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Fiji's President voids constitution, calls for elections in five years

Less than 24 hours after a Fiji court declared the country’s military backed government to be unconstitutional, Fiji’s president has voided the country’s constitution, made himself head of state and dismissed the country’s judiciary.

The issue stems from a Thursday, April 9 court ruling stating the military leader Frank Bainimarama came to power illegally in December 2006 when he dissolved Parliament and ousted the government of Laisenia Qarase. Later that day, Bainimarama said he would step down and allow the President to appoint a caretaker government as ordered by the three judges.

Speaking to the nation mid-morning Friday, President Ratu Josefa Iloilo said he was incapable of following the Court of Appeal’s ruling to appoint a caretaker government because the constitution provided him no powers to do so. Because a country cannot survive without a standing government, he said he was forced to take over the government and will appoint an interim Prime Minister in the next few days. In perhaps his biggest surprise, the President said this interim body will rule Fiji until elections can be held in five years time, no later than September 2014.

The reclusive Iloilo said the five-year time frame will allow the new government “to put into place the necessary reforms and processes.” This includes fixing certain elements of the now-abrogated 1997 constitution, including voting reform and most likely deleting the provision that provides paramountcy to interests of the indigenous Fijian community over those of other ethnic communities.

The military backed government of Frank Bainimarama that was ousted in Thursday's ruling spent much of the past year drafting and attempting to implement the People's Charter for Peace, Change and Progress, which the military leader claims will do away with communal based voting (where members of different races vote on separate ballots) in a hope to give more power to political parties that attract support across racial and ethnic lines, hopefully delivering Fiji into a post racial society. Here is a review of an early version of the Charter.

Fiji has endured four military coups since 1987. If one could simply categorize the takeovers, the first three occurred to increase the primacy of indigenous Fijian political rights over other ethnic groups, especially the Indo-Fijians, the descendants of indentured servants brought from India to work on sugar and copra plantations around 100 years ago by the British colonial rulers. The Indo-Fijian community, which once made up nearly two-thirds of the country’s population but now constitutes less than 40 percent, has seen its political power marginalized because those three military interventions dissolved governments lead by Indo-Fijian political parties. However, as a whole, Indo-Fijians continue economic success on the islands.

The now abrogated 1997 Constitution, detractors argue, only codified those nationalist tendencies of certain indigenous Fijian political factions. Crosbie Walsh, a New Zealand academic who spent years working in Fiji, argues against the perceived fairness of that document. The blogger Laminar_Flow claims that by forcing Fiji to offer quick elections with a flawed electoral system, the country will continue to be ruled by flawed governments. (Sorry folks, but I can only find detractors of the former constitution. If you’ve got something nice to say about the 1997 Constitution, please email me or place it in a comment below.)

Bainimarama, Fiji’s military leader, carried out Fiji’s fourth coup in December 2006 ostensibly to right the perceived wrongs of past coups and what he saw as the increasingly nationalist (and racist) tendencies of the government of Laisenia Qarase. The Qarase-led SDL government created a controversial affirmative action program only supporting indigenous Fijians entering business and was accused of attempting to pass a law that could have provided amnesty to some of the perpetrators who carried out Fiji’s 2000 coup.

Bainimarama’s coup was first met with very guarded optimism by some of Fiji’s neighbors and regional political bodies. Bainimarama disarmed criticism when he outlined his prospective reforms and promised members of the regional Pacific Island Forum that elections would be held by March 2009. He soon separated himself from that pledge. Tensions from both sides rose, leading the Forum to demand in January Fiji schedule elections by May First of this year or face expulsion. A few weeks later, the Commonwealth of former British colonies gave notice that if Fiji did not comply with scheduling an election date by September, the country would be forced from that body. So far, neither body has commented formally on Friday’s developments or the President’s new five-year date for elections.

In his speech Friday, President loilo applauded the Bainimarama-led government’s progress in moving Fiji to become a more equitable country. He said the five-year plan for the new government should be enough time to “to put into place the necessary reforms and processes.” He then pointed out that 64 percent of people in Fiji decided they wanted electoral reforms along with other constitutional changes found with the Bainimarama-backed People's Charter for Peace, Change and Progress.

Early reactions to the President’s speech largely fell along partisan lines. Supporters of the Bainimarama-led government said there was nothing else the President could do but do away with the flawed constitution. Opposition parties reacted with shock. In a side note: The Fiji Times reports that the government will now closely guard media outlets and that police officers have been appointed to the newspaper. So far, there has been no confirmation from other media outlets.

With that, let’s get to the bloggers.

Much talk has taken place in Fiji's blogosphere over Frank Bainimarama's supposed control he has over the country's President. The blog Luvei Viti: Children of Fiji feels this is how the mini-coup took place.

Fiji witnesses another attempt by falied Military Junta, Frank Bainimarama to ochestrate yet again his last ditch to regain Fiji's Political power via the President, the clock ticks and the world watches.

We are not surprised that Bainimarama has again executed a ‘mini coup within a coup’ in order to hang on to power as if it was his dear life. His life on the centre stage almost came to an end but he had his plan B to fall back on. The President who is at the tail end of his Political career is once again signing off letters & making national radio & tv announcements about Fiji state, as dicated from behind the coconut fronds where Bainimarama & his militray junta stand ready with their guns.

Talking Fiji mostly blames the President for his actions.

Did he not consider another option like say FOLLOWING THE BLOODY LAW?

If anything, this recent turn of events has convinced many people in Fiji that this senile old man preteding to be our President must go, as soon as possible!

Whatever happens now, Rt Iloilo will forever be remembered as the man who destroyed our beloved nation.

He was in a unique position (and had the opportunity) to do the right thing and bring our country back to normalcy under democratic rule.

But instead he chose to support an illegal takeover and unlawfully abrogated our supreme law simply because he didn’t like the results of the Court of Appeal judgment delivered yesterday.

Now Fiji can expect further economic sanctions and more hardship and suffering, and for what?

For Raw Fiji News, it's rule of the jungle in Fiji.

The incapable ailing Iloilo has not only abrogated the 1997 Fiji Constitution but in the process has committed treason at its highest order.

His action has proved without doubt that the man is a law onto himself and has no respect whatsoever to the appeals court judgment of yesterday.

It also proves that Iloilo and those around him are very much in the thick of things with Frank’s illegal coup of 2006.

Iloilo couldn’t have whipped this up by himself.

Many peoples intergrity, jobs, money schemes and livelihood was at risk following the appeals court judgment and it these professional lawbreakers who have masterminded all these for Frank and now Iloilo.

The public knows who they are cause over the last 2 years and 5 months, they have revealed themselves voluntarily by serving under Frank’s illegal regime, accepting appointments given to them by Frank & Co., influence or change the law to legitimize their illegal works or to be openly seen supporting these thugs.

Sai, writing at Fiji Coup 2006, comments on a Fiji Times editorial congratulating Bainimarama's decision to step down after Thursday's court decision, arguing it offers a ‘Ray of Hope’ for democracy in Fiji.

This Fiji Times editorial was clearly hopeful though premature as we now know! The truth was, it was never on the card. Voreqe and his regime will never accept the court ruling as it went against their wishes so no doubt they were always going to manipulate the ailing President to abrogate the Constitution as their last resort of holding on to power and to bring about their illegal and illegitimate designs on the government and people of Fiji. They will soon to be found out just like they have been in the Appeal Court ruling. They may run for now but they will never be able to hide from the glare of the burning desires of the people to live in a country that is governed by those who they elect through a process that is of their choice and not one that is imposed on them. May they fail miserably as they have up to now.

Intelligentsiya wonders how history — and criminal lawyers — will view the President's decision.

May the ICC welcome you with open arms in due course, as well as all those manipulating you.

The meek and resigned act from Bainimarama at his press conference last night was just that. An act. As we've said before they're not ready to let go of their newfound status just yet.

Is it over? Hell to the No. We’re just getting warmed up.

real jack, a forum poster at Fiji Board Exiles, says it's time for the country to start anew.

its the sledgehammer option – that the Constitution be abrogated.

lawyers cannot be seen to be party to abrogating the Constitution. our oath is to uphold it and work within and around it.

but its now been abrogated.

can't do much except hope that everything goes well now – the whole country will have to pull together to make this thing work.

Rt Iloilo made up his mind this morning. its effectively an abrogation of the 1997 Constitution – meaning a coup d'etat has been effected.

its done.

five years is when the elections will be held – but really we are looking at 2020 for those elections – its not going to happen in 2014.

its done. phuck it. the hardcore crew now has its way. a coup d'etat. finito.

as for Qarase and the SDL they are now well and truly finished – and they are going to be buried now – legislation will be passed to outlaw those ethnonationalist parties.

at least its now a TRULY CLEAN SLATE nd no more thinking has to go into the manouverings – nice and clean. start ALL OVER AGAIN.

Alohabula1 remains a bit torn.

The first thing I thought when I heard the verdict last night was the the constitution was going to be abrogated and then Jack gave me hope that there might be another less painful way to make the whole thing go away.
Too bad, I guess everyone got nervous about what could come back at them and bite them through the years with the constitution. It does stop LQ and SDL dead in their tracks. So in essence LQ fight for “democracy” actually put the last nail in the coffin for a while.
However, I am all for everyone being equal, I assume the land rights are still protected, But I have to admit I wish they had worked out the 15 minute prime minister scenario, on the other hand the constitution has had some aspects that have given rise to problems starting to 2000 and then 2006 until now. Ahhhh Fiji, they should have just done it all in Dec 2006, somehow this feels like we have taken a few steps back before Fiji can go forward again. It feels like 1987 again and we all remember how long it took to get the constitution written and back on track. As they say here, not much you can do, just deal with it, and try to go forward or at least keep the snorkel above water.

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