Since the Committee to Build a Better Fiji released a draft version August six of its 11-point plan to revamp the country’s ethnic-based electoral system and constitution, political parties and other institutions have been quietly debating the 75-page document. The so-called interim government of Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama, which came to power in a 2006 bloodless coup, said citizens of Fiji will have six weeks to comment on the plan, called the Fiji Draft People’s Charter for Change, Peace & Progress. Bainimarama says the Charter must be ratified in some form before the island nation holds elections, which were originally scheduled for March 2009.
Fiji has experienced four coups since 1987, brought on in part due to political instability stemming from “adversarial ethnic-based politics” that pit the indigenous Melanesian population against an Indian population imported by the British colonial administration who controlled Fiji until 1970.
Yet, bloggers and press advocates worry that the government’s strong reaction to criticism of the Charter is stifling debate. Members of the Interim Government have proclaimed anyone not sticking to respectful discussion could face arrest. Police questioned a member of the New Nationalist Party who objected on television to one of the Charter’s main tenets which will refer to all people born in Fiji as “Fijian,” a term only now used for indigenous fijians. People of Indian descent are presently called “Indo-Fijian.”
In a separate matter, police detained a journalist from the daily Fiji Times for a story she wrote that quoted a businessman who claimed the interim finance minister had been fired. The businessman was later detained.
With at least three prominent political parties scheduling meetings around the country the weekend of August 15-18 and the Methodist Church gathering in the capital Suva, some bloggers wonder whether the government will be using the police to further curtail discussion.
From Discombobulated Bubu
Our legitimate Opposition Leader [Mick]Beddoes said today that the use of police during the consultation process of the Draft Charter is part of the ongoing intimidation tactics used since 2006.
Its bad enough that the police cannot satisfactorily perform their task of catching thieves.
“So suddenly the junta can afford to now turn them into delivery boys whose mere presence at a home will intimidate people,” he said.
…Mr Beddoes said it was NOT the role of the police to be part of the teams that go around to promote the Charter.
Tensions increased the days following up to the annual conference of the Methodist Church, which includes a membership of an estimated 35 percent of Fiji’s population. The chairman for the United Fiji Party, known as the SDL, the country’s ruling party deposed during the 2006 coup, said party members will use the Methodist conference to influence attendees against the charter, which he called an “imposition to find justification for the 2006 coup.”
The Director of Information took note of the comment and said that if attendees to the Church conference will be discussing the Charter, the government would look into the matter. Police in Suva said if politics entered the Methodist program, they would withdraw the conference permit.
Church officials backed off from the matter.
A person named Striker argued in the Soli Vakasama blog that police forces have no business meddling in the Church's affairs.
The church, like political parties, is entitled to discuss political, economic, and social issues that affect the nation and its members. Second, the Church Conference, according to my understanding is a private gathering in a private Church venue.
In a debate on the forum Fiji Board Exiles, Kalougata opines that the Methodist church has always acted as an unofficial political party, which is not part of its charter.
As I have said from the beginning. Time for the I.G. to step in and strip them of any tax-free, church status that they enjoy, and time to label them as what they truly are, a political party, the MPP, aligned with the SDL, no longer a church. They long ago diverted from the teachings of Jesus and into the teachings of “nationalist, racist agenda” for Fiji. They will still have their “day of reckoning” before the lord. Shame.
Stuck in Fiji M.U.D points out the connection existing between the SDL party and the Methodist church.
Unfortunately, the difference between the two organizations have been blurred by some SDL party sympathizers, who are also lay preachers, and as such these blurring of roles also come with the baggage of blurring of ideals and blurring of finances. Where does this blurring begin and where does it end?
The blog Raw Fiji News claims the police and military have more to worry about than people discussing the Fiji Draft People’s Charter for Change, Peace & Progress.
The upcoming annual Methodist Church conference in Suva, Fiji, is turning out to be a huge threat for [Acting Fijian Army Commander Mohammed]Aziz. It’s an event that attracts the popular Methodist church followers from across Fiji. It can possibly become a nightmare for him, his boss and their cronnies and can become the biggest assembly since 05.12.06 to publicly protest against the military regime and their pseudo Constitution, the Charter.
Capital Suva will be a hive of activities as people converge to the troubled city for some high profile events like the Methodist Church conference, the Hibiscus Festival and rugby competitions. It is a natural mobilization of people in one city alone and a tiny spark can cause havoc to the already out-numbered and unpopular Aziz Mohammed-led troops.