Fiji’s main opposition FijiFirst sacks 17 MPs who voted for pay rise

By rnz.co.nz and is republished with permission

The political fallout from Fijian parliamentarians giving themselves a pay rise last week is spiralling out of control after the main opposition FijiFirst – the largest single political party in Parliament – sacked 17 out of 26 of its MPs.

FijiFirst Headquarters Photo: RNZI / Sally Round

Sixteen out of the 17, who voted for an increase to MPs salary and benefits, include the opposition leader Inia Seruiratu, who told Parliament that MPs had “wants” and “needs” and “church commitments” to justify the salary bump.

One MP, Alvick Maharaj, who was part of the special parliamentary committee that recommended the raise, and had abstained, was also handed the termination letter.

The FijiFirst party has written to the Speaker of Parliament, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, informing him that the MPs have been expelled for not following a party directive on 24 May to vote against or abstain on the motion for the pay increase.

The letter, signed by the FijiFirst leader and convicted former prime minister Frank Bainimarama (who is serving a one-year jail sentence) and the party’s acting secretary-general-secretary Fiayaz Koya, was reportedly handed to the Speaker on Thursday afternoon.

“Given the immediate vacancy of these seats, we have copied the Electoral Commission in this letter so it can, as per sections 64 of the Fijian Constitution, award the 17 vacant seats to the remaining FijiFirst candidates…to fill the vacant seats at the earliest,” the letter stated.

In a statement, a senior (now former) FijiFirst MP, Jone Usamate said the 17 received letters from Koya notifying them that their seat in Parliament has been vacated.

“We are disputing the legality of the termination letter and as far as we are concerned we are still Members of Parliament,” he said, adding they will “await the full process of the law to take its course.”

According to the 2013 Fiji Constitution, section 63(1)(h) states: “The seat of a member of Parliament becomes vacant if the member; votes or abstains from voting in Parliament contrary to any direction issued by the political party for which he or she was a candidate at the time he or she was elected to Parliament, without obtaining the prior permission of the political party”.

On Wednesday, Usamate said the 16 FijiFirst met with the Speaker and the secretary general of Parliament toseek clarification of the processes of Parliament.

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