Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Returning to parliamentary rule - The Only Answer

Returning to parliamentary rule

www.sun.com.fj - 10/29/2008


The commitment by interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama that Fiji must return to parliamentary governance is highly applauded.
“Fiji must return to parliamentary governance,” PM Bainimarama told the political leaders at the Political Forum in his opening address on October 27.

The concluding statement after the forum said: “The participants at the meeting were unanimous that Fiji must return to parliamentary rule.”

This is what we all like including foreign nations closely associated with Fiji and donors like the European Union.

The newly-appointed American Ambassador to Fiji, Steven McGann, said he would work with all elements of Fijian society and regional partners to quickly restore the rule of law, strengthen civil society, and rebuild democratic institutions in Fiji.

Mr McGann arrived in the country on Monday night.

We know that PM Bainimarama had made a commitment to the European Union and the Pacific Islands Forum that Fiji would return to parliamentary democracy by March 2009.We also know that the government had reneged on this commitment.

The Prime Minister in addressing the 63rd United Nations General Assembly said: “I have already explained to Fiji’s people about the need to delay the election, and I wish to inform our regional partners and the international community, represented here today, that the interim government cannot convene an election by March, 2009.

“This is due to work still in progress towards agreeing on a democratic electoral system, one acceptable to the people of Fiji, and which is agreed to by all political stakeholders, through political dialogue.

“We believe the general election must be held as soon as practicably possible. This will be done only after we have achieved broad consensus in Fiji for a non-racial and truly democratic electoral system, and agreed on a constitutional and legal way to introduce the changes. It is necessary to change our current electoral system because it is undemocratic and, it does not provide for a free and fair election. It contravenes the principle of equal suffrage, as set out in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights.”

There is no turning back for PM Bainimarama on this even though he had been told to honour his March 2009 commitment.

For Fiji’s quick return to parliamentary rule the Prime Minister offered two options.

“I wish to submit to you that as Prime Minister, to achieve the vision of the People’s Charter for a more stable and prosperous, united, non-racial Fiji, I have essentially two options available.

“One option and which I prefer is to move forward through dialogue, confidence building and by developing a broad-based consensus for the change agenda, with a view to ensuring that democratically elected governments undertake the implementation.

“The second option, in the absence of support for the change agenda from the political parties, will result in a protracted delay in the holding of parliamentary elections under a truly democratic electoral process.”

Surely we all prefer the first option and Monday’s forum created a cordial atmosphere for this.

The atmosphere was one of realism, optimism and progress.

Okay, Fiji’s return to parliamentary rule will only be realistic when we have an election timeframe.

PM Bainimarama said when opening the political forum: “For us to proceed on the path of the first option, it is imperative that in the President’s Political Dialogue Forum, we reach broad consensus on changes to the electoral system and also, for these to be introduced through legal and constitutional means.

“Moreover, the President’s Political Dialogue Forum must get underway with due urgency and speed and I suggest that electoral reform be placed as the highest priority item on the agenda of the Forum, especially as this will have a direct bearing on the determination of the timeline for the election. It is not for the interim government to unilaterally determine the election timeline.”

This is not a new statement as time and again we have heard the interim prime minister say that if the charter does not receive majority support there will be no election.

We must be reminded of the fact that the Bainimarama-led government wants to put in place true democracy before it hands over power and the vehicle to achieve that is the charter.

True democracy is letting the people decide on what is to be done.

However, the people of Fiji are now faced with a situation where the government of the day has already put in place what it wants and is now carrying out consultation Fiji wide to get the support of the people.

Let us talk about the proposed electoral reform.

What the government wants is in the draft charter.

Now in a more heartening note to the political leaders, the Prime Minister has asked them to make submissions on what they would like to be included or not to be included.

The determination by the interim government to put the charter is place is rock solid.

So now the political leaders are party to the proposed electoral reform and must now work with the government to come out with an amicable solution at the President’s Political Dialogue Forum.

But first as requested by the interim PM is for the political leaders to urge the Commonwealth Secretariat and the United Nations to respond to Fiji’s request to get the President’s Political Dialogue Forum underway as soon as possible and for them to jointly facilitate it.

In an interview with ABC’s Pacific Beat Commonwealth Secretariat special envoy Sir Paul Reeves has cast doubts about the convening of the political forum.

He said the political forum was in limbo because of the differences between the Commonwealth and the interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama-led interim government on what is to be discussed at the forum.

He said: “My idea of a political forum was for a place where all political parties come and where discussions are wide ranging and not solely on electoral reform.”

“At this stage my idea, and the Commonwealth’s idea, of political forum, is not that which is seen to be appropriate by the interim government itself.”

Asked whether the political forum would proceed he said: “It will happen. The interim government is proposing a panel of three people and that will provide an umbrella under which the political forum could take place and perhaps be chaired by a prominent Fijian. But I have to say that political parties have responded to me and have shown their confidence and I wonder what will be there response to another.”

The interim government must iron out this difference because as soon as this is done the two institutions will come in.

These two institutions support Fiji’s return to parliamentary democracy.

With or without the Commonwealth Secretariat and the United Nations we can handle our problem at the level of the President’s Political Dialogue Forum.

The atmosphere for this has been seen and witnessed at the first political forum meet.

This political forum has the support of all the political parties and NGOs including the Methodist Church of Fiji.

All that is needed is to reach an agreement on the proposed electoral reform and how it is to be legitimised.

In accordance with the High Court ruling because the proposed electoral reform is an essential tool to the return to parliamentary democracy it can be promulgated by the President into law.

Or else parliament can be recalled to pass the proposed electoral reform into law as this is the constitutional way especially when the 1997 Fiji Constitution is still the supreme law of the nation.

The newly registered Fiji People’s Party (FPP) in its submission wants free and fair elections held no later than December 2009. This it said would mean the international donor agencies, in particular the European Union that is now withholding $350 million allocated for cane farmers and the sugar industry as a whole together with other donor countries who previously have been generously giving multi million dollar aid for the development of infrastructure would release the much needed funds.

The interim government needs to look into this submission especially with the reasoning behind it.

It is time that we give our full support to the interim government and our political leaders to quickly find a way to parliamentary democracy.

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