Te Karere Ipurangi
Maori News Online
Solomon Islands Coup Supplement

6 June 2000


Constitutions and Governance

What we are seeing in an arc from South East Asia to the Pacific is the failure of imported and culturally inappropriate systems of governance.

This arc includes Aceh, North Sumatra, Riau, Mindanao, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku, Timor, West Papua, Bougainville, Solomon Islands, Kanaky, Fiji and even Rotuma. In every case the previously autonomous tribes and states are seeking a return of their autonomy after decades of enforced centralised "democratic" governance, following over a hundred years of enforced colonial governance. The forms of these central governing systems are legacies of the European colonisers, imposed over, and in denial of, long-standing tribal and regional autonomy.

They don't work.

Even in Aotearoa New Zealand we Maori still cling to the remnants of centuries of tribal autonomy, while central government seeks to deal with us on a pan-tribal basis. We will continue to hold to autonomous or semi-autonomous concepts of governance, for that fierce drive for autonomy is an ingrained component of our cultures. Central governance doesn't work for us.

When the Anglo-European members of the Commonwealth fiercely promote the virtues of constitutional democracy they promote just the one type of democracy, modelled on Westminster in various disguises. It doesn't work.

The Westminster system is a winner take all system, in which those who win collect all the spoils of government, and those who lose are condemned to second or third class status, unless and until they manage to gain power. The winner take all approach applies to Australia and New Zealand as well, where the indigenous peoples have had their autonomy extinguished, and have long been consigned to the bottom of the heap.

In the revolutionary takeover of Aotearoa New Zealand by the culture of finance these last 15 years, there have been fewer winners and a lot more losers. That takeover can be likened to a bloodless coup, but within the bounds of an "unwritten" constitution that doesn't actually exist. Who are we in Aotearoa New Zealand to talk about constitutional government? We don't have a constitution that has been voted by the people either. We don't actually have a constitution at all.

In both Fiji and the Solomon Islands there are increasing tensions between the different islands and tribes as a result of the imposition of real constitutions that do not properly recognise the need for a measure of autonomy. The unrest throughout the rest of the region, is also the result of the same desire for the return of that traditional autonomy.

In constitutional matters revolution is a last resort to amend or replace unworkable constitutions. Whilst not desirable in this modern world, it nevertheless remains a valid option for those who are unable to achieve change by any other method. What these two coups in the Pacific indicate, regardless of whether or not one agrees or disagrees with them or their perpetrators, is that changes to the constitutional arrangements are necessary.

The present unworkable systems of governance were themselves imposed through a form of revolution in which the colonial powers overthrew previously self-governing and autonomous peoples, often by force of arms.

The Anglo-European nations of the Commonwealth therefore stand on very thin ice in their condemnation of what is happening in Fiji and the Solomon Islands. Rather than impose sanctions and suspensions it behoves them to help clean up the constitutional mess created by their forebears, through unconditional support, both moral and financial.

And while we're at it, we had best take a long hard look at our own constitutional arrangements in Aotearoa New Zealand. This is not simply a narrow Treaty of Waitangi issue. It is an issue for the future stability of a country in which an "unwritten" constitution serves to suppress and oppress the long-held political aspirations of an increasingly numerous and politically active tangata whenua.


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