FIJI ANNOUNCES CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM PROCESS

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Commission to be chaired by Kenyan scholar

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, March 9, 2012) – Fiji’s military regime has announced the process of consultations on a new constitution for elections expected in 2014.

It will replace the 1997 constitution which the regime abolished three years ago when the appeal court ruled that the post-coup interim government was illegal.

The Constitutional Commission will be chaired by a Kenyan constitutional scholar, Professor Yash Ghai.

Walter Zweifel reports.

Ten days later than originally promised, the Fiji interim prime minister has laid out the regime’s plans for a new constitution.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama says the process will be guided by principles including a common and equal citizenry, a secular state and the removal of systemic corruption.

He says a Constituent Assembly will meet next year to look at the draft prepared by a five-member commission.

"The Constituent Assembly will consist of representative civil society groups and organisations that are Fijian-registered, including faith-based organisations, national institutions, political parties, and Government. It should be noted - ladies and gentlemen - that we had a similar constituent assembly only a few years ago in the form of the National Council for Building a Better Fiji. We hope that all organizations will participate in this Constituent Assembly."

In an initial reaction, the Labour Party leader, Mahendra Chaudhry, says the proposal appears to be a way of the interim regime of extending its rule for another two and half years.

"There is no need to write up an entirely new constitution. A quicker way of dealing with this would be to review the last constitution, the 1997 constitution, which was the product of wide consultations by Sir Paul Reeves, who was the Chair of that particular commission. Many of the values and principles that Commodore Bainimarama has since enunciated that he wants to see in the new constitution, are already in the 1997 constitution."

Mahendra Chaudhry says the only element that, he thinks, needs revising concerns the electoral provisions.

Nick Naidu of the Auckland based Coalition for Democracy in Fiji has welcomed the regime’s announcement.

However, Mr Naidu says he would have liked to see a focus on reining in the military, and accountability and transparency.

"Which has been an issue with this regime, including this whole process of where they’ve said ’this is how we’re going to do it’ and ’this is how you have to do it’. And the second thing is, the question of the military. No use having a constitution and elections and democracy, if we still have this huge military force, which has entrenched itself throughout civil society and throughout public life, who are going to always be there, with the threat of the gun."

As the consultations are about to start, Commodore Bainimarama has urged people not to be distracted by petty politics and politicians.

"When we are done, Fiji will have an enduring blueprint for all Fijians. Every Fijian who wants to contribute and be forward-looking in the creation of an enlightened constitution will have the opportunity to do so. For the first time, everyone will have a voice."

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