Thursday, October 30, 2008

The real commitment is yet to be seen

The real commitment is yet to be seen
www.sun.com.fj - 10/30/2008

By MAIKA BOLATIKI
Political Editor

Interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has been widely praised for initiating a political forum for all the 14 registered political parties.

Ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase described the first meeting as positive and was happy with the outcome.

All the 14 political parties sent in their representatives and this was a show of support to the invite by the Prime Minister.

Party representatives at the first meeting were as follows: Conservative Allaince/Matanitu Vanua (CAMV) party - Waqa Sokonibogi (Interim president) Ropate Sivo (interim spokesman); Fiji Labopur Party (FLP) - Mahendra Chaudhry (secretary general/leader), Jokapeci Koroi (president); Fiji Peoples Party (FPP) - Charan Jeath Singh (general secretary), Paul Jaduram (vice president); General Voters Party (GVP) - John Sanday (national secretary), Ms Krysle Ho, Fred Caine (will replace when Ms Ho leaves); Justice and Freedom Party (JFP) - Dildar Shah (leader), Hamid Hussein (senior vice president); National Alliance Party of Fiji (NAPF) - Reginald Raymond (executive director), Josaia Gucake (director operation); National Democratic Party (NDP) - Atunaisa Lacabuka No.2 (leader) ; National Federation Party (NFP) - Pramod Rae (national secretary), Raman Singh (president); Nationalist Vanua Tako Lavo Party (NVTLP) - Iliesa Duvuloco (leader); Party of National Unity (PANU) - Meli Bogileka (secretary); Social Liberal Multi Cultural Party (SLMCP) - Joketani Delai (leader), Timothy Delai (acting secretary); Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) - Laisenia Qarase (leader), Solomoni Naivalu (president); Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei (SVT) - Ema Druavesi (secretary); and United Peoples Party (UPP) - David Blakelock (vice president), Mick Beddoes (acting president).

The interim government was represented by the interim Prime Minister and interim Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

As we know that the interim government is backed by the military, the military was represented by Colonel Pita Driti, Col Mohammed Aziz and Col Ifereimi Draunimasi.

The interlocutors - Robin Nair and Dr Sitiveni Halapua.

The representatives of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) also attended meeting as observers.

The participants, in recognising that for these way forward efforts to succeed, they will need to, individually and collectively, adhere to some basic principles and code. In this regard, the meeting agreed to adopt the following:

l A strong commitment

to consensus-building through genuine dialogue and consultation;

l Commitment to restoring parliamentary governance;

l Inclusiveness;

l Respect for differences;

l Open-mindedness;

l Recognition of the independence of the judiciary and the constitutional path; and

l That, going forward, the conduct of dialogue, to be through face-to-face discussions and through meetings such as that of Political Party Leaders and the PPDF.

Mr Qarase said the atmosphere of the meeting was cordial but some members seemed to be holding back.

This was backed by the FPP general secretary.

All the participants agreed with the Prime Minister that the nation must return to parliamentary democracy

Now political parties are given five weeks to prepare for their submissions and the next meeting will be in December.

We know that the government is committed to return the nation to parliamentary democracy.

According to Mr Qarase the real test for commitment will be seen in the second meeting when parties will make their submissions.

If real commitment and political will to return to nation to parliamentary rule is there, government could have asked the forum to come up with a solution before the end of November and this would mean that they meet regularly.

Mr Qarase said political parties could prepare their submissions in less than a week and the interlocutors could complete their work in also a week.

The concern raised by Mr Qarase is the gap between the first and the second meeting. Mr Beddoes had also aired his concern on this. He said the talks between political .leaders should not cease for too long.

Mr Beddoes said there should not be any delay.

Let us be reminded of the fact that the quicker Fiji returns to parliamentary democracy, the better it will be for its people.

The government should be reminded that foreign countries that have close ties with Fiji want a quick return to democratic rule.

And they are sticking by to March 2009 as promised by the Prime Minister.

Because the election will not be in March 2009, what they now want is for the government to show real commitment to returning the nation to democratic rule. Mr Qarase said the forum’s first meeting had sent a positive message to the Commonwealth Ministerial Contact Group (CMAG) and also to the Pacific Islands Forum.

These two groups as we know have sent a strong warning to Fiji to return the country to democratic rule as promised by March 2009 or be ready to face its consequences.

We must not forget that these two organisations are making the warning because Fiji has breached agreements that Fiji is party to. In the case for CMAG, Fiji has breached the Harare Declaration and to be specific Section 3 of the Millbrook Plan of Action on Measures in Response to Violations of the Harare Principles.

For the Pacific Islands Forum a special meeting by the end of 2008 is to consider special measures in relation to Fiji (consistent with paragraph 2(iv) of the Biketawa Declaration) and that measures to be considered include the suspension of particular governments from the Forum. It is a fact we have seen no real commitment from the government on Fiji’s return to parliamentary rule.

It is a fact that the second meeting of the forum it must be able to convince the CMAG and the Forum that government is really committed to return the nation to democratic rule.

The real commitment from the government will really be the election timeframe but this cannot be set in the December meet.

The FPP general secretary Charan Jeath Singh said with what had unfolded in the first meetingh, there seemed to be no real commitment to return the country to democratic rule and from his own calculation elections could be held by 2010 or beyond that.

He based his calculation from a timeframe he had worked out.

The Labasa businessman said the second meeting would be in December and it ass very likely that the whole of 2008 would be spent on negotiations on the way forward.

Budgetary allocation for elections can be made in the 2009 Budget and institutions of elections will begin their work and election can be by 2010 or beyond.

It is a fact that government had already agreed on a way forward as seen in the draft Peoples Charter but it must have the support of all the parties. This will the real test because it government will try to push forward its road map to democracy as displayed in the draft charter and there is a possibility for political parties withdrawing from the Presidents Political Dialogue Forum. So the real commitment will be seen at the second forum meeting.

The coming together of the political leaders at the first political forum meeting is just the beginning. Just by seeing them together is a sign of progress and for them to work together signals success. As mentioned by the Prime Minister the journey will not be easy.

However the Prime Minister and the political leaders should be aware of the fact that the difficulties they meet will resolve themselves as they proceed. The light will shine with increasing intensity as we continue to map out the path to democracy.

Mr Qarase is optimistic the political leaders can find a way forward but the onus will be on the government on whether it will accept it.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

The journey that has just started is just the beginning and we all hope it will weather all the difficulties across its path.

The participants know that they are talking about the resolution of the problems we now face in Fiji.

They must be guided by the wise words of South Africa’s former President, Nelson Mandela when he said - “The time has come for Africa to come into her own, to take her destiny into her own hands in order to better the lives of her people rather than suffer perpetual marginalisation and continue as supplicants with begging bowl in hand.”

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