WHO’S IN CHARGE OF ELECTIONS?
It is abundantly clear that the Supervisor of Elections Mohammed Saneem is defying the functions and powers of the Electoral Commission especially the fundamental fact that the Supervisor is required to act upon the directions of the Commission. This follows the Commission’s decision to boycott the draw of the National Candidates List.
Mr Saneem has overstepped his boundary. This follows his decision to defy the decisions on objections and appeals of candidates handed down by the Commission on Friday night, thereby including two candidates disqualified by the Commission in today’s draw of the National Candidates List, as well as refusing to include the name of a candidate whose appeal for candidacy in the elections was upheld by the Commission.
It has now also become plainly clear that Mr Saneem is not exercising his duties under the direction of the Electoral Commission as required by the 2013 Constitution and the Electoral Decree 2014. Basing his decision on purported advice from the Solicitor-General, Mr Saneem rejected the decisions of the Commission claiming they had breached the Decree by not conforming to the 3-day deadline, which he says ended at 4pm on Friday.
He is totally wrong because appeals and objections are filed at different times of the day nominated for such actions. And a day ends at 12 midnight, not at 4pm. Mr Saneem would only have been correct if the Decree had stipulated that the Commission must hand down their decisions within 72 hours of the close of the objection and review period.
Section 76 (3) of the 2013 Constitution states “The Supervisor of Elections must comply with any directions that the Electoral Commission gives him or her concerning the performance of his or her functions”.
Section 8 (a) of the Electoral Decree 2014 states that the Supervisor “must comply with the directions and instructions that the Electoral Commission gives him or her concerning the performance of his or her functions”.
The independence of the Electoral Commission is defined by Section 5(1) of the Electoral Decree states that the Commission “is not subject to the direction or control of any person or authority except the Court and only in respect of whether the Commission performed its functions or exercised its powers in accordance with the Constitution”.
Section 30 (8) of the Electoral Decree empowers the Commission to order the removal of a person from the National Candidates List if it upholds an objection against the candidate. The Commission must exercise its powers under this provision for the sake of a free, fair and credible elections.
Mr Saneem’s actions are highly questionable, more so when the two candidates disqualified by the Electoral Commission are from the Fiji First Party, whose general secretary is the Minister Responsible for Elections, and whose leader is the Constitutional Offices Commission, who together with the Electoral Commission were consulted by the President in appointing the Supervisor.
The independence of the Office of the Supervisor of Elections is now compromised, tarnishing the credibility of the general election.
The obvious rift and standoff between the Electoral Commission and the Supervisor raises the question of who is actually in charge of the election process and the final outcome of the results.