OPPOSITION CONFUSION IN FIJI

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By John Kamea

SUVA, Fiji Islands (September 19, 2001 – The Sun)---With just two weeks away from the first sitting of the new Parliament, much sensitivity surrounds the appointment of the Leader of the Opposition.

Government House was mum yesterday over the delay in the appointment, which has also halted the appointment of opposition senators.

Permanent Secretary in the President's Office, Jeremaia Waqanisau, said Government House has preferred to be silent on the matter.

He said Parliament's Secretary General, Mary Chapman, would be the official actively involved in the process of choosing the Opposition Leader.

Under the Constitution, opposition members of Parliament could directly approach the Office of the President, giving the name of the person whom they think best represents them.

The other option is forwarding the name to the Secretary General to Parliament who then informs the President.

But this process seems to have made no headway because of legal threats from the Fiji Labour Party over its unceremonious relegation to the Opposition benches.

FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry said no decision has been made yet on the Opposition Leader post. Neither have there been contacts made with Government House.

However, he has indicated that the eight opposition nominees for the Senate should be reserved for his party.

The PM's Office last night said Mr. Qarase was not looking at appointing the Opposition's share of nominees to the Upper House.

Permanent Secretary Jioji Kotobalavu said the "Opposition nominees would be left entirely to the opposition."

"Mr. Qarase has only been involved and interested in his nine nominees to the Senate," he said.

This conflicted with an earlier statement made by Mr. Qarase, saying he would choose the Opposition's appointees if Mr. Chaudhry does not make up his mind.

Mrs. Chapman said she had not received a recommendation for the Opposition Leader post.

She said this has to be done before the first sitting, scheduled for October 1.

Meanwhile, FLP is still sticking to its intention of taking the Qarase administration to court on the basis that it was unconstitutional (by excluding Fiji Labour Party parliamentarians from the Government).

It is understood that during a recent meeting of the FLP, it was decided that Labour was not going to make any commitments until the court makes a ruling on its case.

The party is keeping its fingers crossed that a decision would be made in a few weeks.

Despite legal arguments, it intends to take the case straight to the Appeals Court on the basis that the matter is constitutional.

The party would be asking the court to make an imposition type of ruling and not a mere declaration.

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

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