For and Against: Coups and the 2013 Draft Constitution
In 1987, the then President of the church Reverend Josateki Koroi was ousted by Reverend Manasa Lasaro after the coup. Following this they pushed for the Sunday ban to restrict all public events on Sundays and also openly supported the 1987 coup. Leading up to the 2000 coup, there were also reports of some Methodist Church ministers openly making racial attacks from the pulpit. After the George Speight coup in May 2000, the then President of the Methodist Church, Rev. Tomasi Kanailagi visited the parliament complex where the members of the People’s Coalition government were held in support of the coup.
- I-taukei nationalists dominated the church from the 1980s, leading to the imposition of Christian laws on non-Christians in Fiji after the 1987 coups.
- In 1987, the then President of the church Reverend Josateki Koroi was ousted by Reverend Manasa Lasaro after the coup.
- Following this they pushed for the Sunday ban to restrict all public events on Sundays.
- Leading up to the 2000 coup, there were also reports of some Methodist church ministers openly making racial attacks from the pulpit.
- After the George Speight coup in May 2000, the then President of the Methodist Church, Reverend Tomasi Kanailagi visited the parliament complex where the members of the People’s Coalition government were held. A letter of support from Reverend Kanailagi to George Speight was also made public.
- Over the past years, the Methodist Church has also called for Fiji to be declared a Christian state.
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GOOD MODEL FOR ANY COUNTRY: AUSTRALIAN JUDGE. Former Appeal Panel Judge in the 2009 constitutional case, Randall Powell, said, putting the immunity section aside, the constitution is a good model for any country. He refuted some claims that the military is entrenched in the Constitution. It is not. But he questioned its legitimacy in the absence of a referendum.
OLD PARTIES WANT OLD WAYS BACK. The United Front for a Democratic Fiji, made up of the Social Democratic and Liberal Party (the old SDL), the Fiji Labour Party and the National Federation Party are now raising concern on the disestablishment of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) and the restriction on the Methodist Church to have its meeting for only four days, according to spokesperson, Mick Beddoes, who said "these institutions are for the i-Taukei".(See Rev. Nawadra's contrary comment above.)
It should be noted that the FLP and the NFP did not call for the retention of the GCC in their submissions to the Ghai Commission, and the Commission recommended it be stripped of the authority it enjoyed under the 1997 Constitution —that, note, the UFDF wish to reinstate.
I am also reminded that it was a statement from Mike Beddoes about the Methodist Church's excessive calls for financial support from the poor (mainly during their annual conferences) that led me to fall foul of former Methodist President Senator Tomasi Kanailagi. Visiting Fiji in 2004, I was invited to give a public lecture on poverty alleviation at USP and, gaining confidence from Beddoes' frank public statement, I also called for easing the load on the poor. The Rev. Kanailagi attacked me in Senate, calling me a fly-by-night expert ignorant of the relationship betwen the lotu, vanua and matanitu (church, land and people, and government), "insulting Fijians", and a number of other unpleasant things. (The Daily Post, 20 July 2004).
Government limited the Conference to four days this year so the church could deal with organizational and spiritual matters, with less emphasis on fund-raising. Longer previous conferences also involved extensive fund-raising and much political discussion. It is in this context that it is particularly pleasing so see the Church turning its back on political and racial issues which caused division within the Church, and a misguided ministry.
What the United Front is trying to show is that i'Taukei rights are being undermined by the draft constitution, and the only way for iTaukei rights to be protected is to support them against the Bainimarama government. First it was land, now it's the GCC and the Methodist Church, tomorrow it will be anyone's guess. That should win them some i'Taukei votes. Labour's Chaudhry is also playing his part in spreading misinformation which should win the FLP some trade union and Indo-Fijian votes (see item below).
But the United Front is severely fractured. The NFP is there on principle, in support of the 1997 Constitution. It has little in common with the other old parties. One only has to read their accusations against these parties made in their submission to the Ghai Commission. Chaudhry's FLP is dominated by Chaudhry and many former members, including some trade unionists, have resigned. The SODELPA is still the old tainted SDL to most people. Spokesman Beddoes once led the minority races UPP but with the abolition of race-based voting,his only way to stay in parliament was to join one of the two larger old parties. I don't think he particularly likes or trusts Chaudhry so there was no real choice. The other SODELPA spokesman is Dr Tupeni Baba who was so disenchanted with Chaudhry that he left the FLP and formed the New Labour Party in opposition. The left-leaning political views he might once have held are now submerged in a party backed by extreme ethnic Fijian nationalists. The United Front is a classic marriage of convenience, held together only by a common desire to get back into parliament.
CHAUDHRY SLAMS AUSSIE LABOR.Mahendra Chaudhry expressed disappointment that Australia's Labour Government Foreign Minister Bob Carr had welcomed the release of the draft consitutution. "All political parties here have rejected the constitution and they are quite appalled at its content. It's very unusual that a Labor government should welcome a constitution which is lacking in human rights and trade union workers' rights. If the constitution does not meet the requirements of a democratic state, then one should be brave enough to say so."
But it's Chaudhry that's wrong. It's only the old political parties that reject the constitution, not the new ones. And the constitution is explicit in protecting trade union rights. What it does do, however, is state that existing Decrees, two of which could be seen as anti some unions, will remain in place until the 2014 Elections, but they can then be endorsed or rejected by the incoming government. Chaudhry accuses Carr of not reading the constitution, but it is a Chaudhry so angry that he cannot read the words. A Fiji Times article on Wednesday succinctly spells out trade union rights under the constitution. Click here..
ILTB SUPPORT THE CONSTITUTION. The i'Taukei Land Trust Board, that is responsible for most native land leases and rental distributions has welcomed the draft constitution, saying most of its submissions have been incorporated. It is particularly pleased with section 30 on the rights of landowners to a fair share of royalties for extraction of minerals.
Ownership is still vested with the state but while previous constitutions said landowners were entitled to compensation this Constitution now guarantees it.
KADAVU PROVINCIAL COUNCIL. Following some points of clarification on native land by the PM on Monday, the Kadavu Provincial Council says it supports the 2013 Constitution.
NEW PARTY WOULD REMOVE SOME DECREES. The People’s Democratic Party spokesman Nirmal Singh said the PDP accepted the draft constitution but would rescind decrees curtailing human and trade union rights if it becomes the government. The A-G had previously made it clear that parliament could make decisions on any of the decrees, but no court or tribunal may challenge the legality of any promulgation, decree or declaration from December 5th 2006 to the first sitting of parliament.