Fiji Coup Supplement
Ministry of Information, Suva)
4 September, 2000
WHY THE 1997 CONSTITUTION MUST BE CHANGED AND WHY A NEW CONSTITUTION IS NEEDED
1. When the 1997 Constitution was brought before the Bose Levu Vakaturaga in draft form in 1997 and when it was unanimously adopted in Parliament, it looked as if we had finally developed an ideal Constitution for Fiji.
2. We then had the General Elections in May last year (1999) under the provisions of the 1997 Constitution.
3. Looking back, we can now say that perhaps it was a blessing from Almighty God that we had these elections to show, especially to the Fijian people, whether the 1997 Constitution was really the best Constitution to enable them to protect and to secure their future as the indigenous community in Fiji, in the arena of Government and politics.
4. In the event, the May 1999 Elections showed up certain defects of the 1997 Constitution. For example,
(i) The system of elections under it allowed political parties, rather than individual voters, to indicate or to assign their preferences, which undermined the rights of individual voters. It is the people who should be left to do this.
(ii) Second, the elections system produced results that were skewered and, again, undermined the rights of individual voters.
- The SVT polled 38% of total Fijian votes and 19.98% of all votes and got 8 seats.
- The FAP polled 18% of total Fijian votes and 13.20% of all votes but got 11 seats.
- The NFP polled 27% of total Indian votes and 14.91% of all votes and got no seats.
- The FLP poled 53.3% of total Indian votes and 31.74% of all votes and got 37 seats.
(iii) Third, the Fiji Labour Party polled less than 2% of Fijian votes, but got 37 seats, the biggest number of seats for any political party. Out of 37, only 6 were Fijians and those Fijians were elected in national seats with the majority of support of Indian voters. The elections produced these results because Indian voters voted as an ethnic bloc. Fijian voters, on the other hand, were split and fragmented among more than five political parties and independents. It is this same phenomenon of split Fijian votes and bloc Indian voting that led to the defeat of the Alliance Government in Elections in 1977 and 1987, and the defeat of the SVT-led Government in 1999.
(iv) Further, because Members were elected on single member constituencies and the boundaries of the three different communal seats and the national seats did not cover the same geographical boundaries, the MPs from a given area did not work together in serving the people. As a result, Indian members would tend to concentrate on serving the Indians and Fijian members the Fijian people in their constituencies. So, it was not conducive to representatives in Parliament working together as a multi-racial group in serving all the people in a given area. This was a weakness in the 1970 and the 1990 Constitutions that were not addressed in the 1997 Constitution. In Singapore, they use multi-member constituencies to promote multi-racial group representation of given geographical constituencies, thus encouraging Members of Parliament from different races to work together in serving the people.
(v) But fifth, and most important of al for the Fijian people, the Elections of May 1999 produced an outcome in Government that showed Fijians that the 1997 Constitution was not a secure enough basis to protect their future as the i Taukei. It produced a non-Fijian Prime Minister who within months initiated moves in the Civil Service and introduced policies that were anti-Fijian and prejudicial to Fijian interests. Fijians were in a majority in the multi-party Cabinet, but it is the PM who sets the vision and the direction of policies, and drives the Government. The PM in the Peoplešs Coalition Government controlled the key Ministries. He was moving Indian civil servants to key positions. He operated through a network of Indian officials.
Examples of policies he introduced that were perceived to be anti-Fijian:
(a) Cash grant of $28,000 for evicted cane farmers &ndash but no assistance to incoming landowners taking up cane farming;
(b) Converting a loan of $8 million to a cash grant to cane farmers for welfare relief assistance, but nothing to non-cane farmers, mostly Fijians, who also suffered from the drought of 1997 and the flooding that followed;
(c) Insisting on the Land Use Commission and not being sensitive to the views of the BLV; and
(d) Introducing a proposed change to the Constitution which could have the effect of watering down the provision in the Native Lands Trust Act for the President to act on the advice of the NLTB and the NLC is reserving State land to meet the land needs of Fijians. The proposed change, if effected, could mean that the President would have to act on the advice of Cabinet even on matters that come to him under the Native Lands Act.
Overall, the clear conclusion for Fijians is that we need a new Constitution to provide better constitutional protection for Fijians.
The 1997 Constitution showed that whilst Fijians had the majority of members in Parliament and in Cabinet, they were of little influence on Government policies because they were split among so many political parties.
Most important of all, Fijians did not control the key position of Head of Government.
The position of President or Head of State is important but it is largely ceremonial and under the Constitution, the President normally acts on the advice of Cabinet.
The post of Prime Minister and Head of Government is important because, as already stated, he sets the vision and the direction of policies, and drives the Government.
If Fijians are to strengthen the constitutional and political framework for their security in Fiji, they must have a Constitution which will facilitate their control of the two key positions of PM or Head of Government, and President or Head of State. It is when they are in control of both positions that they can strengthen their overall security through policies for their equal and equitable participation in the economic and social life of Fiji.