18 Dec 2018

Fiji elections case will benefit country - academic

5:16 pm on 18 December 2018

Having Fiji's electoral system tested in court will benefit the country, according to an academic.

A voter in Fiji seeking confirmation about where to vote

Voting during Fiji's election Photo: RNZ Pacific / Koroi Hawkins

Opposition parties SODELPA and the National Federation Party have challenged the results of last month's general election, won narrowly by the FijiFirst government.

Fiji's Court of Disputed Returns has given government MPs and the Elections Office until tomorrow afternoon to file their response.

Included in the complaints are disputes over tallying and allocation of seats and numbers, and alleged unlawful campaign activity by candidates.

Professor Vijay Naidu of the University of the South Pacific said a number of election rules were finally being tested.

"In 2014 there was some disaffection, but the opposition was disorganised and were unable to take it to the court of disputed returns," he explained.

"But this time they're better organised, they raised the issues, so it's testing out the applicability of the laws and how the system works."

He said it remained unclear what would happen if the court upheld petitions, especially now that the government had been sworn in.

"And if there are any sort of decisions that go against the status quo then it probably would be at the margins only, perhaps the relocation of a seat or two. But I have my doubts about even that," he said.

Last week the opposition faced obstacles in delivering petition documents to government MPs in person, as required by law.

Government MPs appeared to be evading being served the papers by hiding in a Suva office building, barricaded by tight security.

The Attorney-General Aiyaz Saiyed-Khaiyum denied that he and other government MPs were hiding, claiming they were in the building having an extended strategy meeting.

However, Professor Naidu said it was unprecedented situation with exceptional conduct on display, describing it as "shameful" that the Attorney-General led the apparent ruse to evade being served the petition papers.

In the end, the court ruled that notice of the petitions could instead be given through the newspapers.

In the latest development, Fiji's Unity Party, which did not gain enough votes to pass the five percent threshold to get into parliament, has also filed a petition disputing the results of this year's election.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs