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Fiji: New constitution or delaying tactic?

Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama outlined the plan to create a new constitution that will take the country to its next scheduled elections in September 2014.

In a speech to the nation, Bainimarama laid out the first details on an electoral timetable since April, 10 2009 when the Fiji’s president annulled the country’s 1997 ethnic-based constitution, fired the entire judiciary and eventually gave Bainimarama a five-year mandate. This was in reaction to an appeals court verdict of the previous day forcing Bainimarama to step down because the judges ruled the military commander came to power illegally in December 2006 when he dissolved Parliament and ousted the government of Laisenia Qarase.

Bainimarama carried out that December 2006 coup – Fiji's fourth since 1987 – to counter what he called the Qarase government’s corrupt and racist rule. He complained that Qarase and his SDL-led government ruled solely for the benefit of the majority indigenous Fijian community at the expense of other ethnic groups, especially the minority Indo-Fijian population, descendants of workers imported roughly 100 years ago by British colonials to toil in Fiji’s sugar and copra industry.

Until April 2009, Bainimarama’s rule was punctuated with creating the People’s Charter, a counterpart to the 1997 constitution, hoping to tame Fiji’s religious and ethnic tensions that have occasionally boiled over since independence in 1970. He also sparred with Fiji’s neighbors, including successive governments in Australia and New Zealand and the regional group, the Pacific Islands Forum, which in May stripped Fiji of full membership because Bainimarama had reneged on plans to hold elections in 2009. (Continuing to vote with the country’s ethnic-based electoral system still installed, Bainimarama has long argued, would only benefit racially polarizing parties in Parliament.)

A few weeks after the Pacific Islands Forum suspended Fiji, the European Union cancelled the country’s 24 million Euro subsidy for its ailing sugar industry because of differences with the Bainimarama government. The country may soon face suspension from the group of former British colonies, the Commonwealth of Nations, for its refusal to hold elections.

In Wednesday’s speech, Bainimarama reached-out to those neighbors and development partners, thanking those who have “shown the willingness to listen and understand.” He also asked for foreign assistance when the country begins work on the new constitution in September 2012, after “extensive” consultations with all members of society. While the constitutional framework will come from the People’s Charter, many details are up for discussion, he said, Including Parliament size, length of term in office and creating checks and balances on power.

The constitution must be in place by 2013, Bainimarama said, so elections can be held one-year later.

As I have stated earlier the new constitution must include provisions that will entrench common and equal citizenry, it must not have ethnic based voting; the voting age shall be 18; and, it must have systems that hold Governments accountable with more checks and balances.

Bainimarama’s speech also touched on modernizing laws and institutions, but stated that his government will take the next three years to work on strengthening socio-economic conditions, upgrading Fiji’s infrastructure and propping up the country’s economy.

Coup Four Point Five argues Bainimarama is playing games with the election dates to prolong his rule.

Frank Bainimarama tried to fool Fiji and the world when he delivered his strategic framework for change national address today.

His claim that work on a new Constitution will start in September 2012 reveals that the regime will not relinquish power in September 2014 as he claimed today.

We draw your attention to his interview with Australian journalist Graham Davies in early May.

During the interview Bainimarama said he had the shortest time of five years to carry out economic and constitutional reforms and this was a very hard task.

If five years is a short time, then Bainimarama’s announcement of work on a new Constitution starting in September 2012 – 2 years from the projected elections in September 2014 is nonsensical.

Coupfourpointfive believes it is basically to pull wool over people's eyes.

At Raw Fiji News, fijidemocracynow2009 ties Fiji’s poor economic situation to the current political climate.

Delaying the process of drafting a new Constitution is a desperate gambit to give the Bainimarama regime some breathing space. It’s a transparent stalling tactic.
Leaving the country without a Constitution for three years will only act as a disincentive to potential investors
The dictator talks of engaging and re-engaging international partners, but if his stated intention is to keep our beloved nation in illegal limbo for another five years, how do other civilized countries engage with this dictatorship?
No, folks, the speech could never be called a “strategic framework”. It’s just a generalised exposition of propositions that is big on sweeping statement and very short on meaningful detail.

Let’s stick with the “buying time” theme a bit more. From Japan, L. Douglass Garrett, who writes the Competing Hypotheses blog, says a new constitution could serve Fiji well, but questions whether the Bainimarama regime is the right team to create that document.

The good news about that would be getting rid of the ethnically-divided means of electing representation in the 1997 Constitution… and that does need to happen if there is ever to be a practicable concept of “Fijian” as a nationality, not a hyphenated part of some identity… but…

The distinct possibility that such things are being said to draw out the tenure of the junta is real.

As this author has argued recently in other examples, the basis of Rule-of-Law governance is the Constitution *as it exists*. You follow what you have, and it changes by a process of amendment or replacement (whichever is allowed; one of them certainly is).

Fiji would be well served by a new Constitution. Let's let a constitutionally formed government perform that process.

In an unsigned post, Raw Fiji News doubts the new constitution will ever come to fruition.

Frank Bainimarama’s self-imposed wish list is just that, a far-fetched wish conjured by his conniving think-tank to delay the process of keeping the tyrant and his backers away from their imminent life-long jail sentences.
Frank’s “roadmap to nowhere” is not even worth the paper it’s written on.
Like all his previous twisted lies and PR stunts since December 2006, Frank just can’t seem to be able to hold down any of his previous motherhood roadmaps.
His clean-up corruption roadmap only resulted in a plethora of self-enriching programmes designed to puff up his and his cohorts bank balances.
His farcical charter has turned out to be the works of professional con artists out to line their own pockets while fanning the dictator’s ego with their promise of a heavenly peace and prosperity crap for the ailing Fiji.
Frank’s pretentious role as a guardian of the 1997 Constitution turned shitty when he ordered half-dead Iloilo to join him in abrogating Fiji’s supreme law on Easter Friday.
Banana republic of Fiji is now being promised a new constitution. Really?

From the blog at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, director of the Melanesia Program, Jenny Hayward-Jones, also questioned why the constitutional process should take so long:

For those sceptical of Bainimarama’s commitment to democracy, the speech offered little to persuade them otherwise. Bainimarama renewed his commitment to hold elections in September 2014 and outlined a new promise – the preparation of a new constitution by September 2013. While this was inevitably the consequence of the abrogation of the 1997 constitution on 10 April this year, it is not clear why he decided public consultations on the drafting of a new constitution cannot commence until September 2012.
Commodore Bainimarama said the new constitution would derive its impetus from the recommendations of the People’s Charter for Change, Peace and Progress. That document has been in the public domain for at least six months and has already been subjected to a consultative process. It is therefore strange that Fiji’s citizens have to wait another three years for an opportunity to participate in the process of determining their own future. If there are to be public consultations, why not start now? It would have cost the interim Government little and demonstrated to the region and the international community that Fiji was serious about political reform.

Hayward-Jones also predicted Fiji’s constitutional consultations will involve very little dialogue on the role of the military in Fiji’s politics.

More worryingly, the lack of any reference in the address to the future role of the military in Fiji was a strong indication that Commodore Bainimarama does not intend that the military retreat from its dominance of government and politics beyond 2014.

From New Zealand, No Right Turn also wonders what the government will be doing for the next three years.

Soli Vakasama didn’t come away impressed:

Jolly good thing that he believes in his own rhetoric, because he’d be the only one.
Every utterance from the illegal prime meanster is hollow like that thingamajig held up by his neck, and so terribly terribly shallow.

In the comment section at Soli Vakasama, Jean D’ark points out if previous governments – or Fiji’s military – can’t obey Fiji’s former constitution, who’s to say those institutions will follow a new one?

no use working on a new Constitution if we can’t obey the one we have. We will just disobey that one when we don’t like everything it dishes up, either.

A Constitution has no intrinsic value in and of itself other than that which WE, ITS PEOPLE give it! Other than that, it’s just a piece of paper!

And if we don’t have any discipline in ourselves now to follow our current Constitution, we won’t be able to impart anything of that sort into the new one, either!

So it doesn’t really matter how much faith Frank, or you, or the military council has in the new piece of paper, if the people don’t go for it (and they won’t), then it won’t have any value, or power, either.

So there we’ll all be – stuck in exactly the same quagmire we are already in today.

A major narrative in Fiji’s current political situation remains that Australia and New Zealand are making matters worse with heated anti-Bainimarama rhetoric and corresponding sanctions. In the Soli Vakasama blog, commenter Budhau claims that Fiji’s neighbors must use more of the carrot than their usual stick approach with Bainimarama and help the country create a constitution — so everyone can move on.

We can easily start work on the new constitution right now, with help from experts from ANZ and have it ready in a year. We can easily prepare for elections with the help from ANZ and have an election in 2012 instead of 2014. If we begin work on the constitution and the elections – I am sure the EU will release the funds, with the sanctions removed, our economy has a chance to recover, the tourists will start coming and so on.
But no – some of you want nothing to do with a new constitution, elections etc. What you want is the 1997 constitution back, Qarase reinstalled as the PM and Frank and his boys to march straight to Naboro – and you will hold you breath until you turn blue unless you get your way – well, good luck.

Fiji:The Way It Was, Is and Can Be echoes those sentiments:

One might hope the international community, having given up on earlier elections, might sometime between now and then respond to Bainimarama's appeal for assistance.

The blog also posts a timeline on Fiji’s political events for the next five years.

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