Fiji’s election due next year could bring further unrest as government opponents try to persuade their supporters to boycott the elections, says one analyst. There are a number of possible scenarios following the outcome of the election.
Asia-Pacific Journalism Report – By Jane Jeffries
Fiji is in political conflict again as regime Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama proposes to push through the interim government’s draft constitution.
The draft constitution, while providing a foundation for the country to move towards democracy, is seen by some to have serious deficiencies.
Once the draft constitution is accepted, Bainimarama is planning to stand in the general election due in September 2014.
In 2006, Bainimarama and his Republic of Fiji Military Force (RFMF) removed the constitutionally elected Prime Minister and installed himself as Prime Minister.
While the general election will support one person one vote for all ethnicities, there are still differing views on the draft constitution, says retired Professor Crosbie Walsh, founding professor of development studies at the University of the South Pacific.
“The election could bring further unrest as the government opponents try to persuade their supporters to boycott the elections,” says Walsh, a New Zealander.
There are a number of possible scenarios following the outcome of the election, he says.
“If Bainimarama wins, the military will gradually withdraw from the scene, the ‘objectionable’ clauses in the decrees will eventually be dropped, and progressively a better-led and more truly equitable multiracial society will emerge.”
“Or, if Bainimarama loses and continues to have the support of the military, we are back at square one. There could be another coup.
“If he loses support of the military, the “old order’ will be back, and none of Fiji’s deep structural problems will have been resolved,” says Professor Walsh.
In 2011, the regime appointed its own Constitution Commission, chaired by Kenyan Professor Yash Ghai, to develop a new draft constitution to replace the 1997 one which was abrogated in April 2009.
Three regime supporters were involved in the rewrite.
But the draft was not to the government’s liking so it was trashed late last year.
The trashing of the report by the government, says Professor Walsh, was due to fears that the military regime could lose control.
“Some of the Ghai Draft Constitution provisions were unacceptable to the Bainimarama government, especially the ‘elevation’ of nominated and unelected civilians over the authority of Parliament and the power of the Prime Minister,” says Professor Walsh.
The government initiated its own Draft Constitution, replacing the Ghai document.
The Ghai draft was 199 pages long and the government replacement draft is 91 pages.
The United Front for a Democratic Fiji (UFDF), a coalition of parties active in the previous democracy, has rejected the government’s draft.
The UFDF says the regime’s draft perpetuates dictatorship and is inconsistent with the concept of a free and democratic society.
Not people’s document
It says the draft cannot be pushed as the people’s document because it is not.
Representatives from four disbanded political parties – Ratu Jone Kubuabola; Mahendra Chaudhry, a former prime minister deposed in the 2000 attempted coup; Mick Beddoes; and Attar Singh – head the United Front.
The UNDF is organising a number of meetings to discuss the draft.
Professor Walsh says the concerns expressed by the UFDF are real.
“There are sound reasons to be concerned about the Bill of Rights restrictions in the government draft; the entrenchment of decrees; the supposed restrictions on an independent judiciary; blanket immunities and possibly the absence of a caretaker government prior to elections,” say Professor Walsh.
He also says the confrontational posturing of the UFDF, made up of old political parties will prove fruitless as their constant opposition to all government initiatives and obvious self-interest “discredits” them.
“Chaudhry and the SDL (United Fiji Party) have never had any intention of working with government. They want to return to the old political order,” says Professor Walsh.
Professor Walsh says that even if Bainimarama amends some of the objectionable draft clauses, the draft will not change the position of its main opponents, the extreme iTaukei nationalists, the SDL and Chaudhry.
They will continue as they have done, using every opportunity to undermine Government. What they want is to return to power, says Professor Walsh.
Nikhil Naidu of the Auckland-based Coalition for Democracy in Fiji (CDF) says the government draft is not taking Fiji any closer to as democratic government.
“The rule of law in Fiji is compromised, independence of the judiciary is compromised, there is no auditor-general looking at where the money is going and the military just continuing to exercise their power and control the outcomes,” says Naidu.
Since 2006, militarisation of the government has increased, says Naidu.
“The military started in 2006 with their coup and are on track to legitimatise the Fiji military regime. The majority of Fijian people is apolitical and won’t think about it until it’s too late and poverty is rife,” says Naidu.
The Citizen’s Constitutional Forum has compared the government Draft Constitution with the Ghai Draft Constitution and acknowledges similarities but also points out a number of shortcomings with the government draft.
- all executive authority, judiciary and independent commissions will be appointed by the Prime Minister and Attorney- General,
- the Bill of Rights has a severe limitations on rights,
- the Chief Justice and President of the Court of Appeal will be political appointments, and
- little room is provided for citizen participation to ensure transparent governance.
There is an overriding feeling from many of the opposing groups that the regime wants to continue to hold most of the power.
“The government has meddled with the 2012 Draft Constitution – the “people’s draft”.
The power needs to be more equally distributed so people have more say in the running of the political process,” says Rev Akuila Yabaki, head of Fiji’s Citizens Constitutional Forum,
At the same time the government Draft Constitution was released, Bainimarama abandoned the Constituent Assembly.
Professor Walsh says that by abolishing the Constituent Assembly, the government sidelined the old political parties who would have tried to disrupt the proceedings.
Bainimarama has put the responsibility of the Constituent Assembly on the Fijian people.
The people of Fiji have been offered only a short time frame to make submissions on the draft by mail, email, text, face book, radio talkback and public meetings.
Public demand for a longer consultation period has forced the government to extend the consultation period from yesterday until April 24.
Despite a lack of time for submissions, Rev Yabaki says the people’s participation will “move the appreciation of democratic values, in a non-violent way to oppose dictatorial governance”.
Although the government will listen to its people it is unlikely any voice will dramatically change the government Draft Constitution.
Had the Ghai commission produced a report the government had found favorable, the Constituent Assembly may not been abandoned.
Professor Walsh says it isn’t too late.
Jane Jeffries is a Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student journalist on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University.
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