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FIJI: Rule of Law Prevails;


Paper 1092                           17.08.2004

by Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

Qarase offers 14 portfolios to the Labour Party:

The Supreme Court of Fiji, gave its verdict on July 9, 2004 where it interpreted that Section 99 of the Constitution lays down that the proportion of the ruling party and the opposition having more than ten percent representation in the cabinet should be in the same proportion as that of the members in Parliament. ( Paper 1057 dated 14th July, 2004 refers).

This would mean that Qarase’s ruling coalition and the Labour opposition could have 16 and 14 members from each party respectively in the cabinet.

Prime Minister Qarase, swallowing his pride offered to give the Fiji Labour Party 14 seats in the cabinet leaving only 16 berths for his party and his current coalition partners.

The offer of the Prime minister is certainly aimed first to obey strictly the Supreme Court ruling and also to end once and for all the three-year constitutional crisis over power sharing in a multi racial society. Though he may have been reluctant with his consistent view that 1997 Constitution so far as it relates to power sharing is unworkable, yet Qarase was gracious enough to accept defeat and offer 14 of the 30 berths in the Cabinet to the opposition Labour Party.

It is time for Mahendra Chaudhry to be magnanimous:

While the initial crisis was started by Qarase in not accepting the Labour party at all in the cabinet with the Labour Party forcing their leader Mahendra Chaudhry to seek redress from the courts, it is time for Chaudhry to relent and accept the offer.

In a television statement on the multi party cabinet and the Supreme Court decisions earlier on 17th September, 2003, Prime Minister Qarase challenged Chaudhry and his labour Party

* To assure the nation that it will come into Cabinet immediately after the Supreme Court delivers its opinion on Labour’s entitlement to positions in Cabinet.

* To give an assurance that in Cabinet and in Parliament that the Labour Party will accept and respect the authority of the Prime Minister as the Head of Cabinet and of Government

* To confirm the Labour Party’s commitment to the Constitutional rules on collective responsibility both in Cabinet and Parliament.

Now that the Supreme Court has given the ruling with regard to the number of positions that can be held by the Labour Party and Prime Minister Qarase has followed it up with an offer of 14 berths in a cabinet of 16, it is now the turn of opposition Leader Chaudhry to accept the offer graciously and join the cabinet.

So far there has been no information whether Chaudhry has accepted the offer. He should rather accept the offer immediately and put an end to the constitutional crisis.

We had pointed out and we repeat once again that if Chaudhry wants to agree with Qarase that the Constitutional power sharing arrangements given in 1997 Constitution are unworkable, then he is doing the right thing in delaying his decision. Other wise, he should accept the offer immediately without creating further constitutional hurdles.

The Chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs once said that "Race is a fact of life and is not a problem unless people make it out to be so. It is for Chaudhry now to prove that this is true.

Fijian Vice President Ratu Seniloli and others found guilty and sentenced:

On 5th of August, the Lower Court of Fiji, found Vice President Ratu Seniloli and four others including the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament guilty for their participation in the 2000 coup of George Speight.

In keeping with the rules of court procedures, a convicted person will have to await sentencing in jail. The Vice President and his group were therefore taken in a Police Bus under heavy Police Court to the local jail. The plea of the accused that sentencing may be delayed by a day to enable them to attend the funeral of the widow of Ratu Mara was turned down by the magistrate.

The accused have since been given four years’ imprisonment and are expected to appeal soon.

In of our earlier papers, we had observed that the legal system in Fiji is strong enough to hold good in spite of the country being unstable due to repeated coups. One legal expert while taking up the cases of those involved in coup had said "those in power have bitten the bullet and decided it is important to demonstrate to the wider community that the legal system works and people will be held accountable for their actions."

Credit should also go to the Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes who hails from Australia, for relentlessly pursuing the case. To conduct the case, a qualified prosecutor from New South Wales- Mark Tedeschi, was brought in so that no influence or pressure is brought from within the government.

All these show that even in a small and coup ridden country like Fiji, rule of law prevails.