FIJI CHIEFS SAY PRESIDENT SHOULD BE FIJIAN

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By Robert Matau

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Jan. 7) - Political and traditional leaders in Fiji have rejected a proposal to have a non-indigenous President.

Ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said he supported the current constitutional requirement that the Great Council of Chiefs choose the President.

The current President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, was chosen by the council when his predecessor, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, was asked to step down by the military in the aftermath of the 2000 civilian takeover.

Qarase said any change to the selection procedure would require wide consultation because it would involve constitutional amendments.

"It is a sensitive issue and involves ethnic and racial questions and is not a decision that can be reached at off the cuff," he said.

Citizens Constitutional Forum director Reverend Akuila Yabaki said the time was right for Fiji to have a non-Fijian president.

However, Rewa chief, Ro Filipe Tuisawau said the position of President was reserved for an indigenous Fijian and selected by the Great Council of Chiefs as an acknowledgement of the care the chiefs of Fiji had rendered to all races in Fiji since the time of indenture and independence.

"The position of the president symbolizes unity of both traditional structures of leadership which existed before parliamentary rule was established and the current Westminster system of parliament," Ro Filipe said. "This is where the Western system meets our traditional ‘vanua’ system and we acknowledge the indigenous leadership that has evolved and catered for all races in our multi-cultural society. By nominating the President the nation is acknowledging the role our chiefs have played in society and I think the Fijian people would appreciate that the status quo stay."

Ro Filipe, the nephew of Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Teimumu Kepa, said any changes should come through the provinces, then the GCC and then an elected parliament. Former prime minister and former chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs, Sitiveni Rabuka said the facility had been in place since July 1997 when the Constitution was designed to facilitate the procedure for appointing a President.

"It is up to the Council of Chiefs to decide no one else, until the Constitution is changed," Rabuka said.

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