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By Margaret Wise

SUVA, Fiji Islands (January 26, 2000 – Fiji Times)---The Fijian Association Party (FAP) has given Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry a 24-hour ultimatum to discuss its grievances.

A special meeting of the party's national executive council revealed relations between the ruling Fiji Labour Party and its senior coalition partner, the FAP, have reached the near breaking point.

This follows Chaudhry's failure to respond to a request for a meeting by FAP acting leader Ratu Tua‘kitau Cokanauto.

Members of the executive council supported moves to opt out of the coalition saying their "patience had run out."

Ratu Tua‘kitau said as acting party leader he should be given an audience to discuss issues of concern to the FAP.

"I am not going to be a water boy," he said. "We are working as a coalition and he's got to respect that for us to be able to voice our opinion, speak objectively in the best interest of good governance."

"We can't be treated like a little boy's toy train, toyed with when he wants to toy with it.

"We are working with a coalition and he's got to respect that. I have sat on the phone for hours. I've left phone messages, tried the direct line, for the past week. If I do not meet him within the next 24 hours then I will go to the press and discuss things with the press. I know he has priorities but he should have some time for me.

"Or if he refuses we might bite the bullet and give him some more time. But for how long do you hold off seeing a senior pre and post election coalition partner? I believe I have a right to see him."

The meeting also accepted amendments made to the party's constitution, which includes a provision that the party protect Fijians and "not be subordinated to the interest of other communities."

Ratu Tua‘kitau said this was necessary because the party had to "make a stand'' on issues concerning Fijians, "the mainstay of the party."

The FAP is concerned about ministerial appointments, the government's position on land issues, the tea lady saga, the plight of Fijian workers at the airport and shipyard, and issues previously raised by deputy Prime Minister Dr. Tupeni Baba.


EDITORIAL COMMENT Fiji Times January 26, 2000


That the Fijian Association Party finds itself in a confrontation with its senior coalition partner will surprise few in or out of politics.

In the horse-trading that traditionally follows the election of a coalition into government, the FAP played its cards as best it could in a bid to maximize the number and quality of ministerial portfolios accorded it.

But the Prime Minister and leader of the all-powerful Fiji Labour Party, Mahendra Chaudhry, held all the aces.

The FLP could, if it so desired, govern alone leaving its partners in the People's Coalition with the Cabinet seats allotted to it by the constitution in the FAP's case, one.

Mr. Chaudhry, however, wisely chose not to go down that path. But that doesn't mean he won't.

The rumblings within the FAP ranks are a product of the style of this government rather than its substance.

There is increasing frustration in some sections of Cabinet over Mr. Chaudhry's tendency to make policy across a range of portfolios and announce it later to his ministers.

Those ministers don't necessarily disagree with his policies (in more than a few cases they'd agree to anything at all if it meant keeping their jobs), but they increasingly seek to flex their own muscles.

In the FAP's case, Mr. Chaudhry, it seems, has declined even to reply to approaches from the acting leader of his most senior coalition partner.

But this is the problem that will confront the FAP if it seeks to apply pressure on Mr. Chaudhry to accede to its number one wish to recognize Ratu Tu‘akitau Cokanauto's claim as heir apparent to the ill deputy Prime Minister, Adi Kuini Speed.

The FAP's implied threat to abandon the People's Coalition government is in danger of falling at the first hurdle if its ministers cannot be persuaded to give up their portfolios, perks and Pajeros in return for a back bencher's salary and a pat on the back from the acting party leader.

Nothing has changed since May.

Mr. Chaudhry still holds the high cards.

Nevertheless, any split in the coalition will do some damage to the Chaudhry Government.

The FAP's 10 Parliamentary seats brought an air of multiracialism to the Cabinet even though the FLP is the only party in the House that can truly lay claim to a multiracial tag.

But if the desertion of the FAP resulted in pressure on other indigenous Fijians in Parliament, things could become less predictable.

The next few days could well be interesting.

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times.

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