The Constituent Assembly

Part II. Likely Points of Contention
By Crosbie Walsh

Even before the Assembly meets concerns have been raised about whether its membership will be truly representative. 

At one time, the FLP seems to want the political parties to be more heavily represented but now both Chaudhry and Beddoes say they will not serve on the Assembly. Perhaps they knew they would not be invited. The PM decides who from the political parties he will accept and, given the two gentlemen's erratic behaviour, it could be best for Fiji if they were not their party's representatives.  Or perhaps they seek to prove the Assembly is not representative — because it does  not include them. Who knows?

 They remind me of when I was very young playing with daisies. We'd sit in a circle and strip the flowers one petal at a time, calling "she loves me, she loves me not." Only when the last petal was pulled would we know whether we were loved or not.

Concern has also been expressed, and rumours abound, about who may be chosen as chairperson. A further concern is that Government and the military will also have representatives in the Assembly though I would have thought it obvious that, as key players, they would.

Probable areas not immediately agreed on
Once the Assembly meets there will be a number of issues that will not be immediately agreed. I would expect these to include the proposed restricted powers of the President, the abolition of Senate and the positions of Vice-President and, possibly, the Attorney-General, the restoration of the Great Council of Chiefs, and the number of MPs. The composition and authorities of the various recommended commissions, and the removal of clauses limiting human —and trade union— rights in the decrees passed by the Bainimarama Government, will also probably be contested, but I would expect all of these recommendations to be ultimately adopted.

There is also the questions of  immunity. It will have to granted, as insisted upon by Government and recommended, probably reluctantly, by the Commission, but I do not expect consensus. The chair may be forced to rule some speakers out of order, and I suspect this issue could be used as a rallying point for those opposed to Government to "go public." Readers should note that military personnel found guilty of human rights abuses will not been given immunity, and indeed a number of them are currently serving prison sentences.
Major sticking points
The major sticking points, on which agreement seems less likely, are the recommendations dealing with (a) the transition to parliamentary governance and the ongoing monitoring of parliamentary and other authority, especially that of the proposed National People's Assembly and (b) those affecting the military.

The draft also  recommends the  appointment of a 14-member Transition Advisory Council that would include two people nominated by the PM, one of them from the military; one by the Fiji Law Society, one each by the country's three Vice-Chancellors, three by civil society, the three chairs of the interim Electoral Commission, the Ethics and Integrity Commission and the Judicial Services Commission, and two persons from the Caretaker Government. This line up could see Government and the Military heavily outnumbered. I would therefore expect Government, and those in the Assembly who support Government, to hotly contest the TAC membership, and insist on some greater say in the appointments of the commissions mentioned, before they accept this recommendation.

Finally, I think Government will oppose the creation of the National People's Assembly unless it is convinced it is likely to be in what it sees to be the "best interests" of Fiji. The NPA will comprise 24 officers of state and 72 (36 men and 36 women) appointed representatives of civil society who will appoint the President and annually review progress on national goals.

The RFMF: obstacles ahead
Over the past few days Land Force Commander Col. Mosese Tikoitoga has made a number of public statements that should leave no one in any doubt about the military position of some recommendations in the draft constitution.

Ignore his forthright language. Army people tend to call spades spades. But listen closely to the inherent beliefs that underpin his remarks. The RFMF sees itself and its role in Fiji is in very different light from the Commission. It claims that only it could have brought about the reforms over the past six years.  The claim is not without justification, given that the  politicians have had since 1970 to build an inclusive and united nation, and in the 19 years since it became law they made not one move to  review the 1997 Constitution as recommended by the Reeves Commission. Instead, they have thrived on the racial division to the detriment of Fiji..

I see major obstacles ahead. The military is unlikely to accept the limited role prescribed in the draft, either now or for many years to come. If there are any doubts on this, note these words in its submission to the Constitution Commission: 
  • We "will monitor the ongoing situation in parliament and in Fiji ensuring that what it had adopted since 2006 and through the People's Charter is fully implemented."(9); 
  • "The RFMF remains the last bastion for law and order in Fiji" (41); We "will not allow the undermining of what has been achieved since 2006." 
  • 42. The Forces cannot and will not be complacent in dealing with situations that undermine national interest. The developments that have occurred since 2006 cannot be abandoned or derailed. We need to move forward in a constructive manner with national interest at heart. The RFMF will not allow any individual, group and organizations or another State to sabotage the efforts of 2006. This new course will continue. The RFMF will ensure it continues, not only to 2014 but beyond.
  • "The Commander and his Forces has a vision ... there are no other institutions that are capable of bringing about this change" (46);  
  • The RFMF will continue to be responsible in ensuring at all times the security, defense and well being of Fiji and its people. It does not intend to diverse (sic!) from this commitment. 
  • In addition, RFMF will be the guidance of the governance of this country, ensuring that peace, prosperity and good governance is practised and adhered to. (47); 
  • The RFMF has been the custodian of this change and will remain so in ensuring the national objectives and aim of uniting one Fiji is achieved.(48).

RFMF and the 'coup culture'
The draft constitution sees the military as the cause of past coups and seeks to limit its powers in order to break the "coup culture." 

The military, on the other hand, sees itself as heroes, a band of brothers,  "abandoned" during the 2000 Speight Coup by the politicians, the chiefs and the Methodist Church as it strove to restore order;. And again in July 2000 when rebel soldiers with the support of local chiefs seized the Sukanaivalu Barracks in Labasa and held it for 30 days; in the rebel seizure of Korovou township; the disruption of power supplies and the closure of roads. And yet again in November when rebel elements of the Counter-Revolution Warfare Unit attempted to take over Queen Elizabeth Barracks and assassinate Bainimarama.

The Commission sees the military as the cause of coups when, so far as 1987 and 2000 were concerned, the military  is better seen  as the instrument of others. The military believes it suppressed the 2000 coup and acted in Fiji's best interests in launching the 2006 Coup.

The military sees the coups of 1987 and 2000 to have been caused by selfish chiefs and civilians aided by the military, and in the 2000 coup, by a rebel faction within the military.  It sees itself as the only reliable force capable of bringing about the changes that have occurred  since 2006 and capable of thwarting future coups.

The draft constitution has a number of measures with the same intent but most  exclude or are  aimed at controlling the military.  The military will support some but I doubt it will accept any of the recommendations on its future role, organization, chain of command and the early downsizing of its forces.

Constituent Assembly of what?
This leaves some very big questions about the Constituent Assembly. Will it meet as intended next week? Will its originally intended membership be changed to include more government and military representatives? Will the draft have been modified in any way, or will government seek its immediate modification before the Assembly gets down to business? Will the two-thirds majority to amend the draft remain? Whatever happens, I cannot see the present government and the military agreeing to be shunted to the sidelines.

Realism and reality
When Yash Ghai was questioned about his pending appointment as chair of the Constitution Commission, he was asked how he could possibly deal with an "illegal government." He replied, illegal or not, the government was a "reality." So, today as thenis the RFMF.

The Commission's recommendations would have stood a greater chance of acceptance had they heeded, or at least acknowledged, the military submission (late though it was) and sought the progressive introduction of its recommendations; not their adoption in one fell swoop. 

It could have given the military a more prominent place in its various recommended commissions, perhaps to be progressively phased out after the 2014 elections. 

It could also have considered new roles for the military with, for example, ongoing practical participation  in provincial government; army engineers boosting rural development efforts, disaster relief, and partnerships with secondary and tertiary education institutions in preparing youth for citizenship

Instead, its recommendations leave the military as mere spectators in the processes and events which have been largely of its making for the past six years. The Commission's good intentions, and particularly its timing, could well prove  unrealistic, and, depending on how matters are handled, they could well undermine the work of the Constituent Assembly.


What a farce said…
The attempts at damage control by you and other junta supporters is becoming laughable. The junta and its misguided supporters are increasingly turning on each other like a pack of rabid dogs. Who will be next?
Anonymous said…
The stated objective of the current government is to restore democracy and to have that democracy function for the benefit of all Fijians. There is no role for the military in the political processes of a democratic government. None. This entire process is simply heading towards the implementation of a political system which, if in the opinion of military commanders, is not in the interests of the country will be subject to military action.

You can have an elected parliament but if it's being monitored by the military and has to answer to the military it's simply not a democracy.
Anonymous said…
One thing I have noticed is that anti government people specialise in the personal attack. So, after attacking Yash Ghai for chairing the Commission he is now a blue eyed boy because he ended up batting for their team! Now wait for the attacks on the people who sit on the Constituent Assembly.
All the men will be there not because they want to help the country but because (take your pick);
1. They need the money;
2. They are lapdogs of the government;
3. They are military stooges;
4. They were involved in the coup or are coup apologists.
All the women who take part will be (again take your pick);
1. Of uncertain morals and involved in affairs with the government/military;
2. They need the money to compensate for the loss of business at the brothel;
3. They do not represent the women of Fiji and want to give the impression that they do.
If you ask me, the members of the Assembly need to be very tough to withstand the personal and nasty attacks which are about to come. They will only cease if, like Ghai, they give in to the pressure and do what the anti-government people want.

Interesting that the Fiji government supporters do not go in for the personal attacks, only the antis do?!?
Anonymous said…
There is no pint in factoring out the military, then expecting it to bail Fiji out every time democracy fails. The military has been misused and manipulated many times, and that has succeeded because there are a strong band of people in Fiji who believe that they have the right to power. If they don't win power in the democratic way, they will seize it using the military. What needs to be done is to strengthen democracy in Fiji from the village and local government level up.And to ensure that emergency powers factor in the possibility of a terrorist attack or coup which disables the elected government and allows the military a role but only limited to the emergency,. designed to hold elections within a short period of time, and subject to court supervision. That way no coup will succeed by locking up the government or parliament.I can't believe the Commission didn't deal with this real problem in asking how to stop coups in the future. Instead when there is a coup we all go into paralysis.
Daisies said…
Croz I also worked with daisies. They always ended up with "she loves me not" until I realised that if you start with "she loves me not" you will always end up with "she loves me". Too late for us both but helpful to some of your other readers? Excellent analysis by the way.Not of the daisies but of the issues.
observator said…
Are you being ironic? The notion that government supporters, including the media, don't engage in ad hominem attacks is laughable.
Anonymous said…

You seem to forget the commission did indeed consult very widely with ordinary Fijians as was asked of them. Could it not be possible that a smaller military and role for the military is what people want ? I don't think the military are in a very good position to judge their own popularity. For much of the past 6 years you could have been bashed for saying anything negative about them. Also having enjoyed the trapping of power as much as anyone in the past its pretty normal they don't want to give it all away.

On the side lines in viti levu
Anonymous said…
Dear Mr Walsh,

I for one welcome the the military as a participant in the assembly. It would be great to hear then actually openly argue or debate something. When was the last time you heard the PM debate anything ? The question is will they be prepared to do so and can they with out taking offence and reverting to threats.

Let the games begin

Anonymous said…
If the Military truely want democracy then they need to acccept a smaller role going forward. You cant have democracy and a righteous military over the top.

It's also time the military had a hard look at itself. It has a very rosy view of itself. It has never addressed the racism in its own ranks. The PM always addresses his ranks in Fijian - how does that help diversity ? Sorry the military is to blame for part of all of all four coups. It didnt return the elected government to power in 2000.

Lets not forget the Military FULLY SUPPORTED THE CONSTITUTION up until 2007. The only reason it threw it out was becuase there actions where found to be unlawful. They accuse all sorts of people everyday of self interest yet throwing out the old constitution was one of Fiji's biggest acts of self interest - to protect the 2006 coup folk.
Anonymous said…
welcome to 'Burma' in the pacific.
Anonymous said…
Isn't it about time the military looked at itself rather than blaming everyone else ?

Who appointed Mahendra Chaudry to government

Who appointed Anthony and Urai to FNPF

Who appointed Telani to Police Commissioner

Who Sada Reddy to governor (before he sent his money to NZ then devalue the dollar)

desmond said…
The regime goons have a an extensive history of unilaterally making appointments and then attacking their own appointees when they get uppity and have a contrary opinion to the one the military teells them to have...I don't see this changing anytime soon
Anonymous said…
Who appointed Prof Ghai

Who appointed the other commissioners

Who asked for funding from overseas

Who set up the non negotiable pricniple

Who was late and not public with its submission

Anonymous said…
What I took from Land Force Commander Col. Mosese Tikoitoga comments was he has no faith in real democracy, he is out of touch with the people of Fiji and 6 years of censorship (and unchecked power) have blinded him.
Anonymous said…

You talk about Fiji as if there has been some magical change over the last six years. To me it feels deeply divided and as much as ever. The Military government has made no attempt to reconcile with the people. It higher than mighty attitude and attempts to re-write history (everything military good, every bad is politicians fault) are seen for what they are seen. A few good projects and hand out in rural areas do not heal a nation. And Frankily with the unrestricted power they have had they havent done that much.
Redundant Fiji military said…
The Fiji military under the current poor and unprofessional leadership is hopeless. This military junta is just going from bad to worse.
desi said…
When the military regime hand out benefits to 'poor villagers' and forgive their debts, hand out government contracts without tender and appoint themselves to paid government roles, it is 'not corruption or pork barrelling'...ask Croz he will tell you...nothing like Qarase. Ha...perhaps he could examine how many people were rounded up, deported without natural justice, threatened and intimidated, monitored and harrassed or were able to freely assemble, under Qarase? I doubt it.
Pundit said…
Perhaps we could examine how many Indo Fijians left after racial attacks to which Rabuka/qarase and ilk turned a blind eye. Perhaps we should examine how racist the policies of the qarase government were? Or are we all really weeds? To be exterminated like the Rwandan Tutsis? Perhaps we should examine why the now suddenly vocal NGOs were so silent in the face of State sponsored racism and discrimination? Why wasn't the anti gay laws reviewed under qarase? Or the Domestic Violence Decree? Only one NGO was on the record as opposing all that injustice - CCF. The rest went with the flow, horsetrading with the devil to survive.
Anonymous said…
How dreadful. The military are busy building houses and schools after Evan. They are preaching equality and democracy. They must be really unpopular with the poor.
Anonymous said…
@ Pundit... so where were you Pundit...advising public transport policy in India?? Where was your voice and protest back then and why, could you explain that there was no public protest for change if it was such an issue? Are you seriously claiming that the military staged a coup to help women and indians?? BTW the 'rwandan example' is the sort of thing Croz would claim from opponents of the regime as an 'exageration' and 'misrepresentation'.I think there have been FAR more victims of this regime than there ever was at any other time.

@ Anon 1:49 Yes we should all congratulate poeple to do what they get paid for...perhaps if they had spent the military budget during the last twenty years developing Fiji you may not be in the same mess now.
Anonymous said…
perhaps the goons should spend all day buliding schools and roads rather than telling me what I should and should not read, say, blog and who i should meet and discuss and threatening me. How many Indians are now in the military that they claim protect them??? How about equality start there and you be a representative force in Fiji or perhaps Indians will fight for their rights down to the last fijian.
%$#@! said…
one mans 'racism' is anothers 'indigenous empowerment'...Mugabe in Zimbabwe is all for it and there are some remarkable similarities with this bunch of thugs and their cronies.
Anonymous said…
The governments and coups of the past are the results of the several selfish individuals using nationalist ideals. All those critics, if you have the guts take up arms and get on the streets. I dont think you will because you dont have the guts! The ones with the guts are in power and that is the reality. Remember even kiwis and ozzies dont want to intervene. I tell you this as a nationalist, I will not let anyone enter my country and rule over me. They will face one major resistance. It is about time fairness and equity is granted to everyone. Those in power will bring about change. The elites are gone now. The businesses and those that wanted to influence the military now understand where the boundary is!! Step over it and you will feel a big stick!! Bless this country because change is coming now. We look forward to the future!
Anonymous said…
YOra ruled and you opinion doesn't appear to matter much either way to the goons.How naive to think this is over... If it about fairness why can i not challenge the regime in court?? Why can i not vote for who i want? Why is there one retirement age for government employees, except the military regime?? Equity, again where is the true representation of minorities in the military and in government posts?? Where is natural justice in Fiji...all on hold for the next bunch...what a load of crap...they talk the talk but accept no accountabilities. That must be the easy job in the world to dictate what the next government should do.BTW when i comes to taking up arms wasn't it the military that disarmed the police, illegally??
wati s said…
clearly regime collaborators think that all the little natives who were so easily manipulated by their nasty evil chiefs, media,churches etc will now be just as equally manipulated by this junta...what a development!! But is it okay they have been bought off and manipulated by the 'good guys' who only have my best interests at heart.
rusi said…
Aus and NZ don't care that much it is more of a regional annoyance, 'bite the hand that feeds etc' and they would not have to invade as you hysterically suggest, they would bomb from the air, enforce a naval blockade amd ban civilian flights to/from fiji. Which is what they should have done in the first place. I would be all for it.
Anonymous said…
Fact check: The people do not have guns or the likes to take on the military,any other suggestions?

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