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Fiji: Court rules military government illegal

Fiji’s bloggers are reacting to a recent court ruling that deems the country’s military-backed government illegally came to power in December 2006. The court asks Fiji’s President to appoint a caretaker government to rule in its place until elections can be held.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama, head of Fiji's military, came to power in December 2006 after months of conflict with the government of Laisenia Qarase over what he deemed its corrupt and racist policies. He claimed a state-of-emergency existed and assumed the role of President. He then appointed an interim Prime Minister, who advised Bainimarama to dissolve Parliament. Bainimarama stepped down as President a month later, and the country’s president appointed Bainimarama as Prime Minister of an Interim Government which would rule without a Parliament. It was Fiji’s fourth military coup since 1987.

Laisenia Qarase challenged his dismissal in court, and in October 2008 Fiji’s High Court ruled the President could exercise prerogative powers during a public crisis. Thursday’s ruling found the President ‘s prerogative powers in this situation “did not continue to exist in Fiji after the 1997 Constitution.”

However, the judges argued that even if Qarase had not formally resigned as Prime Minister, he had not held office in over two years, making a “fresh start” necessary for Fiji. The judges called on the Interim Prime Minister to step down and the country’s President should appoint a caretaker government “independent of the parties to this litigation,” meaning neither Bainimarama or Qarase can become Prime Minister in the new government, which will remain in place until new elections are scheduled. However, because the Bainimarama government held power for two years, the judges deemed the actions and laws of that government legal.

Government lawyers asked the court to grant a stay on the ruling, but were refused.

Bainimarama addressed the nation after the ruling, claiming he would step down as Prime Minister while remaining head of Fiji’s military. This move, he said, effectively leaves the country without “a Prime Minister or any Ministers of the Sate. In other words we do not have a Government in place.” He has consulted with the President, he said, who will make a decision soon on the caretaker government.

At the heart of the country's political problems are poor relations between parties representing indigenous Fijians — who presently make up roughly 60 percent of the population — and the political parties representing Indo-Fijians — the descendants of tens of thousands of indentured workers brought by the British colonial rulers during the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century to help build Fiji’s sugar industry. Bainimarama wanted to abolish the country's communal-based eleciton system in hopes to provide more power to political parties that appeal to people of both races.

The largely anti-Bainimarama political blogosphere in and around Fiji was ecstatic at the ruling. “Justice at last,” claimed one blog while another maintained “what a meaningful Easter it will be for the people in Fiji.”

At the Soli Vakasama Blog, commenter meme expressed relief:

Exciting news…at least Fiji and the whole world can be reminded that Qarase’s removal was unlawful…let’s pray and hope for the best!

Peace Pipe looks forward to this government's fall:

I am so so elated with this great news of joy. Of course it was coming this way as nothing is legal about a coup and if tested by law it will always be found illegal. It was so blatantly shameful the way [Fiji’s Attorney General Aiyaz SAYED-KHAIYUM] iarse was talking about power vacuum and other garbage about catching the bus and so on. Just get the heck out or else he should be charged with contempt. Old puppy puppet pressie should immediately call for a caretaker govt who would work immediately towards elections.

Raw Fiji News said Bainimarama said all the right things in his address to the nation.

Frank has kind of acknowledged that neither he nor Qarase can be caretaker PM but has stressed that he as the Commander of the RFMF will ensure that peace is maintained in Fiji.

That’s the way to go Frank!

Follow the rule of law and fight the fight legally, not with the guns cause your gun holders are now on the masses side.

Not everyone is so sanguine. Intelligentsiya surmises that Bainimarama will not step down as Prime Minister and allow his government to fall.

That’s right folks. Bainimarama as we’ve long known is ONLY about Number 1. Himself. And he certainly does not want anyone else stepping into his shoes or taking over his privileges. So right now at the fourth floor of his Govt Buildings office they are plotting and scheming the possibility of abrogating the constitution ASAP.

NZ PM John Key’s knew this even when commenting after the court ruling was handed down today. Australia also in response reiterated the need for the court ruling should be respected but everyone knows that Frank is an uncompromising terrorist thug.

Over at Intelligentsiya, Fiji Democracy Now begins asking questions on how Fiji will find a way forward.

But what we don't know is whether Voreqe Bainimarama will respect the court's ruling?

Or will he, like the outlaw he his, try and evade the law?

Will today's decision spur Bainimarama to turn his back on the Constitution and formalize his dictatorship?

And, if that happens, can he be confident of carrying the army and his rag-tag opportunist supporters with him?

Or will reason, common sense and decency prevail and will the army disown their commander on the grounds that he is only destroying Fiji in his bid to evade justice?

The other crucial question is the capacity of our President to abide by the court's ruling and appoint an independent person as a caretaker Prime Minister.

No doubt all of these questions will be answered in the next few days and weeks.

In the meantime, we can only hope and pray that, finally, our beloved nation can find the right path leading out of the catastrophe that has been wrought by the actions of an outlaw.

Loyal Fijian has a list of seven possibilities on the near-term future for Fiji.

There a number of possibilities, in order of likelihood:

1. The President re-affirms Commodore Bainimarama as Interim PM

2. Interim Government overrules Appeals Court of Fiji under Doctrine of National Security Exigency

3. New independent PM is appointed who vacates office in favour of Commodore Bainimarama

4. Constitution is abrogated and the People Charter will serve as the framework to return Fiji to Parliamentary rule
5. Independent PM is appointed who calls for fresh elections in 12 months

6. Mahendra Chaudhry is appointed as Interim PM

7. [Spokesman for Qarase] Peceli Kinivuwai is named as Interim PM

The Appeals Court of Fiji is not unexpected given the precedent that was set in Chandarika Prasad case that allowed a return to Parliamentary rule in 2000. As such, the planners in the IG would have sufficient time to work out their options.

[Links added by author to provide context.]


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