FORMER prime minister and leader of the SDL party Laisenia Qarase has joined the chorus of voices calling on the Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum to step down as Elections Minister following the announcement of his role as the proposed general secretary of the proposed Fiji First Party.
Mr Qarase also downplayed suggestions by Mr Sayed-Khaiyum that he was a minister responsible for elections during his tenure. Mr Qarase was responding to a statement by Mr Sayed-Khaiyum earlier this week that Mr Qarase was "the minister responsible for elections for the 2001 elections".
"Ministers have been responsible for the Elections Office. Did the NFP say it was a conflict of interest? Did the Labour Party then say it was a conflict of interest? Who was the minister responsible for elections for the 2001 elections? Laisenia Qarase! Did the NFP or Labour say it was a conflict of interest?" Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.
Mr Qarase expressed disappointment, claiming that since independence in 1970, there had never been a Minister for Elections. "The reason for this is that both the Electoral Commission and the Office of the Supervisor of Elections must carry out their functions within the laws regulating their operations, with complete independence and without interference from the government in power," he said.
"The issue is that of a serious conflict of interest. The people of Fiji have a right to insist that this is not acceptable in a free and fair election.
"Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said his position is no different from what has been the practice in the past. When I was prime minister, for example, I was also leader of the SDL party. While this information is correct the truth is that I was never Minister for Elections."
"Mr Sayed-Khaiyum exercises the power of this portfolio as a member of a government with no legal or popular mandate, no accountability and no parliamentary oversight. This is the crux of his problem and public concerns about his role."
Another former prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry last night echoed similar sentiments, that there had never been an Elections Minister before.