Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Fiji's Coup Culture Rears its Head Again

Dominion Post Editorial Opinion

"Before the end of last week, Fiji was making good progress toward the elections coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama has promised for 2014. Draconian emergency regulations that suppressed free speech and political debate had been lifted and a draft constitution had been drawn up."

Military coup culture must be removed from Fiji politics

However, there are now fresh signs that the destructive coup culture that has held Fiji back for more than 20 years is alive and well.

The police seizure and later destruction of 600 copies of the draft constitution strongly suggests the military is unwilling to submit to rules that make clear soldiers belong in their barracks, not the seat of government.

The armed forces' submission to the constitution commission claimed the military was "the last bastion for law and order in Fiji", and demanded it be protected as it was in the constitution created by original coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka in 1990. That gave the military "overall responsibility" for the security, defence and wellbeing of Fijians.

The commission's draft takes a very different view. Although it agrees the military's role is to protect Fiji from external threats, the explanatory note emphasises it does not have any role as a "guardian of the constitution or conscience of the nation". Furthermore, it says the military should be under civilian control exercised through a democratically-elected parliament.

In other words, the people of Fiji will tell the military what to do, not the other way around.

The draft also contained continued immunity for Mr Rabuka and Commodore Bainimarama, but only if they swear an oath to accept the sovereignty of the people. That would include submitting to "democracy and the rule of law", something neither has displayed much appetite for in the past.

It is difficult to escape the impression that the police seized the 600 copies of the draft and burnt them - obviously with the blessing, if not the complicity, of the military - because Commodore Bainimarama is not prepared to accept that the people of Fiji, not he and his armed cronies, are the masters of the nation's destiny.

If so, it would be a great pity. There was growing hope that Commodore Bainimarama, who had previously reneged on a promise to hold elections in 2009, was this time genuine about restoring democracy and returning the military to its rightful station.

So encouraging were developments that New Zealand, which contributed $500,000 toward the constitution commission's work, is preparing to dispatch a high commissioner to Suva for the first time since 2007.

Fiji Land Forces Commander Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga justified the seizure and destruction of the draft copies on the grounds the commission's head, Kenyan academic Yash Ghai, had made them illegally. Colonel Tikoitoga said the military decree that authorised the commission's work allowed it only to supply its draft to President Epeli Nailatikau, as it did last month.

Unfortunately, Fiji's history of coups gives ample cause to suspect the military's real motive was to prevent the Fijian people from discovering the status proposed for the armed forces.

Explanatory Report                                 Appendages to Draft Fiji Constitution

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