Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who is also minister for elections and secretary general of the ruling FijiFirst party, has introduced a controversial bill to change legislation to increase the powers of the country’s chief election officer.
It comes as parliament sits for its last session this week ahead of the 2022 general election to be held before the end of the year.
The proposed amendments to the 2022 election law are “necessary…to avoid any potential procedural conflict under the law” and to “empower the election supervisor to obtain relevant information and documents,” Sayed-Khaiyum said during presentation of the bill to parliament.
But the Fiji Law Society (FLS) said it was “deeply concerned about the proposed changes”.
“The Society’s particular concern is that the bill unnecessarily attacks citizens’ right to privacy, including legal professional privilege,” FLS President Wylie Clarke said Wednesday.
“The amendment would give the Comptroller of Elections the power to compel any person to provide him with any or all information or documents on virtually any pretext. confidentiality, privilege or secrecy’.”
Clarke said the changes go against established legal conventions and “erode civil rights protections.”
“The attack on attorney-client privilege is particularly serious,” he said.
“If that privilege is taken away, people cannot seek advice on their legal rights and cannot fully exercise them and may end up breaking the laws,” he said.
If the amendments pass, people will not be able to appeal any decision made by the Election Supervisor except to the Electoral Commission “which is final and not subject to further appeal or review. by a court,” Clarke said.
The Law Society wants the government to withdraw the controversial bill and spend more time considering its implications.
Election supervisor ‘almost like a god’
As Fijian elections approach, there are fears that the government could use its majority to push through another important amendment aimed at stifling political competition.
National Federation Party leader Biman Prasad said Fiji had a history of draconian election laws.
“These are things that in a good democracy a government will discuss with other political parties or at least with the opposition,” Prasad said.
He said election supervisor Mohammed Saneem “is almost like a god now”.
“So many powers have been granted to the Supervisor of Elections and many of the decisions made by the Supervisor cannot even be challenged in court,” he said.
“This bill should be withdrawn.
The bill is expected to pass Thursday.