Fiji’s election supervisor has accused one of the country’s major political parties of “misinformation” after it claimed the attorney-general had visited an election printing centre and ordered CCTV cameras be turned off.
- More than 600,000 Fijians are due to head to the polls on December 14
- The Elections Office has slammed the National Federation Party’s letter as “misinformation”
- Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum’s widespread influence has earned him the nicknames “Minister A-to-Z” and “Minister for Everything”
The extraordinary dispute comes as political tensions intensify in the lead-up to next week’s national election in the Pacific Islands country.
In a letter to the supervisor of elections (SOE) sent yesterday, the National Federation Party (NFP) said it had been informed that incumbent attorney-general and Fiji First candidate Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum went to Start Printery early on December 1.
It said that election officials asked Mr Sayed-Khaiyum to leave because election ballots were being printed, but he refused.
The letter also claimed the attorney-general refused a police request to vacate the premises, not leaving until after Supervisor of Elections Mohammad Saneem had arrived.
‘Flabbergasted by your allegations’
In the letter to the SOE, NFP officer Dalip Kumar said it was a serious issue.
“It is your responsibility to ensure that, at all times during the printing and distribution process, the ballot papers are stored in ‘highly secure premises’,” Mr Kumar wrote.
“The premises cannot be considered ‘highly secure’ if the secretary-general of the ruling party can enter those premises and insist on staying when asked to leave.”
However, in a fiery response yesterday afternoon, Mr Saneem said the claims in the NFP letter were fabricated, accusing the NFP of spreading lies.
“I am flabbergasted by your allegations around the information you purport to have received that I have come to any scene … I wish to confirm that no such activity ever took place,” Mr Saneem said.
He said the final delivery of ballot papers from the printery took place on November 28, three days before the alleged incident, in the presence of election observers, party agents and the media.
“While we feel that your letter is based on the highest degree of misinformation, we are concerned that, despite having knowledge of the transport schedule of ballot papers, the NFP has felt necessary to concoct this information that it purports to have received,” Mr Saneem wrote.
The ABC has contacted the NFP, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum and Fiji Police for comment, but has not received a response.
More than 600,000 Fijians are due to head to the polls on December 14 in a hotly contested and increasingly tense election.
The NFP — in coalition with Sitiveni Rabuka’s The People’s Alliance party — is a key threat to Fiji First.
While Frank Bainimarama is party leader, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum is seen as the main powerbroker for Fiji First and the incumbent Fijian government, holding the position of attorney-general as well as four additional portfolios.
His responsibilities and widespread influence have earned him the nicknames “Minister A-to-Z” and “Minister for Everything”.
Canberra closely watching events in Fiji
The Multinational Observer Group (MOG) — which is overseeing the Fijian election — said it was aware of the NFP’s claims regarding Mr Sayed-Khaiyum.
“The MOG is an impartial body that is here to observe — not investigate — electoral and related processes,” a spokesperson said.
“It would be inappropriate for us to comment on a specific case. However, we are closely observing how the Fijian system deals with this issue.”
One Australian government source also told the ABC that officials were monitoring events in Fiji very closely in the lead-up to the election, but would not be drawn on whether Canberra was anxious about the rule of law in the country.
The heated exchange in Fiji comes on the back of a series of arrests and charges laid against high-profile opposition candidates.
Deputy leaders of the People’s Alliance party, Lynda Tabuya and Dan Lobendahn, were both charged over allegations of “vote buying” yesterday and released on bail.
Earlier in the week, the pair were arrested and interrogated by Fiji’s anti-corruption commission, reportedly in relation to a complaint lodged by Fiji First.