News and Comments Thursday 18 April 2013
|Poker: upping the ante|
While there, they launched a petition calling for a return to the Ghai draft constitution. Nation-wide, they hope to collect 300,000 signatures. And separately, Mahendra Chaudhry, a leading member of the UFDF, is calling for a referendum.
The objective of these rear-guard actions is clear.: to undermine confidence in the Government's constitutional and electoral processes among Fijians and the international community in the forlorn hope that they will somehow be returned to power.
The strategy is not new. One or another, or all at different times, of the groups represented in the UFDF has opposed the Bainimarama Government every step of the way.
All opposed the coup. The SDL most vocally; Chaudhry's FLP rather more quietly. The high chiefs and the SDL opposed the People's Charter, Chaudhry, having then left (or having been dismissed from) the Bainimarama Government opposed the Roadmap. When Qarase's appeal that the coup was illegal under the 1997 Constitution was upheld by the Court of Appeal, Government had a choice: abandon what it was trying to do and hand over power to those it had deposed, or abrogate the Constitution. It chose the latter.
With the constitution abrogated, the anti-bandwagon grew bigger, and with each of their actions a government reaction followed. Public Emergency Regulations (PER) were passed, media freedom was severely restricted, and a number of politicians, their supporters and prominent unionists were briefly detained by the police.
When the Constitution Commission was appointed Government opponents had a brief opportunity to seek a closer matching of their expectations with political realities. Instead, they denounced the Commission, and those appointed as Commissioners, even including Prof Ghai. They then played a game of hard to get. At first they said they would not be making submissions, later it was "Well, perhaps we will" and finally they all made submissions. They played the same game on whether or not they would participate in the Constituent Assembly until eventually the calling of the Assembly was abandoned.
When they heard on the coconut wireless that the Ghai draft expressly excluded some of the things wanted by Government, they did a cartwheel and then came out in full support of the Commission's draft, even though its recommendations were very, very different from what they wanted in their own submissions.
What brought about this change of heart? I think what appealed to them most in the Ghai draft were the transition arrangements that could have allowed them to influence outcome before the 2104 election. Unfortunately for them, their very public support of Ghai and condemnation of the Government action overriding his draft and the announcement that it would prepare its own draft put an end to this possibility. There would be no transitional arrangements. The Bainimarama government would remain in power until the first parliament met after the elections.
This pushed Government opponents even more together, and even more into open conflict with Government. What is more, the lifting of PER and the relaxation of restrictions on the the media, and on meetings, movement and association, provided them with new opportunities and, consistent with their earlier strategy, they have continued to oppose every Government action.
The formation of the UFDF and its latest move to launch a petition has upped the ante, and increased the risk of a return to government clamp downs. The UFDF does not say what it wants for Fiji. It cannot, because each faction wants very different things. All it can say is what it does not want, and this is never a strong base from which to move forward. There must be better ways of promoting s more inclusive democracy that banging one's head against a brick wall.
Meanwhile, PNG has offered $40m to help run the elections, the EU and NZ have also offered assistance and several chiefs, most notably the Tui Macuata, have called on the people to support the Bainimarama Government. See also the next item.
** A gambling term. If you up the ante, you increase the stakes (the money on the table) and you also increase the risk of losing it all.
DRAFT WILL END THE RACE-BASED SYSTEM. The mata ni tikina of Nailaga in Ba, Jeremaia Tuwai, says it is time to move away from the race-based system and the playing the race card in the country. While speaking in Lautoka at a draft constitution consultation session last week, Tuwai said that for too long they have been misled by people.
He said the people of Nailaga commend the draft constitution and firmly believe that this is by far the best draft constitution written. Tuwai said the i-taukei people for long have been followers and have been misled but things will change now.
The reaction of Dr Tupeni baba of the UFDF to Tuwai's statement is interesting. He dismissed it, saying there are no substantive comments and if someone has to talk from Ba, it has to be Tuwai’s chief, Adi Laite Koroirau.
So a tikina (district) within a province is not entitled to an opinion unless it has the support of a higher chief? If this sort of attitude also applies (as I think it does) to the collection of iTaukei signatures for the UFDF petition, is Tupeni saying that ordinary iTaukei should sign or not sign according to the command of their chiefs? And if so, what does this say about the sort of democracy he wants for Fiji?
LESSENING THE LIKELIHOOD OF FUTURE COUPS. Asked whether the draft constitution will prevent future coups, the A-G said the draft constitution proposes making the PM also the Commander in Chief of the RFMF, and this should lessen the possibility of future coups.
McCULLY'S YES AND NO on Fiji's "progress."
FIJI HAS REPRESENTATIVES IN THE INAUGURAL PACIFIC FORUM that starts in Wellington today.
FIJI-PNG RELATIONS. Trade increasing, and PNG is inviting Fiji investment. The PM is currently on a state visit to PNG.