Statement by the Chair of the Electoral Commission
Mr Suresh Chandra
Elections Disability Access Working Group (EDAWG)
Term of Reference Signing Between Fijian Elections Office, Pacific Disability Forum
and National Council for Persons with Disabilities
Date: 20 November 2021
Venue: Grand Pacific Hotel
Time: 10am – 12pm
Bula Vinaka Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my honor and privilege this morning to officiate the signing of this Election Disability Access Working Group Terms of Reference between the Fijian Elections Office and various representatives of organizations of persons with disabilities (OPDs). Today is yet another instrumental moment in our history as we build inclusive, accessible and free election processes in our Fiji.
On behalf of the Electoral Commission, I would like to congratulate all partners involved for finalizing this working document so that all who are concerned can participate and collaborate to deliver effective electoral processes that are not only accessible and inclusive but create greater ownership within all communities in Fiji.
We consider persons with disabilities and OPDs as vital partners in elections and political process-focused programs. OPDs provide a pre-existing platform for mobilizing persons with disabilities and representing the interests of persons with disabilities and as such they should be included at every stage of the electoral process. Partnering with them makes it easier to engage on an equal platform and initiate activities that are contextually relevant without re-inventing the wheel.
It is my view that the previous TOR provided a mutually beneficial platform for both the FEO and the OPD’s in the last election. The outcomes of the last TOR were obvious in the conduct of the election and the involvement of the OPD’s in the various stages.
In terms of our role under section 75 of the Constitution, we see the Electoral Commission as the overall in charge of the elections but we are of the view that the Electoral Commission through the Fijian Elections Office must work together with key organizations in this country so that we can facilitate the realization of rights of certain minority groups that would otherwise be ignored. One must look at the reports from 2006 to see what was the level of attention given to the access for disabled persons’ and then compare the same with 2018. It is our view that people with disabilities should be able to work in elections, participate in the polling process, contest the elections, participate in observation of the elections as well as do anything necessary just like any other person who is not in this category and to do this we must make sure that we constructively prepare for the election in a manner that is conducive to such group of people.
Going forward to the next election it will be very interesting to see what this Terms of Reference will realize for us. On behalf of the Electoral Commission and the people of Fiji, I would like to wish all the OPDs and the Fijian Elections Office the very best of success in realizing this Terms of Reference. We must not leave anyone behind.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I was appointed the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission in February 2017. During my first term as Chairperson, I oversaw the successful conduct of the 2018 General Election. The Multinational Observer Group in its report held that the 2018 General Election was fair and credible and it broadly represented the will of the Fijian people. It was one of the most well organized elections in the history of our country.
I was subsequently re-appointed as chairperson for another 3 year term. I am privileged to work next to 6 very diligent, respectable and established individuals who are the Electoral Commissioners. I also acknowledge Mohammed Saneem, the Supervisor of Elections and his team at the Fijian Elections Office for effectively handling all election tasks and responsibilities. I congratulate Saneem for completing his Masters in Electoral Policy and Administration- truly an asset to Fiji.
The preparations for the next election have already begun and I have been closely keeping track of the progress. Things are definitely shaping up.
It is with a heavy heart that I wish to advise that I have informed His Excellency, the President and the Constitutional Offices Commission that I am stepping down from my appointment as Chair of the Electoral Commission and today is my final day in Office.
I would like to thank H.E the President, the COC and the people of Fiji for entrusting me with this tremendous responsibility and I would like to wish the Electoral Commission, the Fijian Elections Office and the people of Fiji all the success in the upcoming General Election.
I started my career as a civil servant and I held my appointment as Chair of the Electoral Commission with dignity, pride and honor. I am joined by my wife here this morning as I bid farewell to you all.
Thank you, Vinaka Vakalevu and may God bless Fiji.