Fiji constitution makes sweeping changes to voting system, land rights
The Fiji government has released its constitution, after months of delays.
The new constitution has moved to protect indigenous land rights and has completely changed the electoral system.
Some analysts say they are positive changes, but the integrity of the public consultation process has come under fire from civil society.
Alex Perrottet reports.
The Fiji government appears to have responded to strongly-voiced concerns from the indigenous i-Taukei community about land rights. Dr Steven Ratuva from the University of Auckland’s Centre for Pacific Studies says the new document has moved back slightly to the independent draft it dumped in January.
“STEVEN RATUVA: It was surprising because the previous document was pretty rigid, pretty restrictive and it was as if they were giving themselves jobs - the job of prime minister, the job of the attorney-general. It was almost as if they were personalised for particular individuals. This time around it’s much more in tune with some of the more liberal constitutions around the world.”
Dr Ratuva also noted the military has been moved back under the control of the president, instead of the prime minister. But Dr Brij Lal from the Australian National University, who co-wrote the 1997 constitution, says power is still entrenched in the prime minister and attorney-general.
“BRIJ LAL: The role of the Attorney-General is increased, there is nothing there for the leader of the opposition, and in any Westminster-style democracy, the leader of the opposition is the alternate Prime Minister.”
And the CEO of the Citizens Constitutional Forum, Reverend Akuila Yabaki, says the military should come under the control of the defence department because otherwise it sees itself as above the law. He has criticised the process and says it isn’t a people’s constitution.
“AKUILA YABAKI: This document cannot be considered a constitution by the people of Fiji following the discarding of the people’s draft constitution in January. The constitution is a government constitution, it came out of the work of a government legal team and we recognise it as the government’s.”
The Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum, who launched the document, says he has also entrenched common exceptions to rights like free speech.
“AIYAZ SAYED KHAIYUM: So, for example, hate speech - you can say ’freedom of expression’, but it doesn’t mean you can say ’Let’s go and kill all the Chinese’. You can’t do that. In the same way there are similar limitations for example in the transition provision.”
But those exceptions regarding transition refer to a new clause that rules out any complaint regarding human rights or discrimination for anything that occurred in Fiji before Thursday. Jon Fraenkel says the new open-list proportional representation electoral system, and the dumping of the regional constituencies means the parties, not the people, will decide the order of candidates entering the Parliament.
“JON FRAENKEL: What’s ingenious is that they have put in a system that treats the whole country as a single constituency, so you’re going to have a gigantic tablecloth ballot paper. Presumably you’re going to have Frank Bainimarama somewhere up near the top and he’s going to be able to use his personal following to get a hell of a lot of votes. Much more than what would be required to get one person elected.”
Jon Fraenkel says the previous system made the regime leader vulnerable in next year’s election, and the change allows more control. The document is set to be signed by the president on 6 September.
THE NEW COMMENTS PROCESS
To make comments, you will need to register. You can register under your real name or use a 'screen' name. This way, people will be able to follow comments and make comments back and forth to each other. If you choose to use a 'screen name' no one will know your true identity. In either case, no email addresses will be available to anyone. It is an automated process. If you have questions, email: email@example.com
You currently are not logged in, please LOGIN to post comments.