With an election looming in Fiji in 2018, the commission responsible for overseeing preparations has been allowed to lapse out of existence. On 9 January, the three-year term of the independent Electoral Commission, a constitutionally-mandated seven-member body tasked with supervising the Elections Office, which is responsible for preparing the vote, expired. Opposition parties say there appears to be no rush to replace the commission, which they say raises concerns about the state of Fiji’s nascent democracy as it prepares to enter its second elections since Frank Bainimarama’s 2006 coup. “There are no longer commissioners and there is no longer an Electoral Commission in place and that’s serious because it’s a constitutional office,” said Biman Prasad, the leader of the opposition National Federation Party. “It shouldn’t be allowed to remain vacant but that is exactly what has happened.”
Before the commission’s term ended on 9 January, Professor Prasad said, an oversight body chaired by Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, the Constitutional Offices Commission, was supposed to appoint a new commission or extend the term of the former one. Professor Prasad said it was not clear when the Constitutional Offices Commission planned to meet to carry out its duty.
Commissioners spoken to by RNZ International, none of whom agreed to be interviewed on the record, confirmed that their term had ended, and that they did not know of a replacement.
For Professor Prasad, there’s a particular urgency. Earlier this month, one of his MPs, Tupou Draunidalo, resigned six months after she was suspended from parliament for breaching standing orders. The party has selected Parmod Chand to be its next member of parliament, an appointment that needs to be formally approved by the electoral commission.