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Fiji: Court rules military government illegal

Fiji’s bloggers are reacting to a recent court ruling that deems the country’s military-backed government illegally came to power in December 2006. The court asks Fiji’s President to appoint a caretaker government to rule in its place until elections can be held.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama, head of Fiji's military, came to power in December 2006 after months of conflict with the government of Laisenia Qarase over what he deemed its corrupt and racist policies. He claimed a state-of-emergency existed and assumed the role of President. He then appointed an interim Prime Minister, who advised Bainimarama to dissolve Parliament. Bainimarama stepped down as President a month later, and the country’s president appointed Bainimarama as Prime Minister of an Interim Government which would rule without a Parliament. It was Fiji’s fourth military coup since 1987.

Laisenia Qarase challenged his dismissal in court, and in October 2008 Fiji’s High Court ruled the President could exercise prerogative powers during a public crisis. Thursday’s ruling found the President ‘s prerogative powers in this situation “did not continue to exist in Fiji after the 1997 Constitution.”

However, the judges argued that even if Qarase had not formally resigned as Prime Minister, he had not held office in over two years, making a “fresh start” necessary for Fiji. The judges called on the Interim Prime Minister to step down and the country’s President should appoint a caretaker government “independent of the parties to this litigation,” meaning neither Bainimarama or Qarase can become Prime Minister in the new government, which will remain in place until new elections are scheduled. However, because the Bainimarama government held power for two years, the judges deemed the actions and laws of that government legal.

Government lawyers asked the court to grant a stay on the ruling, but were refused.

Bainimarama addressed the nation after the ruling, claiming he would step down as Prime Minister while remaining head of Fiji’s military. This move, he said, effectively leaves the country without “a Prime Minister or any Ministers of the Sate. In other words we do not have a Government in place.” He has consulted with the President, he said, who will make a decision soon on the caretaker government.

At the heart of the country's political problems are poor relations between parties representing indigenous Fijians — who presently make up roughly 60 percent of the population — and the political parties representing Indo-Fijians — the descendants of tens of thousands of indentured workers brought by the British colonial rulers during the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century to help build Fiji’s sugar industry. Bainimarama wanted to abolish the country's communal-based eleciton system in hopes to provide more power to political parties that appeal to people of both races.

The largely anti-Bainimarama political blogosphere in and around Fiji was ecstatic at the ruling. “Justice at last,” claimed one blog while another maintained “what a meaningful Easter it will be for the people in Fiji.”

At the Soli Vakasama Blog, commenter meme expressed relief:

Exciting news…at least Fiji and the whole world can be reminded that Qarase’s removal was unlawful…let’s pray and hope for the best!

Peace Pipe looks forward to this government's fall:

I am so so elated with this great news of joy. Of course it was coming this way as nothing is legal about a coup and if tested by law it will always be found illegal. It was so blatantly shameful the way [Fiji’s Attorney General Aiyaz SAYED-KHAIYUM] iarse was talking about power vacuum and other garbage about catching the bus and so on. Just get the heck out or else he should be charged with contempt. Old puppy puppet pressie should immediately call for a caretaker govt who would work immediately towards elections.

Raw Fiji News said Bainimarama said all the right things in his address to the nation.

Frank has kind of acknowledged that neither he nor Qarase can be caretaker PM but has stressed that he as the Commander of the RFMF will ensure that peace is maintained in Fiji.

That’s the way to go Frank!

Follow the rule of law and fight the fight legally, not with the guns cause your gun holders are now on the masses side.

Not everyone is so sanguine. Intelligentsiya surmises that Bainimarama will not step down as Prime Minister and allow his government to fall.

That’s right folks. Bainimarama as we’ve long known is ONLY about Number 1. Himself. And he certainly does not want anyone else stepping into his shoes or taking over his privileges. So right now at the fourth floor of his Govt Buildings office they are plotting and scheming the possibility of abrogating the constitution ASAP.

NZ PM John Key’s knew this even when commenting after the court ruling was handed down today. Australia also in response reiterated the need for the court ruling should be respected but everyone knows that Frank is an uncompromising terrorist thug.

Over at Intelligentsiya, Fiji Democracy Now begins asking questions on how Fiji will find a way forward.

But what we don't know is whether Voreqe Bainimarama will respect the court's ruling?

Or will he, like the outlaw he his, try and evade the law?

Will today's decision spur Bainimarama to turn his back on the Constitution and formalize his dictatorship?

And, if that happens, can he be confident of carrying the army and his rag-tag opportunist supporters with him?

Or will reason, common sense and decency prevail and will the army disown their commander on the grounds that he is only destroying Fiji in his bid to evade justice?

The other crucial question is the capacity of our President to abide by the court's ruling and appoint an independent person as a caretaker Prime Minister.

No doubt all of these questions will be answered in the next few days and weeks.

In the meantime, we can only hope and pray that, finally, our beloved nation can find the right path leading out of the catastrophe that has been wrought by the actions of an outlaw.

Loyal Fijian has a list of seven possibilities on the near-term future for Fiji.

There a number of possibilities, in order of likelihood:

1. The President re-affirms Commodore Bainimarama as Interim PM

2. Interim Government overrules Appeals Court of Fiji under Doctrine of National Security Exigency

3. New independent PM is appointed who vacates office in favour of Commodore Bainimarama

4. Constitution is abrogated and the People Charter will serve as the framework to return Fiji to Parliamentary rule
5. Independent PM is appointed who calls for fresh elections in 12 months

6. Mahendra Chaudhry is appointed as Interim PM

7. [Spokesman for Qarase] Peceli Kinivuwai is named as Interim PM

The Appeals Court of Fiji is not unexpected given the precedent that was set in Chandarika Prasad case that allowed a return to Parliamentary rule in 2000. As such, the planners in the IG would have sufficient time to work out their options.

[Links added by author to provide context.]

  • jkck

    Finally, someone is reconglizing this militart coup as being illegal. Although the tensions between the Maori and Indian populations in this country have existed for generations, the idea of a military coup to shift the balance of power is rediculous. There have already been three military coups before this, the underlying cause of all being for the same reason; ethnic tensions. In the past 20 years, there have already been several new constitutions, each either creating or dissmantling the segregation of an ethnic group. It is about time this madness stopped. When Bainimarama led the fourth military coup a few years ago, he put aside and hope of tranquility in the region once more as he took complete power away from the president while forcing the Prime Minister to go under house arrest. In conclusion, although Bainimarama is claiming to step down from politics, the region has to work out some sort of agreeable compromise between te two sides or it could lead to the destruction of the whole country.

  • Rachel L

    It is important the Fijan Supreme Court finally ruled the military regime lead by Military ruler Frank Bainimarama is unlawful. It is critical to note that the military government breached Fiji’s constitution. According to the BBC, if Bainimarama doesn’t step down and a democracy isn’t created, Fiji will be removed from the “Pacific Islands Forum, a regional trade and diplomatic bloc.” Furthermore, this military regime contains skepticism and blames President Ratu Josefa Iloilo for the takeover of former Prime Minister Qarase’s government. Hopefully, the Ethinic Fijans and Indians can try to work together to create a new democratic government.

  • acak

    Fiji continues to be a politically unstable nation, due to the mounting tensions between the Indians and ethnic Fijians; this conflict is clearly reflected in Fiji’s political history, where the Indians and Fijians have clashed on issues regarding discrimination. Although the country in the past has attempted to transform into a democratic republic, the government has failed, resorting to military coups to resolve the ethnic conflicts. Unfair, corrupt practices, commencing with General Rabuka’s military coup in 1987, have tainted the reputation of the governmental system. Even after a fair election of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudry, the country objected; because of his Indian heritage, people such as George Speight strongly believed he could not exemplify the needs of the ehnic Fijians. Even after Qarase attempted to advocate for racial equality among citizens, he was still heavily scrutinized by both groups, who felt that his policies were biased to benefit only one ethnic group. After a 20 year period of volatility, courts have finally realized that Bainimarama’s tyrannous take over is illegal.
    Since his ascension to power in the fall of 2006, self appointed Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has wreaked corruption and conflict throughout his country. Not only has Bainimarama ousted the previous he has driven to increase his personal power within the government. Historically, Fiji’s Great Council of Chiefs which is comprised of the President, the Vice President, the Prime Minister, six chiefs, 42 provincial council members, three Rotuma Island Council members and a Sitiveni Rabuka member. However when the council refused to endorse Bainimarama’s organized government Bainimarama dissolved the council, banning any future meetings. In February 2008, Bainimarama reinstated the council. However, in doing so he declared himself the chairman of the council. In addition to his political fraudulency, Bainimarama has made alleged accusations in assassination attempts. In November 2007, the Prime Minister accused sixteen people of treason in an assassination attempt against himself. His supposed assassinators included politicians, businessmen and New Zealand nationalists. This conspicuous accusation also rendered discord between Fiji and New Zealand. This international disagreement escalated into an argument over the lack of democratic conventions present in Fiji. Another source of corruption that Bainimarama has exploited includes elections. As of December 2008, Bainimarama postponed the upcoming elections. Ultimately the tyranny and corruption Prime Minister Bainimarama has inflicted on Fiji is an issue that must be addressed.

  • Frank

    The end result of the Courts actions is most distressing for Fiji. The Court directed the President to appoint a new Interim Prime Minister. A president who remained in office only at the whim of Bainimarama. A President who has no backbone to stand up to Bainimarama and the military.

    The actions of the President abrogating the Constitution make the Rule of Law in Fiji a joke. There is no law in Fiji, just a military dictatorship.

    The events of the past day, the emergency decrees and the censorship of all media outlets, means Bainimarama intends to retain power by whatever means are necessary. Elections that were to be held this year, are a hollow promise for 2014 at the earliest. For all intent purposes, Fiji has suffered it’s 5th coup. The collusion between the figurehead President and Bainimarama found Bainimarama replacing himself but with greater powers and no Constitution to hinder him.

    A sad time for Fiji, now governed in the same manner as Zimbabwe.

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  • Frank

    In my haste to post the comment, I did not make it clear that I whole-heartedly agree with the Court that Bainimarama’s government is illegal. It was the leader’s reaction to that decision that is distressing. By dismissing the very Courts that called their actions illegal, they demonstrate a total lack of regard for the legal process and their insistence on remaining in power.

    If any of them truly believed in the Constitution they swore to uphold (another broken promise), they would have followed legal and established means to create a better government. Their farcical swearing-in ceremonies stating their dedication to the Fiji people are worthy of nightclub comedy sketches. It’s amazing how quickly they can organize these ceremonies with all the pomp and circumstance yet they can not organize a simple election or get King’s Highway repaired.

  • Frank

    Sunday evening in Fiji has the military censors denying the media permission to announce the news. FijiTV is not broadcasting it’s nightly news program at all. There are military personnel at all TV and radio stations as well as newspapers. Radio announcers have been warned they are not to make any mention of the news. The first freedom taken away in any dictatorship is the freedom of the press to inform the public.

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