Thursday, January 07, 2010

REVEALED: ILLEGAL PM'S PLAN FOR TALKS, ELECTIONS

COVER STORY: REVEALED: PM'S PLAN FOR TALKS, ELECTIONS
Fresh nationwide dialogue brought forward to February

Samisoni Pareti

Fiji is not going for an early election date despite the bringing forward to next month of a nationwide dialogue forum.

Permanent Secretary in the Prime Ministers Office, Colonel Pio Tikoduadua stressed this in an interview he gave FIJI BUSINESS. Whilst he admitted that beginning fresh nationwide dialogue forum next month would come as a surprise to some, the government he said is still committed to its September 2014 poll date as announced in the July 1, 2009 address of Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.

“At this point in time we are saying 2014 (for elections),” said Tikoduadua. “That’s our position so far even though there have been pressure from all sides to call for elections prior to 2014. “We think that some concurrent activity can happen between now and 2012 in order to create a better shape of what would become perhaps the future political engagement in Fiji.”

That political engagement is a reference to political consultations Bainimarama spoke about during his July 1, 2009 address. Under his Strategic Framework For Change timeline, consultations for a new constitution should commence September 2012 and the document should be ready by September 2013, exactly 12 months before the poll date. “Consultations with various stakeholders for the drafting of the new constitution shall…commence in September 2012,” Bainimarama had said then. “These consultations shall be extensive and will not just be limited to political parties. It shall include civil society including NGOs and citizens of our country. “Consultations shall include discussions on the size of the new parliament, appropriateness of a bi-cameral system, length of the term of office of a government and the systems of checks and balances. “The new constitution must be in place at least a year before the September 2014 elections—in other words by September 2013. “This will give all Fijians and candidates for the elections ample time to familiarise themselves with the provisions of the constitution. “The constitution shall be translated into vernacular languages and pocket sizes shall be available.”

But that consultation has been brought forward by almost two years, although both Tikoduadua and Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum insisted that the move does not in any way change the 2014 election date. “There is no connection between the 2014 election date and the bringing forward of the dialogue,” Sayed-Khaiyum told this magazine. “The dialogue is really the precursor to the September 2012 consultations. This is just another avenue. The September 2014 date still stays.”

Tikoduadua, on the other hand, was adamant that real political consultations about the makeup of the new constitution would not start next month, but on the Bainimarama prescribed date of September 2012. Between now and then, this National Dialogue for Fiji’s Future (NDFF) would commence with an “open” agenda that will have to be decided by both the NDFF Secretariat and its yet-to-be appointed chair. “They will have to cook up something to kick off discussions, they have to start at some point,” said Tikoduadua. “We are leaving that to the secretariat plus the chairman when he comes in. The idea is to get people under one roof; meet and greet and then throw in something as a starting point which the chairman and the secretariat need to work out.

“They can gauge their way from there and go forward. What we would like to see is for the forum to develop further into what could become a consultative body for the new constitution by way of input.”
The senior military officer, who was Bainimarama’s staff officer during the 2000 coup that was fronted by George Speight, declined to disclose who they are eyeing to take up the chair of NDFF.
Asked about rumours that the job would go to former Fiji government official, Peter Thompson, Tikoduadua said: “Who’s that? “Oh, I thought I will be the first one to know, no, no, no. I haven’t heard anything about Peter Thompson.” All he said was that the chair would be someone independent and would not be a member of a political party in Fiji. This meant that an appointee could come from abroad, which was in line with calls made by the international community. Some overseas governments, Tikoduadua said, had even suggested names. He also declined to reveal the identities of individuals and organisations that have submitted their interest to participate in the NDFF. All he could say was that he had seen some “interesting” applications.

Deadline for the submission of interest in NDFF participation was set for Christmas Eve and Tikoduadua’s office should be releasing more information on its membership before the end of this month. Will NDFF members comprise mainly former members of the National Council for the Building of a Better Fiji that produced Bainimarama’s People’s Charter for Change? “Oh no, these are new people. Interesting people. Well, I saw the Methodist Church letterhead for example. I assume they would like to participate in the forum.” In announcing the commencement of the NDFF on February 2010, Tikoduadua said people or organisations that participate in the dialogue must meet four basic prerequisites. They have to be forward looking and have the best interest of Fiji at heart, the views they bring to the forum should not be inconsistent with the people’s charter for change, they don’t have an outstanding case before the courts and neither should they represent a political party that espouses ethnic based politics. Some of these criteria automatically rule out politicians like ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and his former education minister, the Roko Tui Dreketi Ro Teimumu Kepa. Both have cases still before the High Court and the Magistrate's Court respectively.

It could not be ascertained by press time whether any member of Qarase’s Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua Party nor that of the Fiji Labour Party or National Federation Party had applied to be part of the NDFF. Said Tikoduadua: “Let me tell you why we want civic participation and not political parties. In our view, the people have spoken through the charter and a lot of things have been raised through the state of the nation and the economy report. “Their discussions will bear on some political issues, I mean you can’t really separate political issues from the people’s discussions. “That is going to come through but as long as they don’t go in and try to further their own political party agendas. “If there is a unifying voice coming from that community-based discussions about what they think and where they think Fiji should be heading, then politicians should take heed of it.” From the last consultation process the Bainimarama Government had embarked on, Tikoduadua said it got 60 percent of the people’s support. This NDFF, he hoped, would build on that support, and the senior Bainimarama aide has urged for wider and greater participation.

“As I told some members of the diplomatic community, the Prime Minister has said no dialogue until 2012 yet he has brought it forward now. “So don’t try to kill it off even before allowing it any chance to start growing, start developing it to something.” At least one foreign government seems to have taken up Tikoduadua’s plea. Speaking to national television late last month, Indian High Commissioner in Fiji Professor Prabhakara Jha said New Delhi stands ready to offer Fiji support for the holding of elections with no strings attached. “Anything concerning the general election, we are ready to assist,” High Commissioner Jha told Fiji Television. “Any help, any sort of gift, any sort of assistance, whether its experience, technical whatever, we stand ready with unconditional support.”

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