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FIJI: Ex PM Chaudhry’s dilemma


Paper no. 624                           06.03.2003

by Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

Former Prime minister Chaudhry is facing a real dilemma. There has been a blatant violation of the constitution in the matter of cabinet formation by Prime minister Qarase and the case decided against him is now pending in the Supreme Court. Meantime, Qarase continues his business with his illegal cabinet as usual and taking decisions having a long term impact on the country. If Chaudhry cooperates with the government, he (Chaudhry) feels that it would not only make his case weak but would also legitimise all actions taken by Qarase. His party members in the absence of any role in governance are getting frustrated. There have been defections and threats of more such defections.

The Supreme court is taking its own time to hear the case in the absence of pressure from the government. It is learnt that the Supreme Court is unwilling to take up the case relating to the formation of the multi party cabinet pending, on a priority basis. The earliest it would take will only be towards the end of June. This is also not certain and there could be more procedural delays.

It was on February 15, 2002 that the court of Appeals ruled that the Fiji Labour Party led by Mahendra Chaudhry is entitled under the constitution to be represented in the cabinet in proportion to its numbers in the House of representatives. The relevant portion of the judgement said

We therefore hold that section 99(5) obliges a Prime minister to invite in unconditional terms parties which have 10% or more of the membership of the House to be represented in the Cabinet in accordance with the provision. This means that the invitation to participate in Cabinet may have to be issued across political lines.

Qarase who was taken aback by the decision condemned the judgement in most severe terms which in any other country would have amounted to contempt of court. Qarase’s position that the provision of the constitution relating to the formation of the cabinet is "unrealistic and unworkable" is not going to be accepted by the Supreme Court and he is quite aware of this. Therefore it suits him if the appeal in the Supreme court gets postponed and there is no guarantee that the case will be taken up even in June.

Mean time Qarase has been complaining to all and sundry that it is not his intransigence but the refusal of the leader of opposition Mahendra Chaudhry to enter into a dialogue with and cooperate with the ruling party to find solutions for the problems faced by Fiji. While making statements that he would abide by the court decision he makes no effort to expedite the case. Second, he is using the only minister of Indian origin he has in the cabinet to take pot shots at Mahendra Chaudhry and his party on every issue. One of his ministers Simione Kaitani, Assistant minister for Information has gone to the extent of saying that "Mahendra Chaudhry is determined to keep burning the fires of ethnic and racial hatred", all because Chaudhry refused to go along with Qarase.

The media is also being used to press the point that the Indo Fijians deserve a new leader to handle and settle critical ethnic and racial hatred. One John Ali, a former member and spokesman for the Fiji Labour Party is also being used to personally vilify Chaudhry.

Qarase is also said to have written to the Indian High Commissioner in Fiji, on 24 January, 2003 indirectly criticising Chaudhry’s stand on the multiparty cabinet and his refusal to enter into any dialogue with the Prime Minister. The relevant portion as it appeared in the Fiji media is as follows

"The multi party case should not be used to hold back on engaging in dialogue now to develop solutions that are in the best national interest. ... The multi party Cabinet is now before the Supreme Court and all should respect the independence of the Judiciary, the Prime minister said in the letter. Mr. Qarase had also expressed his appreciation ... on the comments made by Prime minster, Atal Bihari Vajpayee regarding problems in Fiji to be solved internally. ( Sun Fiji).

Fiji media widely reported that Indo Fijians will soon be eligible for dual citizenship. The Multi-Ethnic Affairs Minister, George Shiu Maharaj who led the delegation to attend the "Pravasi Bharathiya Divas"- (International conference on Indian Diaspora) said on his return that Indo Fijians may soon have dual passports. This statement was misleading as this facility was intended only for a few advanced countries and not at any rate for those of Indian origin in Fiji. But the damage has been done and this will add up to more prejudice against the poor Indo Fijian community. We had always felt that the offer of dual citizenship however restrictive it may be would certainly raise questions about loyalty of those Indians who are not well placed either economically or politically. This is going to be the case for people of Indian origin in Malaysia, Trinidad and Tobago and in countries south of Sahara in Africa.

Justice is finally catching up with the mutineers who took over the army camp of Vana Levu at the time of 2000 coup. Fifty six soldiers including two sub lieutenants were sentenced to various periods of imprisonment for taking over a camp at Vana Levu island causing casualties to the army. The two officers who led the mutiny were given life imprisonment while the rest received between three and ten years of imprisonment. Though some described the punishment as harsh, the President of the military court martial, Col. Ilaisa Kacisolomone said that the sentences were necessary to serve as a deterrent to other soldiers. Another development was that in the course of the court martial, it came to light that three indigenous chiefs were also involved and they were present in the camp during the mutiny. These chiefs had backed up the coup leader George Speight (since sentenced) and the soldiers apparently mutinied in support of the chiefs and the coup leader.