Why the Constituent Assembly Was Scrapped

An Opinion piece by Crosbie Walsh

On Thursday evening the PM announced the scrapping of the Constituent Assembly that was to meet to discuss and adopt the draft constitution. I published the announcement, having laboriously transcribed it from its unpublishable pdf format, within a few hours of its release but was then accused by one reader of not commenting. 

"So Croz, No comment on the latest debacle in the constitution sham? How much longer can people like you deceitfully pretend this illegal junta is taking Fiji forward?" 

Well, anonymous "Another Giant Step Backwards", I rarely comment immediately on any major event. I prefer to wait awhile until the dust settles and visibility improves. I commend this practice to some other blogs that invariably go off half-cock before fully reading and reflecting on news from Fiji with which they disagree. .

I would, however, agree with other readers that the PM's explanation was not very convincing. Keeping promises on the deadlines for the adoption of the new constitution and date of elections seems far less important than keeping the promise on proper consultation. 

And the delays caused by Government's rejection of the Ghai draft constitution and the non-cooperation of the old political parties were delays caused, at least in part, by Government. The former resulted in only a small delay. There was ample time for the Assembly to meet. And, given their ongoing obstructions at every stage of the constitution dialogue process, the latter should have been anticipated.

I must, however, commend Government for being unusually clever and only the teeniest bit devious. By scrapping the Assembly, they have well and truly sidelined the old political parties and their supporters who, without doubt, would have tried to disrupt its proceedings, and left their opponents with no stage upon which to act. And, even more cleverly, they have set themselves up as the true advocates of people-power by appearing to pass power to the people, as the PM explains:
"Instead of presenting the draft to the Constituent Assembly ... we will be presenting it directly to you. My fellow Fijians, you will be the new Constituent Assembly."
It is true that earlier, he said the new draft would do directly to the Assembly, cutting out the public debate intended by the Ghai Commission; while now he's cut out the Assembly and is going directly to the public. 

But, on the face of it, there are many avenues by which the people will be able to make their opinions known.  Today they will be able to read the draft constitution amended by Government in the Fiji Sun or on the Government website. They can email their views to Government or send text messages to the PM on phone 02, or share views on the Ministry of Information's Facebook page. And next week there will be community forums and talkback programmes in the three languages, English, Fijian and Hindi, on Fiji Broadcasting, in which the PM and other Government spokespeople will "answer your questions and listen to you."

All this sounds too good to be true, but it should be noted that Government will control communication, and it is unlikely to be evenly two-way. Depending on your standpoint, this is either a finely designed charade or a genuine effort to include the people in decision-making, or something in between. I'll opt for the inbetween. Government genuinely wants the people to be fully informed about their draft constitution. They will listen, explain and answer questions, but they will not accept any major changes to the draft.

Thinking back, draft constitutions have been the crux of the matter since late last year, and constitutional issues have been a major Government concern from much earlier. Had the Ghai Commission produced a draft that incorporated most of Government's requirements, Government would have allowed the Constituent Assembly to go ahead. Instead, the Commission produced a draft that had the potential of undermining all that Government has done, or attempted to do, since it seized power in December 2006. This was not the intention of the Commissioners but I have little doubt this would have been the result had Government not nullified their efforts and produced a draft of their own. What else would anyone reasonably expect Government to do?

Why was the Constituent Assembly scrapped? Because Government did not want the unacceptable elements of the Ghai Constitution resurrected; because it thought discussion in and outside the Assembly would be disruptive; and because it could not be sure the Assembly, dominated by Fiji's urban middle class, would accept its draft constitution.

My anonymous reader "Another Giant Step Backwards" tells us, through his pseudonym, what he thinks of the scrapping of the Constituent Assembly.  I think he's wrong.  Government had little choice. It was one of those catch 22 situations in which it was damned if it did and damned if it didn't. To have acted otherwise would have risked all it has done since December 2006, and risked handed Fiji back to the old political order.

I have spent most of today, Friday, studying the Ghai and Government drafts. I now need time-out to reflect before writing an article or two on my findings.


Anonymous said…
Yes I agree with the notion that there was no way the regime would have been able the constitutional assembly process. They could not even control a handfull of commissioners in the Ghai commission. So they have learnt their lesson. For a dictatorship to work, you have to dictate and this is exactly what is happening now. A 90 page, complex legal document to be consulted on over the Easter Weekend? Even the much despised 'urban elites' will have trouble to do this effectively in the time dictated.
Anonymous said…
Croz, I cant believe your analysis. It seems the whole piece was written for you from Fiji. If your Bainimarama government is so confident of the people, why bother about old parties - are you saying the next step should be that no old parties and politicians must stand for election?
Reputations said…
"Reputation,reputation, reputation! 0! I have lost my reputation, I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial". (Othello II.iii.(264)) W. Shakespeare

Cannot say more or better than this about all who are in the midst of this debacle. The dilemma of a Constituent Assembly was for the putative participants and the authors of the decree. Have none of them a care for their immortal souls? Their reputations are long gone.
wati s said…
Apologist, disgusting. Even worse to hear your admiration for their obvious deceit and deviousness, but exactly what we all expect. As usual you explain away on behalf of the regime who are first and foremost looking to their own future and security Screw the law and constitution as it is all self serving. It is now time we let it be known to the military they can have immunity when they give up the top 15 public faces of this regime and they are dealt with.Let them take the fall and we can then all move on. If you don't it will not be over and you will never be safe.
Treasonous scum said…
One way or another this treasonous scum, including the corrupted and compromised illegal judiciary that has done so much damage to Fiji, will be brought to justice.
Maleka said…
I agree Croz. The fact is the government doesn't trust the NGOs or the former politicians because they undermine the reforms at every opportunity and simply want revenge and the restoration of the old order. Why expect good faith in return for your own bad faith? The Const Assembly was going to be filled with people with bad faith. The PM out faithed them.
Joe said…
The only change regarding the CA is that instead of 30 or 40 members we now have 800,000+ members, then what is the problem? As for the draft constitution, it should be accepted and lets move on. An elected govt will debate changes, which is provided for in the draft. Lets not get bogged here, democracy is our goal, lets het there first.
HMS Victory said…
Croz you say nothing about this being the final nail in the coffin of the Fiji Pensioners, or that it gives present employees of the State carte blanche to do whatever they wish for the next 15 months without fear of prosecution, or that the Executive via the AG will have total control of the judiciary including the right to overrule the High Court.
You and your articles remind me of Horatio Nelson lifting a telescope to his blind eye and saying "I see no ships"
In the name of good professional journalism Croz please stop omitting the bad and only publishing the good.
Anonymous said…
i think the constituent assembly would have been a test for the current government's transparency scale. If they are able to face their foe and come out wanting, how many more people will vote for them. As it is, their refusal to engage credible people for the assembly gives an image of suspicious and biased leadership. If you stand for the truth, it will always prevail.

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