"The Indians with a history of rebellion on the sugar plantations are repeating the lines of Richard Lovelace: Stone walls do not a prison make - Nor Iron bars a cage' - Victor Lal, in his book Fiji: Coups in Paradise-Race, Politics and Military Intervention, while condemning coupist Sitiveni Rabuka's racist 1990 Constitution of Fiji. He also warned Rabuka and the native Fijian chiefs: "...The Fijian chiefs still have a choice today - to borrow the late Martin Luther King Junior's warning: non-violent co-existence or violent co-annihilation."
By VICTOR LAL
In fact, I have made no secret of my views on the various Constitutions of Fiji for nearly three decades. In my books, academic articles, seminars, conferences, television interviews, and newspaper opinion columns I have always commented on the strengths and weaknesses of the 1970, 1990, 1997 and 2013 Constitutions of Fiji.
The 1970 Constitution:
While researching and writing on race, ethnicity, tribalism, politics and constitutionalism in Fiji, I had concluded as follows: "A deeper study of the decision at the London constitutional talks shows that fear of Fijians being swamped by the majority Indians was an oversimplification. Apparently no consideration had been given to future population trends which could result in Indians becoming a minority in Fiji...If there were any losers in the long, tortuous, and complex struggle for political power, it was not the chosen petit-bourgeois Indian leaders but
the ordinary Indian who had placed faith and hope in the London constitutional talks. The 1970 Constitution, as succeeding chapters show, left a legacy of hatred and mistrust among the different races..the euphoria of independence was only the beginning of a long journey for Indians who had marched from plantation to politics.
'Indians Go Home' became a familiar chant of the native Fijians, led by Sakiasi Butadroka. Many feared that another Uganda (spectre of Fijian Idi Amin) or South Africa (political apartheid) was in the making in South Pacific.
During the course of my research, I had taken exception to Professor Brij Lal's book Politics in Fiji in which he had held Fiji as a model in race relations for the world to embrace; in 1985, I had titled my research Fiji's Racial Politics: The Coming Coup. Two years later, Rabuka, Inoke Kubuabola, Filipe Bole, Ratu Finau Mara and others struck, reducing Indo-Fijians to second class citizens in the country of their birth, with both Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau endorsing the racist 1990 Constitution. The 1987 coups also saw Professor Yash Ghai and I clash on British TV and later at Chatham House in London on the strength and weakness of the 1970 Constitution.
The 1990 Constitution:
This Constitution brought me into direct conflict with Mara, Ganilau and Rabuka when the late Professor Asesela Ravuvu and I exchanged sharp words at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office seminar in London on the constitutional developments in Fiji after the 1987 coups. Also present across the table was Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, then Rabuka's High Commissioner to London, and later the post-Ghai constitution President of Fiji. It was at this seminar where I repeated what I had told the British television audience: "The 1987 coups raise one and only question: how many generation does one have to wait to become a native. My ancestors were coolie Indians, not ME or my fellow Indo-Fijians." Defending the nauseating racial and constitutional developments was Isikeli Mataitoga, later High Court judge after the Bainimarama coup. Mataitoga is now ensconced in Japan as Fiji's ambassador.
The 1990 Constitution also led to arrests, beatings, and tortures when a group of Indo-Fijians, led by Dr Anirudh Singh, set fire to this Constitution in public as a mark of protest. In our fight for Indo-Fijian rights was a fellow young traveller Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum, later FFP Attorney-General and Minister for Justice. He is credited as one of the architects of the 2013 Constitution of Fiji.
The 1997 Constitution: Mandatory Power-Sharing MUST GO!
Shortly after the release of the deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Pal Chaudhry, I had written a six part series in Fiji's Daily Post. In Part Three, The 1997 Constitution: Beauty and the Beast, I had written as follows: 'The 1997 Constitution is arguably one of the best constitutional documents Fiji has ever had in attempting to create a truly multi-racial society. As constitutional expert Yash Ghai, a former legal adviser to the NFLP/FLP Coalition, has pointed out, ‘the purpose of the 1997 Constitution is to provide a basis, on which all of Fiji’s communities could agree, for the peoples of Fiji to live together under a system of government. It is intended to bring to an end the social and political statements that had resulted from the 1987 coups and the constitutional system that was established as a consequence of the coups’.
I had continued as follows: We had likened the inability of the Fiji Labour Party to act decisively over the rift between the Fijian Association Party (FAP) and the Party of National Unity (PANU), who made up Chaudhry’s Peoples Coalition Government, to that of ‘a castrated political bull’ in a ‘constitutional China shop’. We had blamed the provisions of the 1997 Constitution of Fiji, with its provisions for mandatory power sharing, and the new electoral system, as the overreaching reasons for Chaudhry Government’s downfall, where the religious amorals met the political amorals from different political parties and races in a grand conspiracy to make Fiji, ‘The Way The World Shouldn’t Be’.
We now call upon the Fiji Labour Party to dissolve the Peoples Coalition and return to the negotiating constitutional table to iron out some of the defects in the 1997 Constitution of Fiji. Fiji’s future lies in the proliferation of multi-racial political parties and not in enforced marriages of convenience with racially-based and overtly pseudo nationalistic Fijian and Indo-Fijian parties. When the very first part of the series appeared, I received several abusive and death-threatening e-mails from cowards writing under pseudo names. They accused me of peddling the aims and objectives of the Fiji Labour Party (FLP).
To my detractors, I would like to inform you that I have never been a member of the FLP nor have voted for them in my life. I am not a banner wielding and ‘messianic fan’ of the deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Pal Chaudhry. He is partly to be blamed for the mess that we are in, but as we have argued in these columns, for totally different reasons.
As I had pointed out elsewhere, in response to my ‘misguided countryman’, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, and other like-minded individuals, who attacked me last year for my repeated calls for multi-party democracy in Fiji, I come from a political family who had carried in its veins the multi-racial philosophies of the Alliance Party, which I now find was a great sham and a cover to keep the other non-Fijian races out of political power. In fact, the Alliance Party’s concept of multi-racialism, where power and privilege was to ultimately rest in the hands of the Fijian chiefly families, and the Fijian political elite, had failed to produce a truly multi-racial, multi-cultural, and multi-religious Fiji.
The 2013 Constitution
I had welcomed certain provisions in the Constitution but I had objected to the IMMUNITY CLAUSE, arguing that this will perpetuate the coup culture in Fiji. Also, the Immunity Clause would mean that Rabuka would never be brought to trial for his crimes against the Indo-Fijians. Those who are familiar with my writings could accuse me of sharing very similar views with Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum and Frank Bainimarama on the role and place of the Great Council of Chiefs in national politics; for I had argued all these years that the chiefs should have a ceremonial and not constitutional role in the Constitution of Fiji. I had championed for dual citizenship and that every person born in Fiji must be called FIJIAN.
Shortly after the 2006 coup, I had led an attack against the Fiji Law Society and its president Davenesh Sharma,including against Graham Leung, on the role of judges in a revolution. I argued in my then Fiji Sun column that legally Justice Nazhat Shameem was correct to chair the Judicial Services Commission which saw the appointment of Justice Anthony Gates as acting Chief Justice. I also publicly condemned and called for the removal of Justice Gordon Ward as president of the Fiji Court of Appeal for trying to scupper the functioning of the judiciary. I also wrote a scathing piece against Justice Coventry and Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi. Based on highly confidential judicial memos etc I called for Coventry's resignation from the Bench. The rest is history.
But I am not alone in commenting on the Constitutions of Fiji. Look at what Frank Bainimarama had said and done to the 1997 Constitution. The former judge Madam Nazhat Shameem also critiqued Citizens Constitutional Forum's criticism of the 2013 Constitution, notably on the Judiciary.
FRANK BAINIMARAMA: "I had abrogated the 1997 Constitution because I was satisfied that people engaged in the events of May 19 [the 2000 George Speight coup] were of the perception that the document had watered down the interests of indigenous Fijians. Whether or not those perceptions accorded with reality was not my principal consideration. The perceptions were genuinely held by largely unsophisticated Fijians not equipped to adequately comprehend the niceties and technicalities of the Constitution.” -
The then RFMF Commander Frank Bainimarama in his affidavit before the
Fiji Court of Appeal, February 2001
It would be a very sad day if the FFP government banned any criticism of the 2013 Constitution. However, we do not know what exactly was uttered at the recent Pacific Dialogue Forum that led Police to take the leaders of political parties and others into custody.