With the Fiji General Election just days away, a major political party has condemned the arrests of its deputy leaders on charges of vote buying.
People's Alliance deputy party leaders Lynda Tabuya and Dan Lobendhan appeared in court on Tuesday after being questioned by the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC).
It is alleged that Tabuya tried to gain or influence votes for the December 14 election by soliciting $1000 to the Rock the Vote Volleyball tournament in May this year.
On the alternative count of breach of campaign rule, it is alleged that she also induced the participants to vote for Lobendhan.
Lobendhan is also alleged to have offered $1000 prize money to the tournament during the campaign period to gain or influence votes.
On the alternative count, he allegedly offered a monetary inducement to the participants.
In September, a complaint was lodged by the FijiFirst Party to the Fijian Elections Office (FEO) and then referred the allegations of vote buying were referred to the anti-corruption body.
Party leader claims democracy is hindered
People's Alliance Party leader Sitiveni Rabuka has labelled the arrests as an attempt to derail their election campaign and muzzle candidates.
Rabuka said the arrest is "outrageous to democratic good governance principles" and "a ridiculous assault on our individual constitutional rights to take part in political campaign activities".
He said after a month and a-half delay, and on the eve of the election, for FICAC to move on the FijiFirst complaint is blatant and a deliberate interference in the country's electoral process.
The People's Alliance has called on the Commissioner of FICAC to respect the electoral system and not hinder democracy.
"It comes as a shock considering that in his reply to the FEO letter dated September 26th 2022, Lobendahn denied having paid Rock the Vote Volleyball to exclusively invite him to events to impress his presence on social media," said Rabuka.
"Lobendahn stated that he was invited by a colleague, working towards creating awareness to attract youths and encourage them to register to vote for the upcoming elections."
Rabuka questioned what is unlawful about enlightening and encouraging youths to register to vote?
The matter has been adjourned to February 10.