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FIJI: Constitutional Stand off continues


Paper 1016                                                     04.06.2004

by Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

The Supreme Court takes up the case of Mahendra Chaudhry on cabinet formation:

As expected on 10th May, the Supreme Court formally took steps to hear the submissions from both the government and the Labour Party on the question of Labour’s claim for 17 seats and not 14 seats according to the Constitution. In our paper 889 dated 8th Jan. 2004 and the earlier one 783 dated 9thSeptember, 2003, we had pointed out the futility of taking case after case on the provisions of the 1997 Constitution and that the interests of Indo Fijians are not better protected by a mere increase of three numbers in the cabinet posts. Chaudhry had a choice either to be an obstructionist or to act as a solid and responsible opposition leader to take care of the interests of the party in general and the Indo Fijians in particular.

But Chaudhry has continued to be adamant. Recently, Chaudhry as the parliamentary leader of Labour Party declined to nominate six members to the Ad hoc committee on Sugar industry. Sugar industry by itself should be of great concern to the Indo Fijians and yet Chaudhry refused to participate in any activity of the parliament until the court case is solved.

By the time the Supreme Court decides the cabinet formation case, there will hardly be any time left for Chaudhry and his labour party to take any meaningful role in the governance of the country. The next elections to the Parliament are due in 2006. Prime Minister Qarase will have the last laugh!

Fiji’s founding Prime Minister, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara died on 18th April, 2004 after a brief illness.

Chief Ratu Mara was Prime Minister of Fiji for its first seventeen years of independence from 1970 to 1988 until defeated by Dr. Timothy Bavadra of the Fiji Labour Party. During his tenure, there was hardly any conflict between the two racial communities- the indigenous Fijians and the Indo Fijians. He provided a stable leadership and believed in ethnic harmony for the well being of Fiji. He continued to hold this belief until his death.

Soon after Bavadra took over, though no fault of his, ethnic problems surfaced and the country had been rocked by coup after coup and the last one in 2000 has had a devastating effect on all the communities in that country.

On multi racialism- he had said "We had to find a common path towards unity, a unity that transcends race and religion and recognises that we are all sons and daughters of Fiji." This was quoted by Prime Minister Qarase in his tribute to the late chief at the State Memorial Service.

2002 Coup Cases continue to be pursued relentlessly and rule of law prevails.

It goes to the credit of present government led by Qarase that cases related to the 2002 coup are being pursued vigorously. In Andrew Hughes, the Police Commissioner who has come on a deputation from Australia, the government has an excellent officer with impeccable integrity. A task force has been established to make enquiries of officers involved in the coup. An intelligence analyst from Australia Federal Police has been inducted to assist the commissioner in the enquiries and for taking disciplinary action.

An Australian lawyer will be prosecuting the Vice President of Fiji, Ratu Jope Seniloli and another minister in the current government who are facing trial for their participation in the unlawful government set up by the coup leader George Speight.

The Police Commissioner has started investigation on the involvement of his own police officers in the 2000 coup.

To cap it all, on 18th May the Cabinet has approved the formation of a commission to look into the allegations that the current Army Commander, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama had planned to overthrow the government if his contract was not extended. Five senior army officers have deposed to this effect and the decision was taken after the National Security Council found the allegations to have some basis.

In our paper 940 of 3rd March, 2004, a detailed analysis has been made as to how a coup by the military commander was averted and why the political parties should stop infighting and work towards strengthening democracy, lest the "big daddy" takes over.

Rabuka and his multi racial alliance:

In the midst of serious developments in Fiji, former coup master and a member of the Great Council Chiefs, Sitiveni Rabuka has provided some comic relief in announcing the soon to be formed party named Fiji Multi Racial Alliance. 17 years on from his first coup which shattered the multi racial harmony carefully built by Sir Kamikese Mara, Rabuka now claims that Fiji’s future lies with a truly multi-racial government!