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Forum requires invitation

Thursday 17 March 2016 | Published in Regional

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NAURU – The Pacific Islands Forum says it would only send an election observer team to Nauru if the government requested it.

This comes after two former presidents of Nauru called for observers to be sent immediately in the wake of controversial changes to voting legislation.

The government, which has little opposition, is forcing public servants wanting to stand to resign their jobs three months before the poll and has dramatically increased charges for prospective candidates and people moving constituencies.

This meant “the current government will be the only one who can afford to run an election campaign”, former president Sprent Dabwido told Guardian Australia.

Dabwido and former president Marcus Stephen want the Forum and the Commonwealth to send monitors now because the changes are undermining the democratic process.

They say they fear the government is abusing its office for the deliberate manipulation of the election, which is expected to be held in the middle of the year.

In letters to the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Pacific Islands Forum, assistance was sought in addressing what was called “the breakdown of democracy, good governance, freedom of speech, rule of law and separation of powers”.

“The situation in Nauru cannot be approached as simply a difference of opinion between political groupings,” Dabwido and Stephen wrote.

“Facts demonstrate that the Baron Waqa government has already taken actions that unfairly alter the course of election preparations, including to introduce unfair barriers for potential candidates from standing.

“The Waqa government is contemplating further actions which would directly influence the outcome of the election in order to ensure they retain power. It is our view that, even at this early stage, this year’s parliamentary general elections in Nauru cannot be determined to be free and fair.”

The letters ask that observers be sent to Nauru in advance of the elections.

“Instead of just observing the conduct in election week, they should really start taking notes and analysing the actions unfolding in Nauru at the moment because they have a direct bearing on the fairness of the election,” former justice minister Mathew Batsiua told the Guardian.

The Forum secretary general, Dame Meg Taylor, said the agency takes any allegations of electoral impropriety very seriously.

But she said the Forum would need an invitation from the Nauru government before it could send in a team of suitably qualified regional electoral experts.

The government has invited both organisations to act as observers during the elections.

Taylor said: “Free and credible elections are the foundation of all democracies, and the Forum takes any allegations of electoral impropriety very seriously.

“All Forum electoral missions take into account the pre-election environment, polling, counting, and the post-election environment.” - PNC