not know who these 108 people are, Apted said the names would be released on Thursday when the Court resumes.  But this is a day after when FijiFirst has to respond to the allegations!

Justice Wati has ordered that the respondents file their answer and any other affidavits on or before 3pm Wednesday, December 19, 2018.

The case has been adjourned to Thursday, December 20, 2018 at 10am, to fix a hearing date or to give further directions.

So all we will have as a "hard fact" on Thursday is a new hearing date.  And the pantomime will roll over into the New Year.  

There can be little doubt whose interests it best serves, whatever the legal outcome. If SODELPA/NFP win, there could well be new elections; if they lose, they will say the judiciary is not impartial.   

Fiji, the way the world could be?  You would be kidding.

-- ACW

1 comment:

  1. In 2006 the International Observers were repeatedly requested to pay attention to extreme departures from electoral procedures. They notably failed to make themselves available and departed Fiji prematurely: as appears to have been the case yet once again? The alleged pantomime will continue so long as the International Community plays willingly along with it. Do citizens have “Rights” as well as “Duties” to uphold a State which so cavalierly appears to behave towards them? Madame Michelle Bachelet should be given the attention she so rightly deserves. States often treat their citizens with disrespect even with contempt and, acting in Bad Faith, shun examination of their conduct towards the legitimate claims of voters. This is not a Game, a Bagatelle to be tossed off dishonestly and seemingly destroying Trust. A Parity of Esteem requires transparency and respect on all sides. That is what Democracy demands.


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