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Fiji’s Daily Post Suva, Fiji Islands

July 30, 2001

The decision by the Electoral Commission to allow George Speight, Ratu Timoci Silatolu and Ilisoni Ligairi to contest the August general election is wrong in principle, morally corrupt and hypocritical in many ways. It goes against the grains of logic and should not have been entertained in the first place.

In their defense, it may be argued that they, despite facing treason charges for their part in the May 19 2000 coup, have been cleared by the Magistrates’ Court to contest the August election. They are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a competent court of law. That may be so.

But the legal processes to determine the validity of their application to contest the election has yet tot be tested to the full.

The controversy, though, rests with the Elections Office. How is the rule applied in the case of the three applicants?

It is no secret the three were the visible ringleaders of the uprising which started on May 19 last year. In the eyes of the majority of the people of Fiji and indeed some members of the global village, the three are already guilty as charged. The letter of the law dictates that we go through the motions of the legal technicalities. Every one knows that. But it is also important that the spirit of the law be adhered to.

Did Speight and Ligairi overthrow Mahendra Chaudhry’s Coalition government last year? The answer is yes. Did they release the hostages after 56 days of captivity? The answer is again yes. Were the final hostages released after the Muanikau Accord which pardoned the coup-makers was signed? The answer is again yes. Why then are election officials pussy-footing around with the case.

This election cannot be regarded as free and fair if the three rebel leaders are allowed to contest. Many of our people have not forgotten the terror, the violence, fear humiliation brought about the actions of these three men. Despite the apologies and reconciliation process the country is going through now, it will be hard for the voters to forget what happened with a stroke of a pen. They see these names on the ballet papers and immediately fear and intimidation comes flooding back.

The possible negative repercussions of such a state of mind are many. It could lead to the voter voting for the rebels in the mistaken belief that the rebels are watching. Or the naive thought that the rebels and their supporters will be more accommodating or tolerant if they acquire power through legitimate means.

How then can we with an honest face say the election will be fair and free?

It’s not too late yet for the election officials to make amends. Do it now before it falls flat on their faces. These men must not be allowed to contest the August election.

[The general election is from August 25-September 1.]

Title -- 3299 POLITICS: Daily Post editorial on Speight's nomination Date -- 31 July 2001 Byline -- Editorial Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- Daily Post (Fiji), 30/7/1 Copyright -- DP Status -- Unabridged

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