FIJI TIMES CRITICIZES GREAT COUNCIL OF CHIEFS

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (March 10, 2001 – Fiji Times/Pasifik Nius)---The Fiji Times today criticized the Great Council of Chiefs for failing to name a national president after a two-day meeting.

The newspaper said the council risked being seen as an "archaic body with little relevance to modern-day Fiji."

In an editorial headed "Chiefs Divided," the newspaper praised acting President Ratu Josefa Iloilo for consistently putting the national interest first since last year's attempted coup. But the editorial criticized the chiefs for not following the president’s lead.

"Instead of recognizing the public mood, the chiefs have followed the example of the politicians and used the national crisis as an opportunity for power play. The lust for power has submerged the need for harmony and that is a sad reflection on the Great Council of Chiefs," the newspaper said.

In a front-page news story, the Fiji Times reported that the council’s decisions could face legal challenges. The newspaper questioned the legality of Fijian Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikau acting as an advisor to the body.

Nailatikau is a member of the military-backed interim regime, which the Court of Appeal's ruled illegal last week.

The council's decisions have been deferred until Tuesday - two days before acting President Iloilo's term expires.

According to the rival Sun, Dr. Tupeni Baba - one of two Fiji Labor Party members aspiring to be prime minister - said the council did not have the legal authority to advise the acting president on the dissolution of Parliament.

The Daily Post reported that the council asked the acting president to activate the claimed "reserved powers" of his office to help propel Fiji to democratic rule.

Most of the options listed by the paper appeared to be outside the 1997 multiracial constitution, which was upheld by the court as the country's supreme law.

According to the Fiji Times' editorial, Fiji is "adrift in uncharted waters."

"Ratu Josefa deserves better. Fiji deserves better.

"At the same time the council's relevance to the nation will now come under examination by the community at large.

"Fijians, in particular, are becoming increasingly urbanized. More and more they live a lifestyle that the chiefs cannot hope to influence.

"The council risks becoming a distant dynastic relic that exists on sufferance within a democratic system.

"The chiefs cannot expect to meet in secret, discuss a secret agenda and announce their decisions - or in this case the absence of any - to their subjects who breathlessly wait for news.

"Those days are gone and they won't come back."

The Fiji Times added that the chiefs had done the country no favors this week, and they might yet find they had done themselves little good either.

Title -- 3260 FIJI: Fiji Times criticizes Great Council of Chiefs' 'failure' Date -- 10 March 2001 Byline -- None Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- PN/Fiji Times, 10/3/1 Copyright -- PN/FT

Status -- Unabridged

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