Chaudhry Calls for Internal dialogue First — My Response
Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry does not agree with the external-initiatives suggested by ANZ’s Michael Rowland or Jenny Hayward-Jones of the Lowy Institute, agreeing instead with the CMAG that called for inclusive and meaningful dialogue among the people of Fiji and what Chaudhry called “their genuine representatives” — presumably meaning Laisenia Qarase and himself.
He called for the immediate revival of the President’s Dialogue Forum, the resumption of dialogue, the restoration of he 1997 Constitution (with amendments “to the electoral provisions to make it non-racial and democratically acceptable”), the lifting of PER, and elections earlier than 2014.
“Once the people of Fiji have reached agreement on a way forward, friendly nations can be called on to provide advice and technical assistance in implementing the electoral reforms and any other agreed changes.”
This sounds very reasonable except for one small detail: it’s a sure way to return Fiji to how it was in 2006, probably with more coups to follow. PER, as he says, will have to be lifted before there can be any meaningful dialogue; and it may be useful to recall the President’s Dialogue Forum before, instead or in conjunction with the dialogue on constitutional and electoral reforms scheduled for next year. But I’m less sure about the role of the two old warhorses, Qarase and Chaudhry, in this dialogue. They had the opportunity before, and they blew it. A new breed of politician is needed.
I have a suspicion, also, that when Mr Chaudhry talks about inclusive dialogue, he really means a dialogue of politicians (those steeped in the racial and factional politics of the past), whereas the dialogue that is needed should include a far broader group of interests and perspectives, such as those represented in the People’s Charter dialogue.
And patching-up the 1997 Constitution is not the way forward, either. True, it had the begrudged support of the Great Council of Chiefs and main political parties in 1997 but it was essentially an incomplete, compromise document that subsequent events showed to have many imperfections. In additon to the very major changes needed to the constitution’s electoral and racial provisions, the new constitution will need to decide on the powers and authority of the chiefs, the Prime Minister, Cabinet, the Opposition, Senate, lawyers, the military, and the President. And these should be based on the principles of the People’s Charter that was endorsed by at least 60 percent of Fiji’s adult population — and is not mentioned at all by Mr Chaudhry!
Dialogue, yes, and soon, but I also go along with Rowland, Hayward-Jones, Preston and Cole (see postings below) and the increasing number of others who think sanctions have failed, and that Australia and New Zealand, in particular, should review their Fiji stance.