Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Be Sure of the Right Road to Fiji Democracy or Else?

Let’s take the right road to democracy
“It is very important that the courts decide on the legality of the military takeover before the Interim Government moves on with its Road Map”

Most people would support the Interim Government’s “Road Map’’ and its stated aim of returning the country to democratic rule.However, the regime led by Interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama must be very cautious in making changes to the nation’s electoral system.According to Commodore Bainimarama, as part of the road map, the Boundaries Commission will be asked to draw up new, open-seat constituency boundaries and to ensure that the number of voters is, as far as is practicable, the same. This, he says, will entail the holding of a population census this year to ensure that the Boundaries Commission works with the correct figures, in a geographical location, before determining the constituencies and their boundaries.Fiji’s last census was in 1996 and there has been a lot of internal as well as external migration in Fiji’s population.The Bureau of Statistics will take 12-15 months to complete a Census Report before the Boundaries Commission can gainfully use it. This process will take place in 2007 and 2008.The Boundaries Commission will need six months to prepare the new constituency boundaries to be used in the next election and that process is likely to be completed in 2009.The Elections Office will require up to 12 months to prepare for a General Election. The preparatory work will be done between 2008 and 2009.There will also need to be a new system of polling, voting, vote-counting and declaration of results, which would take 9-12 months to complete.Under the Road Map, the return to parliamentary democracy for Fiji may become possible after three years. Within that time frame, all the required tasks to be performed by the Interim Government would have been successfully completed, as part of the requirements of the Presidential mandate. After three years, the country’s economy and Government finance would have recovered fully, to be able to fund and sustain the required cost of a general election in Fiji. The Road Map will be subject to a mid-term review in late 2009. Also, as part of the road map, the Interim Government will name a three-member team to review the Constitution.

In particular, the Interim Government wants to rid the Constitution of provisions that facilitate and exacerbate the politics of race. This is embedded in such areas as the registration of voters and the election of representatives to the House of Representatives through separate racial electoral rolls.

This will also necessitate the abolition of voting in terms of racial classifications. Henceforth, each voter should vote for a candidate of his/her choice in a common roll, with each vote having equal value.In proposing the amendments to the Constitution, the Interim Government is mindful of the requirements of Section 191, which say that any amendment can only be introduced by way of a Bill to the House of Representatives through the procedures spelt out in that section.”The review of the Constitution is expected to take two years to complete.It will review the current electoral system in the Constitution and recommend ways in which the electoral process can be altered to remove communal-based elections to the House of Representatives. While the 1997 Constitution is still in place, the legality of the Interim Government must now be established.It is very important that the courts decide on the legality of the military takeover before the Interim Government moves on with its Road Map.In 2000, Justice Anthony Gates ruled out the Constitutional Review Team named by the military backed Laisenia Qarase-led Interim Government In his ruling he said: “‘There is no constitutional foundation of legality for the Interim Government or for the Constitutional Review Committee.’ “In other words, the interim administration and the constitutional review committee are illegal.”This ruling was part of the Chandrika Prasad case, but we must not forget that in the May 2000 coup, the 1997 Constitution was abrogated by the military and Mr Prasad challenged this and the ruling was in his favour.Not surprisingly, the public is puzzled by the way the country is heading, as after many changes made by theInterim Government, the constitutionality of what it is doing is yet to be determined.

The court decision will also determine the legality of the road map.The international community has strongly condemned the overthrow of the legitimate and democratically elected government of the Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.The Interim Government wants a change in the electoral system to be used in the 2010 general elections.The 1997 constitution is very clear on amendments.Section 191 clarifies that any amendment can only be introduced by way of a Bill to the House of Representatives.According to Interim Minister for Justice Mr Sayed-Khaiyum, it is legal to have a commission, but it would be illegal for the commission to make amendments to the Constitution just yet.Let us all hope that the Interim Government will be firm on that stand.However, with a Government that inherits its political power from the barrel of a gun, it can do anything, even if it is outside the Constitution. It has already done it and will surely do it again.I know the Interim Minister for Justice has been asked to find other legal means to amend the Constitution.He must be reminded that there is no other way out and the only way available is the abrogation of the Constitution.Surely the Interim Government will not go to that extent and will make use of that famous quote - “There are many ways to skin a cat.’Which ever way it uses, it must be within the Constitution.The review will be very useful for the next democratically elected government.This has to be in a form of proposal and submitted to the elected government by the current Interim Government.There should be another amendment to assure the pubic at large that there will be no other coups in the future.

In Pakistan, the 1973 Constitution unambiguously stated in Article 6 that: ‘’any person who abrogates or attempts or conspires to abrogate, subverts or attempts or conspires to subvert the Constitution by use of force or show of force or by other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason.’’ There is no doubt that General Musharraf’s coup was against the Constitution and so were all the actions taken by him since. Musharraf certainly got the approval of the Supreme Court for his coup in the famous Zafar Ali Shah case in May 2000.The Interim Government should follow suit.All it has to do is to make a good presentation in court and let the judge decide on its fate.It is very important that the legality of the Interim Government is determined by the courts so that we know where we are really heading.Most people support the road map, but whatever changes are made must be within the Constitution.

2 comments:

Tag(Carpet)Bagger said...

Military corruption - Oh No Mr. Bill - Say it ain't so!

Good luck on your return to democracy

Sai Lealea said...

I guess the test of what the Military did is: what evidence has appeared in Fiji's courts against those accused? None after 14 months!