Anticipating Attempts at a Derailment of the Constitution Dialogue Process

Opinion by Croz Walsh

The Bose Levu Vakaturaga or Great Council of Chiefs that was abolished last week was a government body established to advise government on itaukei affairs, but in recent years it exceeded its brief by partisan involvement in national politics. In 2006 it comprised 55 members; 3 chiefs nominated from each of the 14 provinces, 3 nominated by the Council of Rotuma, 6 by the Minister of Fijian Affairs in consultation with the President (who was appointed by the GCC on the recommendation of the the Prime Minister), the Prime Minister, the President and Vice-President (also appointed by the  GCC), and former 1987 Coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka was a life member. None of the chiefs was elected and all of the members were itaukei.

 The PM's abolition of the Great Council of Chiefs (and my posting suggesting the abolition had pre-empted the actions of the Constitution Commission and Constitution Assembly) have drawn a wide range of responses.

Bainimarama's decision to abolish the GCC does not affect the traditional rights of chiefs, most of whom, of course, were not members of the GCC, nor does his assumption of the chairman's role in the Provincial Councils detract from the role of the councils or their chiefly members. These moves are not an attack on chiefs  as such, or on itaukei custom as paramount chiefs Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu and Ro Teimumu Kepa have claimed.  Nor does the abolition run counter to "a right mandated by the United Nations" as Ro Teimumu and lawyer Nikolau Nanaikula would  have people believe. Indeed, some prominent chiefs have supported his move, among them Macuata's paramount chief, Ratu Aisea Katonivere, who wants to see chiefs return to their traditional role and stay out of party politics (Fiji News, 17.3.12).   Nonetheless, the GCC has been around for a very long time and many itaukei have come to consider it a traditional institution.

Bainimarama's intention is not to undermine the chiefly system. His  sole purpose is to remove the potential of these government bodies to thwart government policies and possibly serve as rallying points for a counter-coup or widespread disruption at national or provincial levels. Ironically, the reality of this threat was admitted  by Ro Teimumu Kepa in speaking against the disestablishment."The 2006 coup," she said,  "has only lasted so long because government suspended the GCC shortly after taking power."

In other words, had Bainimarama not suspended the GCC his government would have been overthrown in much the same way, presumably, as the Chaudhry government was overthrown in 2006, by a "peaceful demonstration" supported by some chiefs, opposition MPs and elements of the itaukei and business elite, the hierarchy of the Methodist Church, a mob and a military faction.

Many people, and I am one of them, would have preferred to have seen the GCC reformed on the recommendations of the Constitution Assembly, and not abolished before the constitution process starts.

But Baimarama's record shows that he removes anticipated opposition before it can be moblised. Thus, acting Landforce Commander Col. Baledrokadroka was stood down in early 2006 because Bainimarama knew he could not be relied up if events eventually resulted in a coup. The opposition of prominent chiefs, the GCC, the SDL and the Methodist Church to government initiatives, most especially the NCBBF and the People's Charter, resulted in the suspension of the GCC, the suspension of the Chief Justice, and the cancellation of Methodist annual conferences, and then, after Australian appeal judges found the coup to be illegal in 2009, he abrogated the 1997 constitution, stripped the Fiji Law Society of its previous powers, had the judiciary reapply for registration, forced the sale of the Fiji Times, sidelined millitary officers Ratu Tevita Mara and Pita Driti,  and imposed the public emergency regulations.

The new pre-dialogue environment
The lifting of PER, media censorship, and the announcement of the constitution dialogue process have  again created a new, freer environment where clandestine efforts by those opposed to Government's Roadmap, constitution and electoral reforms, and the 2014 elections could derail the process.  My original thoughts were than the abolition of the GCC pre-empted the Constitution Process, and in a way it does, but it also makes sense to pre-empt organized opposition to the process.  

The comment last week by military spokesman Col. Tikoitoga that attention will now move to depoliticising the Methodist Church (which he said "has been politically affiliated with previous governments which is not their role")  is a logical extension of the action against the GCC. As in the case of the chiefs, government is not against the church as such, indeed most of its members are Methodists, but it is against a church hierarchy that has politicised religion and it not committed to multi-culturalism. 

A further indication of things to come is the reply of the Attorney-General to Prof Biman Prasad's published comments  which  compared Fiji's low GDP  with Mauritius that has no military forces and a high GDP.  The A-G called on Biman "to give his recommendation to the Constitution Commission rather than speaking out in the media ...What they should be doing is going and making the issues to the constitution commission, we all know what the issues are, we said that in 2000, we said that in 87, so please go to the constitution commission and make your submission there”."

This could suggest that only limited discussion will be allowed before the Constitution Commission calls for submissions, and that an open forum will not exist until the Constitution Assembly meets. I do not agree with the A-G. People need to talk freely and openly, and think about the issues in a seamless process leading into the official dialogue. But, if my previous assumptions are correct, this is but another example of trying to prevent a  build up of organized opposition, and firmly established positions, before the Constitution process starts.

And if the CCF survey on which I commented last week (Preparing for Democracy Parts I-III) is any indication, there is a case for reasonable concern: the itaukei grassroots, could again be manipulated by their chiefs and talatala as they were in the coups of 1987 and 2000 and the elections of 2001 and 2006.

What we have is far from ideal —and far from the comprehension of Government's overseas critics—  but if there is to be relatively open and free discussion, a relative consensus of opinion in the Constitution Assembly, and a relatively democratic election in 2014, this is probably the surest and safest way of getting there.

If all goes well, the outcome should most definitely be relatively better than it was before 2006. At least, all Fijians will be treated as full and equal citizens,  and the prospect of future coups should be reduced when each vote has equal value, when  the members of all political parties come from all races, and when no constituency is based on race. But I doubt even then that Fiji's democracy will meet with  total approval.  A new Fiji, like Rome, cannot be built in a day.

Later in the week, I'll comment — with the A-G's permission, of course!— on the views expressed in favour and against the GCC.


Understanding roles said…
We are told the GCC was removed because they did not understand their role and the attention will now be on the Methodist church because they do not understand their role. I would add to that one organization that clearly does not understand its role - the RFMF. When will they look at their own role in all this mess ?
Yea yea said…
...and you think it is OK just to remove anyone who might present some opposition ? So Croz you will support Frank when he removes any leader who may threaten him for the PMs seat in 2014?
Anonymous said…

Is Frank worried about the derailing of the constitution process or is it his grip on power ?
Anonymous said…
Mosese Tikoitoga is a glorified military clerk, who like Frank, has a limited high school education but who got ahead by being loyal like a dog to the coup leader.

This loyalty problem started with Rabuka, who fingered his officers after his 1987 coup by reverting to that old dictum favoured by other dictators in history "If you are not with me, then you are against me" (reminscent of Mara in his Alliance days!)

Frank is doing the same thing that dictators before him have done. Like Rabuka and others in history, he demands his officers and men be loyal to him and not to some abstract ideal such as the Constitution etc. That explains Tikotoga's position i.e. whatever Frank says we will follow".

No concept of independent thinking. Just follow orders. What dickheads to follow this line.

Tikoitoga is showing himself up as being a half-educated politicised soldier who has been promoted beyond the level of his competence.
Anonymous said…
According to Tikoitoga the Constitution was removed the day the military took over the elected government of Laisenia Qarase in 2006.

See if you can get a interview with Tikoitoga. He has some interesting views. Try this... 'this government has from the beginning brought policies which were against the 1997 constitution and statements that it was abrogated after the court ruling is irrelevant.' do you want explain that a bit more ? So the basis of the charter was a lie from the beginning ????

"Unfortunately, now the political parties and unions are picking on nitty-gritty issues I think the people of Fiji should be told where the state of country was under the leadership of this people and where we have come so far and then they are now picking on issues that has no relevance to the formation of a better Fiji." Actually you don't want the people of Fiji to know where Fiji was and how far it has come because it has not come very far in the last 5 years. In terms of the economy it is still playing catch up for years lost due to the coup !
FB - the best Fijian money can buy said…
'...... At least, all Fijians will be treated as full and equal citizens, and the prospect of future coups should be reduced when each vote has equal value, when the members of all political parties come from all races, and when no constituency is based on race. But I doubt even then that Fiji's democracy will meet with total approval. A new Fiji, like Rome, cannot be built in a day....'

I'm sorry, I must missed something between 1987 and now - how exactly will votes of equal value prevent common garden criminals like Frank, ably and unashamedly assisted by any number of blow- in bushlawyers, from staging another coup? I keep on reading this assertion but I have yet to have it explained.

Perhaps there is an academic explanation Croz - one based on emperical evidence, perhaps based on overseas experience? You may even like to quote it here in your blog - It would have to be preferable to the cut and paste propaganda you have produced lately.
Self Actualisation and Leadership said…
Abraham Maslow and the Hierarchy of Needs:

Any self-actualized Leaders around? Educated, self actualised to the extent that they may stand for something and not require a retinue of slaves to follow? A sound education is required for Leadership today. That and the necessary and sufficient formation of character, ethics and morals to ensure good judgement in most, if not all, matters of governance.

If in doubt, refer to Professor Ghai. He seems self-actualised himself so he must recognise the requirements in others?
The writing's on the wall said…
Croz says “it also makes sense to pre-empt organized opposition to the process.”

All of the actions that you have discussed not only remove opposition to the constitutional process but also removes organized opposition in the elections. All the current actions of Bainimarama and Khaiyum are all about increasing their electoral appeal and at the same time destroying any infrastructure the opposition might have.

1- The Dictator is removing the traditional powerbases of the SDL, The Methodist Church and the traditional chiefly system or the Labor party and destroying the powerbase of the Unions with The Essential Industries Decree.

2- Khaiyum is bringing criminal charges against the party leaders. In Qarase’s case it is for something that happened over 20 years ago. Why is he not being charged with the corruption that supposedly was the cause of the coup in the first place. In Chaudhry’s case he is being charged with something that this Regime cleared him after holding an “Official Inquiry”.

3- The “Government can Slander but you can’t decree” that Khaiyum has used to sling mud at the union leaders

4- Making it difficult for parties to meet. They say Parties have always needed permits to meet but not like this. In the past if a party wanted a meeting of its senior staff from across the country in its own office no permit was required, but it is now.

5- Bainimarama and Khaiyum telling people to shut up when they don’t like what they say.

6- Bainimarama becoming Chairman of the Provincial Councils and selecting the chairman for each province. He already appoints the Roko’s. In 2006 one of his complaints of Qarase was he had politicized the Provincial Councils. Here Bainimarama is doing the same in a much more insidious way.

The list goes on I could add many more examples of the regime taking control and removing opposition, If this was happening in New Zealand in the run up to an election, you would be up in arms.

You end by saying “If all goes well, the outcome should most definitely be relatively better than it was before 2006” That is a big IF. That is a big SHOULD. That is an awfully big GAMBLE.

Croz it is easy for you to take that gamble, because you can say sorry guys I was wrong the democracy in Fiji is worse than before but what do I care I have my NZ pension and I can still afford a cheap holiday in Fiji.

But for the people in Fiji that big GAMBLE is about their lives. I don’t trust Bainimnarama as far as I can throw him. Over the last 12 years, Fiji is littered with his lies, his broken promises and all the horrors he is responsible for. Give me one example of a consultation process in Fiji under Bainimarama that has been free from the influence of the military or where the results were listened to by the Junta. The Constitutional consultations will be no different. The outcome will be whatever Khaiyum and Bainimarama has pre ordained.

What we are truly heading for is effectively a 1 party state. Bainimarama will be an executive President backed by the military. In effect Fiji will still be a dictatorship.
Anonymous said…
yes Croz, and i have no 'in principle objection' to a military either, just their tactics in imposing their will on the entire country without any checks or review on their power and this naive assumption that once they get what they want from a compliant consultation process, that they will just go back to barracks is wearing thin. It is all about crushing any opposition but they expect us to return to parliamentary democracy ??
Einstein said…
I like your reference to relativity. Clearly, your credentials as a highly intelligent academic shine brightly. But lets take the relativity theory a bit further: Fiji is relatively better off than Syria where the regime kills its citizens by their thousands. Fiji is relatively better off than Somalia where there is government at all. An Fiji is certainly better off than North Korea where a dynasty of dictators starve their citizens to death. But is this enough? We are constantly told what to do, where and when to speak, we cannot challenge the government in court, and we cannot believe the promises this government makes because all promises have been broken before. Shall we admire a PM who is a master of the preemptive strike against any opposition, perceived or real. Do we really all have to agree with the principle that the military has some God given step in right when its senior soldiers feel it should? If nobody is allowed to speak out, how can this entire process be credible and lead to something positive. All these reprimands and threats that the regime issues will leave nothing but a seriously disgruntled citizenry who will feel bullied by man with guns.
sara'ssista said…
how is it not an attack on the chiefly system?? Bainimarama has no problem when they are flag bearers for him only when they oppose. It appears anyone who opposes the military regime is a target and even those who proport to explain and 'ever so gently'criticise the regime, are ignored. The goal is to stack the govenrment and public service , government boards with soldiers, entrench their will and pretend to be for a fairer and just fiji. What a start, to be told 'you are all wrong' with a gun at your head and told to play nice, but 'just not like us'.
Anonymous said…
presumably Bainimarama just woke up one morning and decided this at this late stage?? I for one accept that if the decisions and tactics used by this junta are the precedent, then in the future any government should be allowed the same. They should be able to make arbtrary decisions in their own self interest, they should be able to make appointments of their friends and family to media, boards, etc without any accountability, they should be able to pass decrees that benefit themselves and proivide immunity and so on.They should be able to say what thye like without consequence and drag anyone through a compliant court system stacked with their own appointees.
Anonymous said…
'In an interview with Coupfourpointfive, Yash Ghai admits there is no guarantee the regime will not interfere with the Constitution Commission he heads' and this is the guy they appointed!? We can expect a phone call from the regime to slap him down, or his house firebombed...
Anonymous said…
@Understanding roles...

It is not just that the GCC and Methodist church do not understand their roles. You must also look to their motivation and actions. The GCC and Methodist church have behaved in a racist and devisive way. They wish to elevate one race in Fiji to the detriment of the other races. Not only that but they wish to protect their elite positions of power and remain in control and keep the money roling in. The actions of the current government and military under Bainimarama shows that it is trying to bring Fiji to a true democracy where everyone can be equal.
Anonymous said…
I'd prefer a reformed GCC rather than no GCC at all. A agree with Walsh's assertion that the GCC has been influenced by a certain degree of politics, with that said, what exactly was the original role of the GCC? perhaps we could start this debate after answering this question.
Anonymous said…
Derailment?, it seems to me that only one group, the army, is able to do that and have already started. But they will have people going out on a limb defending and justifying their vandalism... and of course , there will be no consequences, yet. Apparently everyone else is held to very different standards. This to me , and others is a very big slap in the face for thoise who just thought there might be an opportunity to discuss and suggest. So what is the point if the army are going to dismantle and abolish whatever they want. I can only guess that they expect me to applaud and be grateful for what they are doing for me because heaven knows how easily manipulated and confused i can get without their guidance and intervention.

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