Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) strongly condemns allegations from the Supervisor of Elections, Mohammed Saneem, that it has breached the Electoral Decree 2014 by publishing a research paper on international benchmarks of free and fair elections and holding a public conversation on the same paper.
“CCF maintains that we have not breached the Electoral Decree 2014,” says Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Rev Akuila Yabaki.
Public Conversations on Free and Fair Elections- s 115
Section 115(1)- Section 115(1) places restrictions on foreign funded NGO’s, such as CCF, from engaging in any form of ‘campaign’ related to the election or any election issue or matter. The Public Conversation held on 29th July, was a research and dialogue event, and cannot be seen to fall within the definition of ‘campaign’. The event was an informal technical discussion in partnership with an educational institution, in the context of the elections being a component of the Constitution.
Overall, the purpose of the first Public Conversation was to:
(i) share research findings with the general public;
(ii) provide technical information on Constitutional issues to the public;
(iii) provide an apolitical platform for public discussion on Constitutional issues to the public; and
(iv) create inclusive discussion particularly amongst young people and women to be actively included in these national discussions.
The content of the research paper and discussions focused on the universal benchmarks of free and fair elections in general, and assessed how the current electoral process meets this criterion. The Conversation was not directed solely at voters or potential voters, and was not intended to provide voter information or education about the elections to be held on September 17. CCF reiterates that it was an all-inclusive event focused around general information in relation to the Constitution 2013, specifically Chapter 3. It was not to support any particular political party or, directly on indirectly, influence voting at elections. In fact, to minimise the risk of this, CCF took a number of measures to ensure the event remained apolitical and did not violate this section.
Section 115 (2): Section 115(2) of the Electoral Decree 2014 requires written authorisation from the Electoral Commission or the Supervisor for acts which ‘under the Constitution or under [the Electoral Decree], is given or assigned to the Electoral Commission or Supervisor.’
The Electoral Decree assigns ‘voter information and education initiatives’ to the Supervisor under s 6(1)(d). Further, s 3(2) assigns the duty to implement a ‘nationwide voter information and education programme’ to the Electoral Commission, including information on the voter registration process, candidates and political parties, voting procedures, including postal and pre-poll voting and procedures for protecting electoral rights. The Constitution of the Republic of Fiji 2013, s 75(2)(b), further assigns ‘voter education’ to the Electoral Commission.
CCF maintains that as the Public Conversation was not a voter education or voter information event, it did not cross over with a duty assigned to the Electoral Commission or Supervisor and therefore did not require approval.
Invitation to the Fiji Electoral Commission: CCF ensured that all relevant government stakeholders were invited to the event. Specifically, invitations were extended to the Minister for Elections and the Electoral Commission. CCF was not aware that the invitation to the Electoral Commission was not further extended to the Supervisor and FEO. CCF notes that a member of the Electoral Commission was expected to attend the event as a panelist, however, this did not eventuate. Although we are disappointed that the event did not have an Electoral Commission or FEO representative, CCF were pleased at the open communication between the Electoral Commission and CCF.
Looking forward: CCF respects the national responsibility of the Supervisor of Elections and the Fiji Electoral Commission in steadily taking Fiji to a fair election in September particularly in strengthening its democratic processes and governance beyond 2014.
CCF continues to view the Supervisor of Elections and the FEO as key partners. Given that Fiji is less than 50 days away from national elections, CCF would like to commend the Supervisor and the FEO on their election efforts thus far. CCF would also like to remind the Supervisor of the pressing need to be particularly mindful of the constitutional freedoms anchored in Article 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Fiji 2013: Freedom of speech, expression, thought, opinion and publication which states:
Every person has the right to freedom of speech, expression, thought, opinion and publication, which includes specifically
(a) freedom to seek, receive and impart information, knowledge and ideas and the
(b) freedom of the press, including print, electronic and other media
(c) freedom of imagination and creativity and
(d) academic freedom & freedom of scientific research.
And in protecting and upholding these Constitutional freedoms as a State public office holder, as we get closer to elections, CCF strongly urges the Supervisor of Elections to be particularly mindful of Article 2 (3) of the Constitution 2013 which states:
This Constitution shall be upheld and respected by all Fijians and the State, including all persons holding public office, and the obligations imposed by this Constitution must be fulfilled.
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