Ongoing debate and rejection of the regime's new Constitution with the United Front for a Democratic Fiji citing the Citizens Constitution Forum's analysis as exposing in particular how the people of Fiji have been sold short.
Selected excerpts from UFDF's latest statement:
A report by Constitutional expert Anthony Regan for the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum is a devastating condemnation of the Fiji Government’s newly-imposed constitution.
In the view of the United Front for a Democratic Fiji, the Regan analysis exposes the document as a sham, which does not meet universal democratic standards and sells the people of Fiji short. The full truth has been exposed.
The UFDF urges overseas governments especially New Zealand, Australia as well as the Commonwealth, UN and EU who have recently developed a keen interest to embrace the Bainimarama-Sayed-Khaiyum regime’s election plans for the sake of elections while ignoring the ‘fundamental flaws that remain, to study the CCF sponsored analysis.
The UFDF says these organizations and countries should join with concerned people in Fiji in attempting to correct the injustices forced on them and the UFDF has always looked to New Zealand and Australia to take the international lead in pressing the regime to introduce changes and, therefore, avoid an on-going crisis.
The report contends that pressure of time and lack of technical drafting skill led to a number of mistakes, inconsistencies, redundancies and problems with organization and structure. The CCF’s document must be taken seriously.
It has been prepared objectively by legal experts, in consultation with reputable local stakeholders. It is a confirmation that the UFDF was correct in rejecting the constitution on the grounds that it is not democratic, fails to conform to the wishes of the people, is self-serving and has many other serious flaws.
We say that by conferring huge powers on the office of the prime minister, the attorney general and the army, the constitution is an attempt to enforce dictatorship by other means.
On the position of prime minister, the report speaks of a concentration of power in one office at the expense of parliament, the judiciary and the independence of commissions and offices. These powers, says the report, are perhaps unprecedented in modern constitutions. It submits that the constitution largely does away with the checks and balances of past Constitutions.
The report submits that it will be difficult to hold free and fair elections in current conditions. It questions how free elections can be held when constitutionally protected decrees severely restrict the media and political parties?
It points out there is an almost unrestricted authority to limit specific rights, including the right of political parties to hold meetings. This makes it difficult to see how this is consistent with a commitment to “free and fair elections”, or to the creation of a true democracy.
Immunity provisions, says the report, appear to exceed the scope of amnesties under international law and do little to deter future coups. The granting of blanket immunities seemingly encourages them.
Immunities may well be against the wishes of the people. The UFDF emphasizes that opposition to immunity came out clearly in comments to the earlier 2012 Peoples Draft.
On the controversial and sensitive issue of Fijian land, the analysis adds that the constitution does not entrench legislation such as the iTaukei Lands Act and the iTaukei Land Trust Act. That omission means these laws can be changed by a simple majority in Parliament. In fact, says the CCF analysis, protection for Fijian land can be completely removed by Parliament.
The UFDF contends that the constitution gives the army paramount constitutional power through a provision authorizing it to ensure at all times the well-being of Fiji and all Fijians. This is similar to a clause in the 1990 constitution that Commodore Bainimarama used to justify his intervention in politics, ultimately leading to his coup of 2006.
A new proportional representation electoral system, says the report, will undermine the principle of “one person, one vote, one value.” Just a few large parties would be registered. The system would work against the interests of small parties and in certain circumstances could mean that the votes of more than one in every 10 voters would be wasted.
The report states what everyone in Fiji knows – that people are likely to vote along the usual ethnic lines. It will take time for this to alter. Nothing in the constitution restricts the ethnic voting the regime says it opposes.
The government had not published the 1093 written submissions [via text and other means] on the draft constitution received by the Attorney-General’s office. It was, therefore, impossible to understand the reason for changes made to the draft, or whether these were genuinely reflective of the wishes and concerns of the people.
The regime has promised to provide an explanatory document about its constitution but has failed to do so. This is noted in the report. It is yet another broken promise. In an open democracy there would have been an outcry about this. The Bainimarama-Sayed-Khaiyum regime, however, is able to get away with such behavior because it’s backed by military force and intimidation.
Like the UFDF, the CCF analysis points out that the governments draft was widely understood to be the final version. But when the President assented to it on 6th September, he was giving approval to a version to which changes had been made.
The UFDF stresses that these changes have never been disclosed or explained to the people of Fiji. They were made in secret. The question arises of how many changes have been made secretly and when will these be published?
On the elections, the analysis says the Prime Minister dominates the appointments of all those responsible for a “free and fair election”. This is precisely the point the UFDF makes. How can the Electoral Commission be independent when those managing it are picked by the regime? It is significant that the Electoral Commission is not declared to be independent nor guaranteed to be free from “direction and control” of other bodies.
Why, then, are other countries so ready to give assistance for elections at this time?