Saturday, April 14, 2007

Stalemate leaves office vacant

Verenaisi Raicola -Friday, April 13, 2007

The chiefs have spoken, rejecting the President's nominee as the next Vice President.

The rejection shows the great chasm that has opened up between the GCC and the interim government, and which an academic predicts will not be bridged soon.

Co-architect of the 1997 Constitution Dr Brij Lal said at some point, the question would have to be asked whether the GCC should have any role at all in the selection of the President and Vice President.

"It may be worth revisiting the recommendations of the Reeves Commission which advised that the President and the Vice President be elected by an Electoral College consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

"The understanding and assumptions about the role of the GCC have changed," he said.

He said the GCC had fulfiled its role, although in all circumstances, Ratu Epeli was a wise choice for the position of Vice President.

"He had the credentials, was a former commander of the military, former Speaker of the House, former diplomat, and known for his wide ranging and multi-racial affinities," Dr Lal said.

"Ratu Epeli would have been widely acceptable even though he was a member of the military-backed interim administration as he was not seen as hawkish or a racial bigot. Unfortunately, there aren't too many people around who are above the fray of petty politics."

Dr Lal said instead of pushing the issue now, it was best to let emotions cool.

He and USP academic Dr Alumita Durutalo believe there is a need for space and time for dialogue as well as reflection.

"Perhaps, it is now time for dialogue and consensus. All parties should come together and discuss common ground for nominating somebody as Vice President," said Dr Durutalo. She said the GCC, as the foremost institution of Fijian society, should initiate and facilitate talks with discontented or aggrieved members of Fijian society to understand the thinking and actions of their people in the trying times we face.

Dr Durutalo said nominating a chief to assume the role of President or Vice President in Fiji was clear under sections 9092 in Fiji's 1997 Constitution.

However, the process of nominating chiefs to these positions is quite complex as it involves consensus and a flair for the "chiefly way of politicking".

"I understand chiefs of the vanua and matanitu in the Bose Levu Vakaturaga have worked out a way to rotate the positions among the three confederacies.

"Additionally members of the chiefly council usually appoint chiefs who command the respect of the majority of its members as representatives of indigenous Fijians in the vanua throughout Fiji."

Dr Durutalo said constitutionally and, at this point in Fiji's political history, one could say that the next Vice President would depend on the endorsement of the chiefly council.

Dr Durutalo said members of the GCC could only be removed if they were no longer nominated by their respective provincial councils to be representatives to the GCC. "I understand some chiefly members are in the council because of their high rank and status as title holders of various matanitu, for example.

"So to forcibly remove these chiefly members, in Fijian protocol, one is not removing one chief but the hundreds or thousands of Fijians whom they represent," she said.

Dr Durutalo said at the level of the vanua, removing some members could only exacerbate old rivalries and further aggravate ongoing problems.

"Additionally, one in the long-term may jeopardise chances of national resource development, especially if members of the aggrieved party are important resource owners," she said.

Dr Lal said it was no use for the GCC to nominate a person that the President was uncomfortable with and who was unacceptable to the country at large.

"A continuing public confrontation will do no good to anyone, least of all the chiefs, who are already under siege. This is not the time for the politics of grudge and revenge," he said.

Dr Lal said more importantly, the selection of Vice President should be taken out of the arena of confederacy politics.

"Embroiling the three confederacies in the process will end up damaging their character and credibility. "The GCC should make the decision, as a council, as a group of individuals, not as a collection of quarrelling confederacies. It should choose the person best suited for the position, not because someone comes from this area or that."

Dr Lal said it would do Fiji a lot of good to move away from an obsessive preoccupation with the politics of race and pedigree.

Army Commander and interim Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said he was saddened by the decision of the GCC and was surprised that Kubuna and Burebasaga representatives at the meeting ganged up to oppose Ratu Josefa Iloilo's nominee.

He said it was obvious elements ousted by the military as a result of the December 5 clean-up campaign had sought refuge in the GCC to oppose the interim administration.

Commodore Bainimarama said chiefs who opposed Ratu Epeli were selfish and had vested interests instead of acting in the national interest.

"My government will not stand by idly while the few self-serving individuals pursue their own interest," he said in directing interim Fijian Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau to undertake an urgent review of the membership, procedures and functions of the GCC and advise Cabinet as soon as possible on appropriate amendments to be made to the Fijian Affairs Act and the Great Council of Chiefs regulation 1993 to effect measures that will "ensure a clean-up of all Fijian institutions".

He said the GCC had betrayed the trust of the people.

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