Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Putting democracy first

Putting democracy first
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
"We are not scared of this because we cannot surrender our values. We cannot surrender democracy to terrorist elements, to thugs. Now we go to the people in general elections with a very clear platform. And we were elected as we were in 1987 and 2000 and therefore we are entitled to a term of five years in government. It is for the people of this country to elect or to remove governments through the ballot box, not through the bullet".... Fiji Labour Party Leader Mahendra Pal Chaudhry - May 22, 2005 (Fiji Television Close-Up marking 5th anniversary of May 19, 2000 coup)
This was also the opening paragraph of my opinion titled "When truth is a bitter pill", focusing on the rule of law and flip-flops of politicians, published in The Fiji Times on May 31, 2008.
In his reaction to the judgment in the case of Qarase and Others v Bainimarama and Others delivered by a court presided over by Acting Chief Justice Anthony Gates on October 9, 2008 that legitimised the coup of December 5, 2006 in accordance with his prerogative authority under unlimited reserve powers, Mr Chaudhry welcomed the ruling saying governments must adhere to principles of good governance.
"In some ways the judgment alluded to the fact that Mr (Laisenia) Qarase might have been responsible for inviting this predicament on himself. He could have averted the takeover had he chosen to engage with and respond to the military on issues of governance raised by he Republic of Fiji Military Forces," Mr Chaudhry said in a statement that was reported on page 4 of The Fiji Sun of October 10, 2008.
Mr Chaudhry's statement shows he did not care if the army led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama toppled at the barrel of the gun Laisenia Qarase's SDL/FLP Multi-Party Government.
His statement also deliberately failed to ignore the meeting between Mr Qarase and Commodore Bainimarama in Wellington, New Zealand, on November 29, where the SDL leader agreed to all nine demands of the army commander during talks mediated by NZ Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters.
And above all, Mr Chaudhry, himself a direct victim of three coups in 1987 and 2000, went against his own belief that governments should be removed by people through the ballot box, not through the bullet.
Mr Chaudhry's reaction to the High Court judgment also means that he agrees with Commodore Bainimarama's statement that he made on May 22, 2008 while addressing villagers at Nadoi, Rewa after opening a church extension that the army carried out coups in 1987 (twice), May 2000 and December 2006 because "politicians have failed us".
It means that the FLP leader agrees with the interim regime's Prime Minister that he failed as Minister for Finance in Dr Timoci Bavadra's NFP/FLP Coalition Government and that is why Sitiveni Rabuka executed the first coup on May 14, 1987 and the second coup on September 25, 1987 that confined the Deuba Accord to the dustbin.
Mr Chaudhry's reaction means that when the army's elite Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit (CRW) helped George Speight topple his government on May 19, 2000 by claiming that he as PM was suppressing and eroding the rights and interests of Fijians, the coup was justified because his Labour led government was not practising good governance and therefore, in his own words, invited this predicament on himself.
The New Zealand Herald editorial of January 13, 2007, that was the conclusion of my opinion on June 20, 2008 is relevant in the aftermath of Mr Chaudhry's reaction.
The editorial was written after his appointment as interim Finance Minister in Commodore Bainimarama's regime stated "There is little more melancholy than the sight of a person's last shreds of credibility being burned ..."
The editorial concluded, "This was the same man who after the 2001 elections, craved power so much that he contemplated a coalition government with the party of George Speight, the man who overthrew his democratically elected administration and held him hostage for eight weeks. Then, as now, saw no credibility problem. Now, as then, his political judgment is horrendous. The moral authority with a figure brutally and illegally ousted from power has evaporated."
The reaction to the High Court judgment of Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions (FICTU) general secretary Attar Singh, who as general secretary of the National Federation Party was the strongest opponent of the coup that overthrew Mr Chaudhry's government, describing the upheaval as treasonous, calling for the release of Mr Chaudhry and his colleagues held as hostages in Parliament and the restoration of his democratically elected government, is a lesson to the FLP leader in terms of maintaining principles, honesty and credibility.
Mr Singh's statement was published in The Fiji Sun on page 4 on October 11, 2008.
Amongst many flaws in the judgment that he pointed out, Mr Singh stated, "For why should one relinquish power, acquired by the gun, now that it has the seal of our judiciary..."
On September 27, 2008, FICTU held its third biennial delegates conference at Suva Civic Centre.
The theme of the conference was "Democracy First".
Mr Singh spoke on the importance of democracy to the country, the ordinary workers and indeed all citizens of Fiji and why FICTU needed to be more forceful in playing a leading role towards restoration of democracy.
Mr Singh stated: - "Parliamentary democracy, constitutional rule and Cabinet government are the pillars of a free and just society. When democracy talks, those in authority and mandated with governing the country have to listen otherwise they are removed from power through the ballot box. That is how democracy works."
"Almost five years ago in December 2003 when the SDL government was adamant like the current regime that it would not grant Cost of Living Adjustment to civil servants, FICTU staged a successful march through the streets of Suva. The slogan on the placards carried by members of our affiliates sent a loud and powerful message to the then government. Remember the slogan 'Beware of the power of the powerless in 2006'. That message resonated along the corridors of power and the just dues of the civil servants were promptly paid."
"Democracy talks, dictatorships impose. Twenty-one months have lapsed since the last democratic government was removed. But the regime has failed to produce any incriminating evidence against those it accused of corruption. Nor has it fulfilled its so called dreams and vision for the country. And the regime now seems wanting to stay in power for at least for the foreseeable future."
"It is, therefore, appropriate that FICTU changes its focus on how to advocate worker and citizens' rights more effectively. For the last six years of our existence FICTU has been an effective voice for the workers and our record and achievements speak for itself. But we can not deliver effectively under a dictatorship. Trade unions are democratic organisations that function best in a democracy."
"We are now at the crossroads. This regime and its self anointed crusaders including those who are at the helm of leadership of some trade unions are trying to throttle not only FICTU but the ordinary workers and the poor with their draconian policies and decisions."
"As an umbrella organisation of trade unions, most of whom are now vulnerable to the forces of extremism and imposition that is already eroding our rights, we cannot sit back and do nothing."
"We must become more effective. FICTU must play a leading role in ensuring we restore democracy first, before anything else. Therein lies the future we seek for workers today and those who will join the workforce in future."
"Wages, salaries, employment conditions and benefits of workers are under serious threat. Already many employers are unwilling to negotiate pay increases and improvements to employment conditions. Many have lost existing benefits through unilateral actions of the employers or as influenced by the regime's policies."
"Such violations of workers' rights must be fought. We must coordinate our claims so that we can lend support to each other and ensure that come Christmas all our members will have received their just adjustments."
"We must also continue our watch on political developments in the country. We must continue to insist as we have thus far that our country must return to parliamentary democracy under the 1997 Constitution as the next first step, all other plans aside. Only this will ensure our recognition by the Commonwealth, European Union and our regional neighbours. Recognition that is necessary, in fact long overdue, to help our people rebuild their lives. The regime must be told that theirs was an experiment gone badly wrong."
"The confidence and support it initially enjoyed has evaporated. Even the military's major ally, the FLP is now questioning the regime's plans. The time has come. They should now return the country to whom it belongs, the people."
As Attar Singh stated, therein lies the difference between democracy and dictatorship.
The people of Fiji have to decide whether they want to live in democracy or acquiesce to dictatorship.
And on this day of Deepawali the people of Fiji will have to choose whether they want truth to triumph over evil or to continue living in darkness.

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