Fiji: A roadmap towards elections?

Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama told an audience his government will soon begin work on the country’s new constitution and a “road map” to elections set to take place in 2014.

He didn’t provide a timetable, or framework, but it is the first signs of the country gaining a new political and social code since April, when the President annulled the country’s 1997 Constitution and gave Bainimarama and his government a five-year mandate. The president was reacting to a court decision claiming Bainimarama, who is also Fiji’s military leader, came to power illegally in December 2006 when he dissolved Parliament and the government of Laisenia Qarase. The court ordered Bainimarama to step down and the President to replace him with a caretaker government to lead the country to elections. The president said he had no authority to create a new government, so he did away with the constitution.

Bainimarama’s 2006 takeover was Fiji’s fourth military coup since 1987. But it was the first to support – at least in name – the interests of ethnic Indians who make up a bit less than 40 percent of the islands’ population. The indo-Fijian population, the descendants of imported workers sent by the former British colonial rulers to toil in Fiji’s sugar and copra industry, enjoy great economic success but are (some argue) hampered politically, especially by the former constitution, which guaranteed equal rights to all communities, but also codified the “paramountcy” of ethnic Fijian interests.

When Bainimarama first assumed power, he promised to clean up what he called the corrupt practices of the former government (and former governments) and hold in check what he called Qarase’s racist policies. (For example, the military leader criticized that government’s attempt to provide amnesty to perpetrators of Fiji’s 2000 coup that brought down a multi-ethnic government led by an Indo-Fijian.) In 2007, the military government embarked on the People’s Charter for Change, Peace and Progress to rid the country of “race based” politics, policies and institutions.

Bainimarama also targeted for change Fiji’s ethnic-based electoral system (where people of different ethnicities vote on different rolls). He claims it provides too much power to parties who can gain only ethnic support, instead of attracting voters ideologically, such as through economic policies.

Bainimarama has been mostly quiet since on the abrogation on Fiji's political future. Speaking Monday, Bainimarama said the new constitution would not tolerate politicians using racial discrimination as a tool to win votes.

Ironically, as Bainimarama was speaking of a new constitution, his government extended to August the Public Emergency Rules that limit free media by placing government censors in newsrooms, extend police search and seizure powers and force organizations to ask for permission to hold meetings.

Unlike the political dialogue set before the 1997 constitution was annulled, which most bloggers ignored, Bainimarama’s move to rebuild the nation’s constitution has piqued some interest in the blogosphere.

Joe, writing in Real Fiji News, has a few thoughts for the new constitution.

It is a clear indication that we are on the road to democracy when the Prime Minister is talking about a new constitution and blue print for the country.

I have a few suggestions for the electoral provision of our new constitution:
1) The President, Senators and members of the lower house, to be elected.
2) Any party or independent that has failed to win at least one seat in 2 consecutive elections in the past be deemed as “ineligible” to contest in any future elections.
3) Any former “Democratically elected” PM cannot contest in any future
4) Any party and/or their prospective derivatives that demonstrated an intent to enact/legislate racist policies in the past be ineligible to contest in any future elections.
5) Compulsory retirement of PMs after 2 consecutive terms in office or 8 yrs, whichever is the lesser.
6) Absolutely no Brij lal style multiparty cabinet. It sux. [Note: This refers to problematic Constitutional provision that any party with more than eight seats must be given a proportional number of cabinet posts. It was ignored by both ethnic Fijian and ethnic Indian governments.]
7) The RFMF [Royal Fiji Military Forces] to ensure transparency in relation to elections for the new parliament and be granted immunity from prosecution for the “cleanup campaign” that came into effect on 5th Dec 2006 and all subsequent events/actions involving the RFMF and its Commander-in Chief for the maintenance of law and order by decree or otherwise, as seen appropriate in their judgment. Under the “Doctrine of Necessity” clause of the 1997 constitution prior to its abrogation or adopted in part after abrogation.
8.) Subsequent to clause (7), immunity from prosecution is to be granted to the RFMF and its Commander-in-Chief for events/actions prior to 5th Dec 2006, but limited to and including the exact time of appointment of Commodore Frank Bainimarama as “Commander of RFMF”.

This brought a few comments.

From kahukiwa:

A new constitution granting immunity for the illegal regime – now I didn’t see that coming (!!).

Banning of past Prime Ministers – now thats a surprise. As is your assumption that any former PM wasn’t democratically elected.

The assumption that the army is the only body that can assure transparency – thats an even bigger surprise!

What will be even more interesting is exactly how the dictatorship intends shaping electoral reform. Like all good tin pot military regimes they will want assurances that they can still influence outcomes. So how are they going to deal with the demographics of Fiji, which suggest that indigenous Fijians will enjoy a substantial numeric advantage by the time of any future elections, and which by that stage will probably be open to any political body that isn’t sponsored or representative of the narrow interests the army represents. And one suspects that the Peoples Charter isn’t going to solve that little problem.

Tears for Fiji questioned the extent which a written document can create racial harmony.

This illegal leader Voreqe [Bainimarama] definitely must be living in La-laland to even think that his new constitution is going to eradicate racial discrimination.
What he doesn't know because he lacks the intellectual capacity to comprehend it is that racial discrimination is a worldly issue that WILL NEVER EVER BE ERADICATED FROM THE FACE OF THIS EARTH WITH WORDS! It's up to each and every individual to make that choice for him/herself.
And who is he to say that “he will not tolerate racial discrimination as a way of dividing people.” No one likes to be discriminated against whether it is race or gender or religion or sexual orientation or whatever. But at some point in our lives, we would have been discriminated against. Heck! I have. It annoys me, but it is how we deal with it that matters. Not by how some gun-totting coward like Voreqe, who comes along and tries to play “saviour”. So sorry that the people of Dawasamu have to listen to his garbage, but then again it's their choice and their loss to be brainwashed by this idiot of a fool!

Since the President abrogated the constitution, one of main subplots in Fiji has been the fight between the government and the Methodist church – whose membership claims roughly 35 percent of the population (the majority are ethnic Fijians). The government argues some Church leaders harbor dangerous nationalist tendencies and some of its members were involved in the previous pro-Fijian coups. The government has deferred indefinitely this year’s Methodist conference because it claims the meeting would be used to organize opposition to change in Fiji and provide voice to instigators.

In response to the call for a new constitution, the Methodist church of Fiji and Rotuma released a statement, published on the blog at Soli Vakasama, calling for the government to:

-Reinstate the Constitution and comply with the rule of law as directed by the Appeals Court on Thursday 09 April 2009

-Return the country to democratic elections under the 1997 Constitution, and under foreign, independent supervision, not later than December 2009

-Protect all the rights of its citizens as stipulated under the 1997 Constitution, especially from arbitrary arrest, harassment, torture and inhumane treatment

-Reinstate the law courts and ensure an independent judiciary.
-Ensure that any changes to the electoral system are democratic, constitutional, participatory, and inclusive and accounts for the interests of all individuals and ethnic groups complying with the UN Convention on the Declaration of Human Rights as well the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

-Ensure that the Charter is considered and acted upon in line with the provisions of the 1997 Constitution.

-Ensure the operation of a free and independent media

-Set up an independent truth and reconciliation commission towards national forgiveness, reconciliation and healing.

This, too, has brought out a few comments:

EnufDictatorship says

Well done to the statement!
But again I still feel, ALL OUR TALK IS WIND…and we have been doing a lot of that really since Dec. 5 2006.
Something CONCRETE will have to come out of the fasting and praying. Our Father is an ACTIVE trinity in Heaven and Earth. He doesn’t slumber or fall asleep.

Shiregal argues:

Well, better late then never, I guess!!!! The church’s silence has been deafening in the last two years!!! More so when people have been tortured and killed. Constitutional officers sacked without a murmur???? Citizens basic human rights violated…..blatently……silence!!!!!!

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