Fiji Coup Supplement
(Ministry of Information, Suva)
14 September, 2000
When mistakes are repeated
Fijišs political crisis sadly lurches on, while the country suffers. Every group that comes to power, legally or otherwise, ignores the common sense that that the "method" of doing things is just as important as the validity of the "cause".
This was ignored by the Labour-led Government. It was ignored by those who plotted and executed the coup. It is still being ignored by the Interim Government trying to force through a revision of the Constitution regardless of public views.
Yes, Fijišs Constitution does need to be revised specifically its electoral system.
But how exactly should Fiji go about it?
Doubts had been raised about the electoral system in the 1997 Constitution, well before the 1999 elections. The electoral experts who analysed the 1999 Elections results broadly agreed that the outcome was not "fair", because of a severe lack of proportionally.
The number of seats won by the different parties were grossly out of line with the percentage of votes received. Given their share of votes, the SVT obtained far less seats (eight) than the number it should have had (14). The VLV should have had seven seats instead of the three they got. The NFP should have had 10 seats, not the devastating zero.
Well before the May coup, I had pointed out (in an article in The Fiji Times of February 17 "Our constitutional Trauma") that this lack of proportionally in the electoral system, had the potential to sink the entire Constitution.
I had then also warned that the electoral weakness was being made worse by the style and "method" of government by the Labour Party.
From the beginning, most unfairly and most unwisely, the Labour Party excluded the largest Fijian Party (SVT) from Cabinet.
With their eight seats SVT was entitled to at least three seats in Cabinet. On the basis of their votes SVT could have expected five seats. Yet Rabuka and the SVT were shut out of Cabinet.
In my February article, I had written that this exclusion of SVT by the Labour Party was a "cruel denial of the spirit and the origins of the 1997 Constitution". Under the 1990 Constitution, Rabuka and his SVT Ministers had complete control of Government. Yet in a remarkable spirit of reconciliation, dialogue, consensus, and inclusiveness towards the other ethnic groups, Rabuka pushed the SVT into accepting the new Constitution.
It was even better than "democracy" where the "winners take all". The 1997 Constitution allowed for a multi-party government whereby any party with eight seats or more was entitled to a proportionate share in Cabinet. This went beyond the Reeves Commission recommendations. The SVT agreed to share political power with other races, although some SVT ministers would thereby lose their positions.
Yet the first strategy, the "method", of the Labour Party in government was to shut out the SVT, merely because the SVT made some conditions. But surely, the spirit of reconciliation and dialogue required further negotiation, not selfish rejection.
It was neither fair nor politically wise. In their first year, the Labour Party continued to act as if mere belief in the goodness of their "cause" of good government justified their use of any "methods".
The Labour Party Leader became Prime Minister without the agreement of their major Fijian partners. Insensitive, and sometimes incorrect, policies were harshly stated on land, on the sugar industry, on trade, on public enterprises and statutory boards.
Attempts were made to play off Fijian chiefs and leaders against each other, with inappropriate appointments to ministerial posts and other important positions. Grossly insensitive, arrogant, rude, and often nasty personalised statements were made by a small number of Government spokesmen, against all critics, including powerful Fijian chiefs and leaders.
The majority of government ministers had little independence, often facing long delays before decisions were made by a few in the inner circle.
An inappropriate style and "method" of a few in the Labour government, completely overshadowed whatever good the whole government was doing to their "cause".
And ultimately, an arrogant refusal to acknowledge and guide the political dissatisfaction into proper channels, gave enough ground for those with other agendas, to plot the coups. The 1997 Constitution was not created in a power vacuum, but was the result of the balance of political forces that prevail in Fiji. And it can be effectively negated by that same balance of political forces.
The 1997 Constitution could only become Law with the agreement of the largest Fijian parties and the Great Council of Chiefs, and the Army whose allegiance they command.
And through the May coups, there has been a de facto abrogation of the 1997 Constitution, with the approval of the same balance of forces (give or take some small Fijian factions). It is amazing the number of persons who have stated that they did not agree with the "methods" used by the coup perpetrators, but agreed with the "cause".
Yet moral, principled, civilised societies the world over know that simply believing in a "good cause" does not justify the use of "any method". Fijišs Christians, Hindus, Muslims know that the "cause" of strengthening indigenous Fijians economically and socially, does not justify the overthrow of a president and a government, legally appointed under a constitution unanimously passed by both Houses of Fijišs Parliament and the Great Council of Chiefs.
The "cause" cannot justify the hostage taking and threatening of lives, the burning, the looting, the assaults that took place throughout Fiji. Some in the Interim Government (who swore on the Bible to uphold the previous Constitution) have not only supported the "cause" of the coups but helped in them.
For the Interim Government to be adamant that they will follow through the objectives of the coups ("the cause"), is also to be implicitly approving of the illegal "methods" of the coups. Sadly, the judiciary also failed to defend one of the central pillars of law; in resolving disagreements between individuals and legal entitles, the "method" of resolution is just as important as the rights of the individuals - "the cause".
Too readily perceiving a fait accompli, the judiciary is totally vulnerable to the legal challenge currently before it, and similar disorders in the future. Only a political resolution may salvage judicial respectability.
I would disagree that the electoral system in the 1997 Constitution needs to be changed.
But what is a socially acceptable "method" for any revision of our Constitution and the resolution of our crisis?
The current "method" of resolution favoured by the leader of the deposed government is a dictatorial call for international economic sanctions against Fiji, and UN military intervention. But how can hurting Fiji and the ordinary people, help to bring the different political groups together?
How can outside military intervention bring a long-lasting peaceful solution to Fiji, when it has not succeeded in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and dozens of other strife-torn countries throughout the world? A long-lasting sustainable solution to Fijišs problems lies within Fiji, not outside.
Equally dictatorial, the unelected Interim Government wants to unilaterally decide the terms of reference and the membership of the review commission, with the GCC rubber-stamping their proposal. But what of the elected representatives of all the Fijian people, the Indo-Fijians, and the Others, and the political parties?
In the great Council of Chief itself, the voices of the smallest provinces are heard equally alongside those of the largest provinces. There is rarely any voting.
One of my most valuable early lessons in Parliament was given by an elderly Fijian backbencher, who took me aside and gently reminded me: "Doc, I really appreciate your contributions in the House. But remember, for us Fijians, how you say things or do things is just as important as what you say or do".
The "method" is as important as the "cause".
It is, therefore, dismaying and tragic that both the elected and un-elected prime ministers are ignoring the good, tried, and proven Fijian "methods" of dialogue and consensus, in pushing their various "causes".
Can the President help by bringing together the major political parties, to chart a better passage out of our mess, for the sake of our children?
Dr Wadan Narsey is an Associate Professor, Economics Department at the University of the South Pacific. The views expressed here are his and not that of his employer.