Saturday, July 02, 2011

Australia's Fiji Pro-Democracy Movement Calls for Unity


Press Statement - 02 JULY 2011

Unity in the Struggle for Democracy in Fiji 

Support is building for the FDFM’s ten point ‘Transitional Plan for Democracy in Fiji’. The plan was backed at the FDFM’s special forum meeting in Canberra and by a much larger gathering in Melbourne on June 25th. The objective is to assemble a platform around which those wanting to see an end to military rule in Fiji can unite. Our opponents nowadays no longer praise Bainimarama’s government or trumpet the achievements of the 2006 coup. Instead they focus on discrediting those urging democracy to encourage divisions. We need to stand firm and reject their efforts to divide us. 

We have been overwhelmed with positive responses to our ten point plan. A minority have raised criticisms and the regime itself - deeply aware of its own vulnerability - has sought to discredit our goals and justify its continuing rule, again by fostering division and discord. In this statement, we respond to these criticisms and indicate why such attempts to divide and rule must be opposed. 

The Ten Point Plan is concerned with principles. The process is also important. We stand fully behind the call to resume dialogue towards our stated objectives. The cancellation of the President’s Political Dialogue Forum in April 2009 was a confrontational act by the Bainimarama-Khaiyum regime, rejected even by many of those who remained inside the government. We appeal also to those within the regime to back our Ten Point Plan 

1. Remove the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) to allow political life and dialogue to emerge afresh in Fiji. 

2. Allow freedom of speech and immediately cease all media censorship. 

3. Restore the 1997 Constitution with an appropriate electoral system, including the removal of communal rolls. 

4. Respect the verdict of the Fiji Court of Appeal, and allow a caretaker Prime Minister to lead the country to fresh elections in 2012. 

5. Restore full diplomatic relations with neighbouring countries, the Pacific Islands Forum, Commonwealth, European Union and the United Nations. 

6. Establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to initiate a national healing process to ensure that no community in Fiji is victimised. 

7. Re-empower institutions of governance, including allowing democratic elections for such bodies as municipal councils, industrial associations, trade unions and statutory organisations. 

8. Allow the Great Councils of Chiefs to reconvene to deliberate on the affairs of the nation. 

9. Restore public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and the civil service. 

10 Disengage the military from civilian roles and to facilitate their orderly return to the barracks. 

In Response to our Critics 
The Great Council of Chiefs 

Some have objected to our call (no 8.) for the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (BLV) to be allowed to ‘reconvene to deliberate on the affairs of the nation’ stating that the BLV is unelected or a colonial invention or pointing to its track record in past crises. This is irrelevant and misplaced. The BLV is one among many institutions in our national political and social life that has been dismantled and harassed by a government that wants to destroy all institutions of representation, association and dialogue, and has systematically used the public emergency regulations to achieve this. 

Our No. 8 demand needs to be read together with the 7th, i.e, to ‘re-empower institutions of governance, including allowing democratic elections for such bodies as municipal councils, industrial associations, trade unions and statutory organisations’. ‘Institutions of governance’ include also other unelected bodies, like the civil society organisations, and it is important that all of these be allowed to meet and deliberate, including the BLV. At a time when the trades unions are threatened with an attack through the Critical Industries in Financial Distress Decree, we should not allow divisions or petty quarrels to undermine our unity. 

Further evidence that this objection to the Ten Point Plan is pure mischief making by those seeking to divide the democracy movement is that everyone who knows the 1997 constitution (covered under point 3) will be well aware that it anyway contains provisions allowing the BLV to sit. Indeed, it empowers it both on land matters and in the selection of the Senate, President and Vice-President. For this reason, our point 7 might be considered quite unnecessary, but for us it is deeply symbolic of our appeal for inclusiveness and our rejection of the regime’s efforts to divide us. We stand by our demand No 8. 

The 1997 constitution 

Some have objected to the demand to restore the 1997 constitution (No 3), claiming that its provision for communal electoral rolls is flawed or that its electoral system is too complex. This is a longstanding debate in Fiji, taken up by the supporters of the Bainimarama-Khaiyum government mischievously again to justify and legitimise their continued rule. Others have objected that the need to make reforms ‘with an appropriate electoral system, including the removal of communal rolls’ is unconstitutional since only an elected parliament can make such changes. Again, we have sought to put forward demands that can unite our movement. 

The choice is plain: either we embrace the promised arrangements upon which deliberations will allegedly commence in 2012 or we build upon those which Fiji’s leaders from across the political spectrum agreed in the mid-1990s. There is no easy middle way, but our proposed way is to accept that the 1997 constitution is a living document, and that changes should be made. The time has passed when communal seats are reasonably necessary for the alleged ‘protection’ of the indigenous Fijian community, if they ever served that purpose. We believe that this was acknowledged by all of the major elected political parties in Fiji. The recommendation for a reform of the electoral system was the only serious proposal in the regime’s ‘People’s Charter’. Unanimity could have been achieved around this through dialogue, sparing Fiji much trauma. Instead the Bainimarama-Khaiyum regime chose the avenue of confrontation and discord when they repudiated dialogue and abrogated the 1997 constitution. So we have compromised in this respect, but not in others. To embark upon a course of accepting the regime’s proposed constitutional deliberations in 2012, if these eventuate, would be suicide for the cause of democracy in Fiji. Just as with the ‘People’s Charter’, these would be used merely as a method of tokenistic consultation, with Bainimarama and Khaiyum in fact deciding the outcome. We need an alternative moral compass. We stand by our demand point (3) for a restoration of the 1997 constitution. 

Our Orientation 

We need to broaden and strengthen our movement. Nothing is cast in stone. We need to be flexible, and appeal also to those who have weathered this storm within the regime hoping to exercise influence or sway the government towards democracy. So, our Ten Point Plan remains subject to negotiation and dialogue, and we will use these negotiations to build the necessary unity. The time is past when we will allow petty squabbles to divide our movement. 

This is the only strategy on offer to restore our country to economic security, political openness and public order. To those who seek continually to find fault with the activities of the democracy movement, we say step back and think carefully about your position. Whose side are you on? In theory, you back the creation of a future perfect democracy, but in practice you back a military dictatorship and attack those pressing for democratic government. We appeal to you instead to unite around our chosen programme, and build support for the transition to democracy in Fiji. 

P.O. Box 3194, Bankstown Square. NSW. 2200. Australia. PH: (02) 8078 4546 Email: Website: 

The Bainimarama-Khaiyum regime has failed; its grandiose promises of multi-racialism and anti-corruption have all been breached. Its claimed reformist orientation masks a deeply corrupt administration that rests on pervasive nepotism and malpractice. Only fear holds it in place. Things cannot continue on their current downhill trajectory. Enough is enough. 

Thumbs up for democracy in Fiji! 

Suliasi Daunitutu 

Interim President 


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