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Keep poll campaign clean: Chandra

Keep poll campaign clean: Chandra
The chairperson for the Electoral Commission, Suresh Chandra
August 14
12:00 2018

Political parties and voters have been told to keep election campaigns clean and clear from religious vilification and racial discrimination.

The call comes from Electoral Commission chairperson Suresh Chandra.

He made the call during a press conference at the Fijian Elections Office, Toorak, Suva yesterday.

Mr Chandra said: “Under section 75 of the Constitution of Fiji, the Electoral Commission is required to conduct free and fair elections in accordance with written laws governing elections. There have been so many discussions around what is a free and fair election and everyone has presented their views.

“To have free and fair elections, we need to keep the buildup to the election clean. ”

His comments come in the wake of Fiji Sun articles reporting concerns by some members of the public who claimed that three National Federation Party provisional candidates for the 2018 General Election had expressed anti-Muslim sentiments in their political campaigns.

The party and the provisional candidates had refuted the allegations.

Mr Chandra said: “The Electoral Commission has over the period of time noted through the media, social media as well as from direct feedback from our own visitations during our work that there are reports that particularly in pocket meetings, there are instances of religious vilification and campaigns creating racial tension.

“This is not on. There is no room for such behaviour in Fiji’s electoral environment. The commission is disappointed that incidences are still being brought to light where representatives of political parties are still using race and religion.”

Mr Chandra gave this assurance to all Fijians that the commission would not tolerate this.

“We have, this morning had a meeting with FICAC, the investigation and prosecution agency in the electoral framework, and we have asked FICAC to immediately investigate and finalise all the complaints in relation to elections.

“FICAC has assured us that they will deal with these types of complaints expediently and take cases to court where they find there is sufficient evidence to support a charge.

“FICAC has assured us that they will take precautions to protect the complainants. FICAC will maintain confidentiality of complainant’s details and has in place strategies in relation to protecting the victims.

“FICAC has also assured us that they are open and readily available to receive complaints and will take all necessary action under the law to ensure complaints are investigated with priority and presence.

“Members of the public, who are present in these meetings and instances, are requested to use their smartphones to record such behaviour and furnish the same to the Electoral Commission or to FICAC directly.

“At the same time, political parties can consider having their own recording apparatus at their meetings to protect their own interest. It is necessary to share the responsibility. Political Parties must strongly advocate against racial and religious vilification.

“We ask that all political parties prepare and adopt their own code of conduct for campaign. Parties must have their own disciplinary process to deal with breaches by their own representatives. Parties must keep an eye on their own campaigns.

“I wish to remind all stakeholders, voters and political parties that Electoral Commission will keep a close eye on political campaigns. We want the 2018 General Election to be a platform for voters to express their will with confidence, security and freedom.”

NFP’s response:

National Federation Party leader Biman Prasad has commended the commission’s efforts.

“The Electoral Commission is right in urging political parties not to use race or religion as campaign tools,” he said.

Mr Prasad said the NFP “does not condone for a moment any campaign along racial and religious lines.

“We have consistently reminded all our provisional candidates to campaign on issues as well as our provisional candidates are equipped with publications of issues that we are promoting,” he said.

He said in the 2014 General Election campaign and in this campaign, they had never used race and religion as a campaign issue.

“There have been allegations labelled against three of our provisional candidates this year, but they remain wild and unsubstantiated allegations,” Mr Prasad said.

He said that public should not rely on recordings because it is easy to malign provisional candidates and political parties by making wild and unsubstantiated allegations.

“We also urge the Electoral Commission, FICAC and especially the media, particularly the Fiji Sun and FBC not to rely on heresay reports, but irrefutable and conclusive evidence like voice and video recordings,” he said.

“Failure to do so on the part of the media organizations make them guilty of colluding to fabricate such reports.”

He also criticised Fiji Sun for publishing articles of provisional candidates, which highlighted that the candidates used the race card during one of NFP’s pocket meetings.

He said: “The Police reports were emailed to the Fiji Sun last Friday. We know the political allegiance of those who made the allegations.”

The Fiji Sun:

The Managing Editor (News) Jyoti Pratibha said the Fiji Sun would continue to report concerns by members of the public about alleged comments by provisional candidates on race and religion like anti-Muslim comments.

She said Mr Prasad should address the issue not attack the messenger.

She said: “it is commendable that the Electoral Commission has taken the matter on board”.

HOPE Party

HOPE Party president Tupou Draunidalo said their party had always believed in free speech.

“We have seen hate, bigoted and racist speech online. Mostly trolls, advocating for particular political parties,” she said.

Ms Draunidalo said that what ever the circumstances were HOPE would continue to encourage the Electoral Commission and all political leaders to condemn all racist, bigoted and hate speech.

Her message was: “When that is done effectively and persuasively by political and community leaders, there will be no need to resort to FICAC.”

Unity Fiji, Fiji Labour Party and SODELPA had not responded to questions sent to them when this edition went to press.

Edited by Percy Kean

Feedback: sheenam.chandra@fijisun.com.fj

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