Apr 21, 2018 Last Updated 5:28 AM, Apr 19, 2018

May or October Poll?

THE burning question from April 2018 to October 2018 will be: when will Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama dissolve parliament to pave the way for the 2018 general election?

According to Fiji’s 2013 constitution, parliament can be dissolved anytime between 3 years 6 months of the last parliament sitting to the day the first time parliament sat 4 years ago.

After the 2014 elections, parliament sat for the first time on 6 October 2014, which gives a window of 6 April 2018 to 6 October 2018, between which time the PM can dissolve parliament.

If it is dissolved on 6 April and writ of elections issued on the same day, general election will be held 44 days later. Nominations are to be filed within 14 days after the writ and elections to be held after 30 days.

Likewise, if parliament is dissolved on 6 October, add 44 days after that for Fijians to go the polls.
No doubt the 2018 elections will be the mother of all elections.

The nation, politicians and the people are now fixed on when the FijiFirst party will start its election preparations, which will give a hint as to when the country will vote.

All registered political parties are now in full swing of preparations while the FijiFirst has only called for expressions of interest from persons who wish to contest under their banner.

“SODELPA hopes that the elections will be called later rather than sooner in order to have more time to consolidate our coverage of the electorates. The Prime Minister will also wish to call the date at
his peak political timing but within the constitutionally correct constraints,” said SODELPA leader Sitiveni Rabuka.

The National Federation Party says this being an election year, they have been preparing for months.

“NFP has no preference for any time. Any political party must be ready for elections within the stipulated legal timeline and NFP is no exception. We have announced 40 provisional candidates
as part of our state of preparedness. The highlights of our manifesto have been before the people of Fiji since July 2017,” said leader Dr Biman Prasad.

The Unity Fiji Party argues the election date should be announced well in advance.

“The election date should be announced at least 4 months prior to the elections to allow all parties to prepare for it. Government needs to uphold the principle of fairness. Everyone would be satisfied if the announcement is made at least 4 months before polling date. This should be made obligatory under the relevant laws,” said party leader Savenaca Narube.

Fiji hasn’t had a specific law to dictate by when an election date should be announced.

For example, voters in the United States know their presidential election comes every four years and on the second Saturday of November.

“Prime Ministers everywhere call elections based on certain factors, especially if their popularity is high. While the PM is popular, a recent poll has shown his Fiji First Party has 32 per cent support. This shows the PM’ popularity is not translating into support for FijiFirst and the Attorney General has indicated that government will table the 2018-2019 Budget in June. So it remains to be seen whether elections will be held before or after the budget,” said Prasad.

The Ministry of Economy has recently put out public notices to advise Fijians to take part in the 2018-2019 budget consultations that end in late May. Delivering this budget in June may be FijiFirst government’s biggest priority as they will be able to set out what they will offer Fijians in the 2018 elections, which in turn will translate into support for the party.

After the June budget, the FijiFirst government then also has the full government machinery behind it to deploy its ministers to Fijian communities and touch base with supporters.

“Government holds all the cards. It uses the government machinery to campaign. It uses the taxpayers’ money to hold talanoa sessions. It uses the budget consultations to preach even to school children who are not voting. The Prime Minister knows very well what to consider before deciding the
elections. We don’t have to second guess those issues,” says Narube.

“Everyone knows that FijiFirst has started public campaigns by way of billboard advertising all over the country since January. It is clear they want to catch the opposition parties off-guard. While a law requiring the PM to inform when he would call the elections is not necessary in genuine democracies, it may be required for a democracy like ours where the constitution is subservient to decrees,” Prasad says.

There is another school of thought which believes Bainimarama will go full term, meaning he will dissolve parliament in October to allow him to address the world at the United Nations in September
and provide an update on his COP23 Presidency and champion climate change issues for a last time before he goes to elections at home.

Bainimarama’s handover of COP23 Presidency to COP24 is in early December 2018.

Whatever the political scenario is in play now, Bainimarama now holds the trump card in calling for the next general election.

By Anish Chand
In this election year, the Fijian Supreme Court is set to hand down a judgement that will clearly define the role of the Supervisor of the Elections when it comes to following directives of the Electoral Commission.
Tomorrow (27th February), Chief Justice of Fiji, Anthony Gates will sit as a single judge to preside over an appeal by the Supervisor of Elections on a high court judgement on 29th November 2016 that ruled the Fijian Supervisor of Elections must comply with all the decisions and directions given to him concerning the performance of his functions by the Fijian Electoral Commission.
The FEO had filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, Fiji's highest court.
The court case began in August 2014, just before the September general elections when the Electroral Commission went to the High Court after the Commission had sought clarification from the High Court on the interpretation of the law related to objections.
The High Court was asked to clarify the view of the Supervisor of Elections, Mohammed Saneem on whether he was right or wrong in not following a directive of the commission and proceeded to draw the National Candidates List of the 2014 General Elections.
The commission had received objections against Parveen Kumar and had ruled that the FijiFirst candidate be disqualified from the National Candidates List.
They had also ruled that the Fiji Labour Party candidate Steven Singh be reinstated in the final list of candidates but the FEO had gone ahead without the instructions of the commission.
High Court judge Justice Kamal Kumar was asked to give:
* a declaration that the Supervisor of Elections erred in law and in fact in concluding that the Electoral Commission was bound to deliver its decision on the objections and applications for review in terms of Sections 30 and 31 of the Electoral Decree 2014 by 4pm Friday August 2, 2014 and not any later time on that day; and
* a declaration that the Supervisor of Elections was bound to flow the directive of the Electoral Commission given by the Electoral Commission's letter dated August 22, 2014 in compliance with Section 76 (3) of the Constitution of the Republic of Fiji.
Justice Kumar delivered a judgement in the favour of the FEO and he refused to grant the declarations.
Not happy with the decision, the Electoral Commission appealed to the Fiji Court of Appeal where a full bench of the court made up of the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice William Calanchini, Justice Almeida Guneratne and Justice David Alfred heard the arguments and allowed the appeal by the commission.
The three justices' said in the interest of administrative efficacy and the smooth functioning of the electoral process the commission discharged its functions when it sent its letter dated August 22, 2014 to the Supervisor.
"Once the commission did that, the Supervisor was mandatorily required to carry out the decision contained in that communication in terms of Section 76 (3) read with Section 8 (a) of the Electoral Decree and it was not open to him to question the legality and/or constitutionality of it, particularly in view of the provisions of Section 30 (7) of the said decree which decrees that the commission's decision is final, not permitting any appeal or review against the same."
In their conclusion, the Fiji Court of Appeal declared that the time limits of three days in section 30 (5) and Section 31 (4) of the Electoral Decree end at midnight on the third day.
The judgement said under Section 76 (3) of the Constitution read with section 8 (a) of the Electoral Decree requires the Supervisor of Elections to comply with all the decisions and directions given to him concerning the performance of his functions by the Fijian Electoral Commission.
Now the final decision on this argument rests with Justice Anthony Gates and the ruling of the Supreme Court of Fiji.

HOW can one predict the result for next month’s general elections in Samoa, now? Smartphones, that’s how. Similar to other island states, Samoa has embraced mobile phones with almost alarming ease.

Blank pageYet clicking on the Tautua Samoa Party website reveals a white page, blank except for admin folders, but no visible content. In a country where nearly everyone has a mobile, and significant percentages check Facebook, the opposition’s social networking skills also seem dismal, with just ten people liking the latest post at time of writing – a photo from their sixth birthday, in December.

A few likes, but no comments. Old school The opposition Tautua party has instead gone the opposite direction, apparently dumping the website in favour of an oldschool newspaper. With tens of thousands of social network users in Samoa, that approach and the lack of response does not bode well for notions of political regime change any time soon. In fact, many are predicting the elections are over before they’ve even begun. “Tui will get it again”, is the common wisdom heard around town, and islands. Will he?

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Political horse-trading

VOTERS in Kiribati went to the polls on January 7th 2015 and gave the country’s more prominent political parties more than a wake-up call. For the first time in their political history, the i-Kiribati are more likely to witness intensive “political horse-trading” to determine who succeeds Anote Tong as the next Kiribati President. When the dust settled, there were 16 political “newcomers”, making up the largest single political “bloc” if they decided to form a coalition.
The ruling Boutokaan te Koaua (BTK) Party came in with 13 elected members after losing five of its sitting ministers including a key member and veteran politician, Teatao Teannaki from Abaiang. Their coalition partner, the Maurin Kiribati (MK) Party also suffered a major defeat with the loss of its leader and founding member, Nabuti Mwemwenikarawa.
The Party won two seats. Reports on the ground suggest supporters are optimistic that the co-founder and former lawyer MP of South Tarawa, Banuera Berina, will provide new directions for the party. Berina won the Kuria constituency defeating former finance minister Tom Murdoch. The Opposition, Karikirakeantei-Kiribati (KTIK) Party was not spared by voters either, having its Parliamentary seats cut back to eleven. Many of the new faces in Parliament are well-educated young i-Kiribati men with professional work experience.
For others who may not have the tertiary qualifications or work experience, financial status apparently found favour with voters as in the case of at least two elected members from South Tarawa
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New players, old lessons

VANUATU saw out 2015 on a high note as a model of the Westminster system. The separation of powers worked well and the checks and balances were all in place. Fourteen Members of Parliament out of a total of 52 were in gaol, their crime of bribery having failed to work as intended. Several were members of cabinet. One of those jailed included the acting Head of State whose personal efforts to secure a presidential pardon for them all - including himself - failed. The substantive Head of State tried to enable the Rump to work effectively in unity and understanding, but that could not be achieved.

President Baldwin Lonsdale had no choice but to call a snap general election even though the last months of 2016 were already planned for the next national elections. The Republic seems to have started well on its New Year, too. The weekend of Islands Business going to print has seen that snap election taking place and three election observer teams monitoring the progress of polling and vote counting. The chairperson of the Commonwealth Observer Group, the Rt Hon. Hubert Ingraham, was able to congratulate the citizens of Vanuatu “for participating peacefully and orderly in their 2016 General Election.”

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