ARMY CHIEF DEFENDS TAKE OVER

SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, Dec. 5) – Fiji army commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has taken over the Fiji government and executive authority in Fiji's fourth coup in 20 years.

Bainimarama said he had stepped into the shoes of the President and "in this capacity under Section 101 (1) of our Constitution as he (the President) is empowered to do so, dismiss the Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.

He said the 1997 Constitution remained intact.

"We reiterate that while this cause of action is taken with great reluctance, it is necessary to steer our beloved nation into peace, stability and just solution and to preserve our Constitution. Therefore the constitution will remain in place except those parts as necessitated under the doctrine of necessity."

And medical practitioner and former army doctor Dr Jona Senilagikali has been appointed caretaker Prime Minister

Bainimarama said the takeover would not be permanent.

"Tomorrow, I will summon the (Government) chief executive officers and charge them with the duty of running their own ministries until an interim Government is appointed," he said. "During the Great Council of Chiefs meeting next week, I will be requesting the Great Council of Chiefs to reappoint the Turaga Tui Vuda (Ratu Josefa Iloilo) as the President. His Excellency, the President, will then appoint a caretaker Government. In the meantime, a Military council will be providing me with advice."

Bainimarama said he had been forced to act because Qarase refused to attend an audience with the President who was trying to resolve the impasse.

"This action by the Prime Minister has indicated to me and the military that the government has no intention of solving this crisis."

He said the Constitution allowed the President to sack the Prime Minister "in cases such as this however the stalemate has forced me to step forth and the military has taken over government. As commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Force, I have been to visit the President, who is head of the state and commander in chief on a number of occasions over the last few days. The President has personally started that he is concerned about the crisis point we have reached. We are now in limbo because the Prime Minister has refused to see him despite the President asking him to do so."

Bainimarama said the President has the constitutional and legal option to dismiss the Prime Minister under Section 109 (1) of the Constitution in his own judgment "should exceptional circumstances exist.

"These powers are sometimes referred to reserve powers which have been exercised in Fiji previously and other Commonwealth jurisdictions including Australia by Governor-General John Kerr. Kerr, as you all know, sacked Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. This reading of the powers of the President through this provision was upheld in the decision by Justice Michael Scott in the case of the Reverend Akuila Yabaki and others and the President and the Attorney General of the Fiji islands. This decision of Justice Scott has not been overturned. And therefore is binding and valid in law. Apart from the fact that the Prime Minister has been refusing to visit the President and the fact that we are in this national state of limbo, the President is supported by some, including the Vice-President, who are putting undue pressure on him," he said.

"Those putting pressure on him and going against the ruling of Justice Scott are taking advantage of the President. Accordingly, in the Republic of Fiji Military Force's assessment of the governance issues which I have laid out including the need to solve the current crisis, the need to invigorate the economy, the need to normalize the state of affairs, the need to maintain the Constitution, the need to maintain law and order, and recognising that the President has been prevented by some including the Vice President from exercising his constitutional prerogative to dismiss the Prime Minister in exceptional circumstances, as Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Force, I, under the legal doctrine of necessity will step into the shoes of the President given that he has been blocked from exercising his constitutional powers."

He said, "You will note that Justice Scott has also stated in that case that in some unusual or extreme situations, a departure from the normal requirements of the constitution is permitted. This departure is justified under the doctrine of necessity which has also been discussed in the Chandrika Prasad and (Pakistan military strongman Pervez) Musharraf cases. This is indeed and unusual and exceptional situation which was not envisaged by the framers of the constitution and which requires special steps to preserve the constitution and maintain the integrity of the nation state of Fiji," said the army chief.

He said the Republic of Fiji Military Force had observed "with concern and anguish the deteriorating state of our beloved Fiji. We consider that Fiji has reached a crossroads and the Government and all those empowered to make decisions in our constitutional democracy are unable to make decisions to save our people from destruction."

He said the Republic of Fiji Military Force had been raising security concerns with the government, in particular the introduction of controversial bills and policies "that divided the nation now and will have very serious consequences for future generations. These concerns have been conveyed to the Prime Minister in all fairness and sincerity with the country's interest at heart. Apparently all Republic of Fiji Military Force concerns were never accepted with the true spirit. All my efforts to the government were to no avail. Instead they turned their attention on the Republic of Fiji Military Force itself. Despite my advice, they tried to remove me and tried to create dissension within the ranks of the Republic of Fiji Military Force, the institution that stood up and redirected the nation from the path of doom that the nation was led in 2000."

He said the Republic of Fiji Military Force throughout this impasse has wanted to resolve this matter constitutionally, legally and expeditiously.

"The Republic of Fiji Military Force could have carried out unconstitutional and illegal activities, but had not done so and will not do so. It believes in the rule of law and shall adhere to the Constitution. It not only adheres to the rule of law and Constitution, but more importantly believes in adherence to the spirit of the law and the Constitution," he said.

"Our position can be differentiated from the Qarase government which for example through the passing of the Reconciliation, Qoliqoli and Land Claims bills will undermine the Constitution, deprive many citizens of their rights guaranteed under the Constitution and compromise and undermine the integrity of the constitutional offices including the Judiciary. The Republic of Fiji Military Force not only believes in the Constitution, but it also believes and adheres to constitutionalism. Accordingly subject to the prevailing conditions, all our constitutional offices, the judiciary and other arms of government are to function as they normally would. Given the legal, constitutional and indeed defensible basis of this necessary action, all citizens of this country, including now former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, our neighbors and the international community should remain calm, and support and work together for the betterment of our beloved nation and its people," the army chief said.

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