The snap decision by the Chair of the Electoral Commission, Suresh Chandra, to resign amid allegations of misuse of legal trust funds has presented the Minister Responsible for Elections, Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum, with an almighty headache.
The pool of people who can be appointed Chair is extremely shallow. And with the nation poised to dive into campaign mode within a matter of weeks for an election perhaps as early as July, the timing of Chandra’s resignation is unfortunate, to say the least.
Who is there to replace him? Section 75 (6) of the 2013 Constitution says the chair of the Electoral Commission must be either a judge or someone who is qualified to be a judge. It also specifically rules out members of parliament, holders of “public office”, members of local authorities and election candidates.
It may be that now Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has junked the Constitution in relation to the sacking of the Solicitor General, Sharvada Sharma, that he will junk the Constitution when he decides on a new Electoral Commission chair. Time will tell, as the old saying goes.
Yet one thing is certain. It is already clear that the 2022 election won’t be anything like as smooth sailing as the previous two. Indeed it is likely to be fought to the death in an atmosphere of extraordinary tension and crisis. Assuming, of course, that it happens at all.
If the AG gives the job to one of the current judges, that person can almost certainly expect to be a figure of controversy and a target of criticism in a manner that could mark someone’s career for life. If the election result is challenged in any way and that challenge ends up in the Court of Disputed Returns, any judge sitting as Commission chair would also have to recuse themselves. So you can safely wager that the AG’s phone won’t exactly be running hot with potential applicants.
Small wonder that the Supervisor of Elections, Mohammed Saneem, was reported to be “shocked” that his chair had suddenly resigned. The AG’s house elf is already at the centre of a storm for having triggered the SG’s dismissal on a trumped up charge of having botched Saneem’s attempt, on behalf of the AG, to exclude the SODELPA MP, Niko Nawaikula, from the parliament.
The SOE desperately needs calmer waters in the election lead-up. And instead, he finds himself with the prospect of having to develop a working relationship with a new Chair of the Electoral Commission who may take his or her responsibility to be independent and impartial a lot more seriously than either Saneem or his master, the AG, would like.
More details on the circumstances of Suresh Chandra’s resignation at Victor Lal’s www.fijileaks.com