SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Daily Post, Mar 28) –Rumours are circulating that our next vice-president will be a Fiji-Indian. The prospect is tantalising and is tickling the imagination of a few in our great country.

The Constitution stipulates that candidates for the offices of President and Vice-President must be (1) citizens of Fiji; who (2) have had a distinguished career in any aspect of national or international life; in (3) either the public or private sectors; and (4) must have the qualifications required of candidates for election to the House of Representatives. These criteria are to be acceded to in the appointment of the vice-president by the appointing authority - which in our case is normally the Bose Levu Vakaturaga after consultation with the Prime Minister.

But in circumstances where ‘the office of the vice-president becomes vacant’ – as we presently have through the resignation of former vice-president, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi – the constitution stipulates (5) that ‘the president nominates for vice-president another person who is eligible to become vice-president’, and that (6) ‘that person becomes vice-president if the nomination is supported by the Bose Levu Vakaturaga’.

Now, there are many Indians among us who could easily satisfy the criteria 1-4 (as above). Fiji’s Indian communities have produced a plethora of outstanding individuals who have excelled in fields of business, medicine, law, academia, politics, public service, journalism, and trade unionism. We have a veritable ‘who’s who’ who have established blinding careers in all of these areas. Our stocks are full of Indian men and women from high and low social advantages who have put excellence above all else and achieved national respect and international recognition as leaders in their fields of endeavour. Our president would not be short of candidates who could satisfy the constitutional criteria for vice presidency. And there is no reason to doubt that some of these perfect candidates would accept the appointment if made.

The question, then, is whether such consenting persons would also satisfy criteria 5 and 6 (as above) – i.e. gain the approval of the Great Council of Chiefs. In order to do so, the chiefs would possibly give some thought to what such a move would do for Fiji. They may be led to ask whether the appointment of an Indian vice-president for the nation would add some extra benefit to the position and the nation. They may wonder about the ‘why?’ question – why do/would we (chiefs) want an Indian in that position? In their deliberations some chiefs may see this move as radical departure from tradition or expectations and shy away from it.

Others may question ‘what tradition?’ given that Fiji has only had half a dozen vice-presidents and these only since independence in 1970. The introduction of an Indian vice-president may be seen by proponents of this more open-minded position as consistent with the Interim government’s aim of moving Fiji away from its racial political past and seemingly entrenched mindset. They may also see value in the symbolic demonstration that such an appointment would have for re-educating our international onlookers who are already cynically suspicious of the coup and its beneficiaries.

Of course, all of this is hypothetical, given that talk of an Indian vice-president is just that – a rumour. At the bottom of everything, the Bose Levu Vakaturaga is an indigenous institution with competing and potentially conflictual interests which may well over-run any thought of handing vice-presidential power to a non-indigenous citizen. In sum, the interests of preserving Fijian peace may well swamp to the prospect of an adventitious eventuality, no matter how progressive its value.

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