The Political Parties, the Military and the Draft Constitution
By Crosbie Walsh
Part II. The Submissions Compared
A few weeks ago two of the parties whose Constitution Commission submissions were summarised in part I, the SDL and FLP, together with the UPP (the NFP was not invited) were talking about forming a united front in the lead up to the 2014 Elections, and a little later, when the Yash Ghai draft constitution was leaked, they all rushed to support it .
This display of accord and agreement raises two obvious questions. First, how could they form a united front when their submissions, as we shall see, were so very different, and secondly, how could they support the Ghai draft when, for example, it ruled out the SDL's call for Fiji to be declared a Christian state and a more deeply entrenched political empowerment of the Great Council of Chiefs, and the SDL and FLP recommendation that race-based electorates be retained.
In this article we shall compare the submissions of the political parties with each other, and their general positions with that of the RFMF which is likely to be close to that of the Bainimarama government.
The emphases of the political parties, indicated in the the forewords and conclusions of the three submissions are critical. All three criticise the Bainimarama government and see neither sincerity nor merit in any of its actions, All three want the 1997 Constitution retained, but —and it is a big but— with some very important changes.
The SDL wants the Constitution to "strengthening the indigenous position" by declaring Fiji a Christian state, and by retaining the separate ethnic Fijian administration, a GCC (with vastly extended powers), affirmative action based on race, the recognition of customary laws, the Fijian language to be the lingua franca taught compulsorily in schools, Fijian as a requirement for entry into the public service, and for only iTaukei to be called Fijians. It claims that only then will ethnic Fijians no longer feel threatened, insecure and disadvantaged.
I have no doubt these feelings exist. It could not be otherwise because they have long been actively promoted by most ethnic Fijian leaders, and used by their political parties to maintain power. But, in truth, it is difficult to see how a majority people who own over 90% of the land, with major communal business investments, who fill well over half the seats in parliament, occupy most senior senior civil service positions, and who dominate the police and the army, can be seen as either threatened or disadvantaged. There are threats, of course, but these come the forces of change (globalisation, urbanisation, better education, etc.) not from their fellow citizens of other cultures. And many ethnic Fijians are also disadvantaged but so, too, are many people of other races.
None of the other political parties want any of these things. They all want a secular state. They recognize the "first nation" status of ethnic Fijians, and they are happy (if that is the right word) about a separate provincial administration and the GCC, but only if it is apolitical. They recognize the need for affirmative action but only if it is based on need, not race. They make no claim to ethnic Fijian land but they want more and more secure leases, and they want appointments and promotion in the civil service to be based on merit, not race, and for the civil service, the police and the army to be more ethnically balanced. The NFP wants all three major languages, and not just Fijian, taught in schools, and to be compulsory from Class 1 -8 (from about 6 to 12 years old.) The FLP made no mention of language or culture.
- The RFMF submission, and the policies of the Bainimarama government. most especially in the People's Charter and non-negotiable principles recommendations, run counter to most of the general issues recommendations made by the SDL: Fiji should remain a secular state; the indigenous position is already well protected and does not require strengthening; there should be no race-based electorates; the GCC should remain abolished; all citizens should be treated equally; affirmative action should be based on need; conversational Fijian and Hindi will be taught in schools, and as part of efforts to build united nation all citizens will be called Fijians.
Land has always been the key issue in inter-racial politics in Fiji. The FLP wants ALTA (the landowner and tenants act) retained with an increase in the length of leases. The NFP goes a step further. It wants Schedule A and B land belonging to extinct mataqali to be returned to the state for leasing (the SDL wants this lease money used to help fund the GCC), and government to obtain a "master lease" over all land available for leasing and so act as a buffer between landlords and tenants. The SDL is more concerned with ownership than use. Hence its opposition to the Bainimarama Government's land bank and the Surfing decree that overrode owners' qoliqoli rights by allowing surfers and others access to the foreshore and sea. It wants ALTA abolished and all native land to be administered by the Native Land Trust Board.
- The RFMF submission makes no mention of land but the government's position is to increase production while protecting the positions of landowners and tenants. Its opposition to Qarase's qoliqoli and land bills were two of the reasons it gave for mounting the 2006 Coup. Their position therefore is closer to those of other political parties.
Dual citizenship would favour Indo-Fijians more than ethnic Fijians because of their greater number overseas, and the greater likelihood of them investing in Fiji. The FLP was not opposed to dual citizenship but it wants this issue left to the incoming government. The SDL opposes dual citizenship.
- The RFMF makes no reference to dual citizenship but this provision has been introduced by the Bainimarama government.
Parliament (House of Representatives)
All three parties accept the principles of one man one vote and proportional representation and all wanted 71 parliamentary seats, but agreement stopped there. The SDL and FLP want to retain ethnic voting. The SDL wanted 25 single-member ethnic seats (ethnic Fijians 14, Indo-Fijians 9, Others 2), 25 seats based on open electorates, and 25 seats chosen from closed party lists. The SDL wanted the position of Attorney-General abolished and the Solicitor-General to assume this role. The FLP wanted 26 "reserve" seats (ethnic Fijians 12, Indo-Fijians 10, Rotumans 1, General Voters 3) and 15 3-member open seats based on one man one vote, and the retention of the Alternative Vote and preferential voting. The NFP made no mention of ethnicity and wanted large multi-member electorates and closed party lists, with.the ranking of list candidates reflecting Fiji's ethnic and gender composition. The basic similarity of the SDL and FLP submissions is that both wanted assured ethnic representation and hence the opportunity to appeal to voters on ethnic lines. For the FLP this would mean it would be better able to contest against other predominantly Indo-Fijian parties in the Western and Northern divisions.
- The RFMF wants a smaller, better paid and more qualified parliament of only 46 MPs, elected on the basis of one man one vote from only four electorates based on the country's four administrative divisions. It proposes a closed party list system to elect 10% of MPs. It would require all MPs to disclose their personal assets and conform to a Code of Conduct.
The NFP wish to see the retention of the "power sharing" which would see parties with 10% or more of parliamentary seats having a place in Cabinet. It says the system did not work well previously because of Qarase and Chaudhry. The SDL and FLP want a Cabinet where the "winner takes all" and no power sharing.
- The RFMF makes no mention of power sharing but it proposes a smaller Cabinet with a maximum of 12 members to share 24 portfolios and the appointment of the Attorney General, the Minister of Finance and the Speaker from outside parliament. This is similar to current practice.
The President and Vice-President
The SDL proposed that the President be elected by both Houses of Parliament from nominations by the GCC, and the Indo-Fijian and Other communities. This would probably mean the appointment of an ethnic Fijian whose outlook reflected that of the GCC. Given the authority of the President in the appointment of many officers of state and his or her role in the transitional arrangements, this would in effect give the GCC powers above Parliament. The FLP and the NFP preferred appointment by an Electoral College appointed by both Houses of Parliament. The SDL wanted the GCC, and not only Parliament, to be able to dismiss the President. All were agreed the President would have no special reserve powers.
- The RFMF proposes the President be appointed by secret vote in the House of Representatives from PM and Leader of the Opposition nominees. The President would appoint all senior officials, and call internal and external national emergencies, on the recommendation of the PM. The position of Vice-President would be abolished.
The SDL wanted no change: 32 members with 14 nominated by the GCC, 9 by the PM and 8 by the Leader of the Opposition. The GCC would continue to dominate Senate. The FLP wanted 35 members, 30 nominated by the PM and Leader of the Opposition, and 5 by Rotumans and other minority groups. The NFP wanted 25 members appointed by the PM and Leader of the Opposition. The significant difference is again in the SDL submission that places the GCC highly in the political process.
- The RFMF sees Senate as costly and unnecessary and wishes it abolished.
All three parties wanted the military to be downsized and to have no political role or authority to act in internal or external emergencies except on the instruction of Parliament. All wanted military personnel in Government to resign once the new constitution was approved.
- The RFMF sees itself as the ultimate guardian of the Bainimama Government's "vision" and states it will continue to monitor the political situation, but from outside Parliament.
The SDL and FLP totally opposed the granting of immunity and the NFP only after the military.admitted to "wrong doing, apologized, showed remorse and acknowledged the need for reparations." Should the Constituent Assembly agree to immunity, the NPF wanted the incoming government to set up strict provisions against future "treasonous acts."
- The RFMF insist on immunity except where there have been violations of domestic or criminal law. It points to three court judgements (the deaths of Sakiusa Rabaka and Nimilote Verebasaga and the kidnapping of Dr Anirudh Singh) where military personnel were found guilty and imprisoned or, in the case of Singh, required to pay damages.
Non Government Organizations. The political parties did not mention NGOs but they supported the Yash Ghai draft constitution where NGOs play an important role in transition arrangements and in the monitoring of Parliament after 2014
- The RFMF sees no special role for NGOs, several of which have been anti-Bainimarama government and perhaps influenced by funding from foreign governments. It wishes all NGOs to submit annual audited accounts to Government.
All three political parties wanted the President to appoint a Caretaker Government in April this year or as soon as the new constitution was promulgated, and the President to appoint new members of the main commissions dealing with the law, the public service and the election process.
- The RFMF made no direct mention of transition arrangement, presumably accepting that all arrangements will be made by the Bainimarama Government, with military appointees in Government resigning and Cabinet resigning closer to the Elections when Commissions not already in place would be appointed.
It is difficult to see any sustainable unity between the political parties or their "shadow" parties that may emerge if they are not registered or if the SDL acronym is not acceptable. The SDL is unashamedly a party representing the old ethnic Fijian elite intent on using the old appeals to a supposedly "threatened, insecure and disadvantaged" ethnic Fijian race; the FLP is fighting to retain a presence in Parliament with the aid of its Indo-Fijian "reserve seats", and the more moderate NFP has major reservations with the policies of these two parties.
The rushed and unexpected acceptance, without comment or amendment, by the political parties of the Yash Ghai draft constitution can be seen, at best, as the more likely way to get some of their submissions accepted by the Constituent Assembly or, more likely, as a political ploy to focus opposition against the Bainimarama Government.
It is difficult also to see either the RFMF or the Bainimarama retracting from their non-negotiable principles or the non-racist principles of the People's Charter.
The final article in this series will be deferred until Government releases its draft Constitution to the Constituent Assembly. The article will compare the Government and Yash Ghai drafts.