Pacific Geopolitics in the 21st Century
“…I believe that the Dictatorship will not succeed, that the future belongs to democracy and freedom.”
(Edward Shevardnadze, former Soviet Union Foreign Minister, 1990)
WHERE WE ARE
In October 2012 I made a personal submission to the Commission appointed by the Interim Military Government of Fiji and the Commission was headed by Professor Yash Ghai.
I made the Submission based on three Assumptions:
1. That the Bainimarama Government shall ‘adhere to the Constitution’ as stipulated to the writer in Commodore Bainimarama’s letter dated 14 May 2007;
2. That the Constitution referred to in the letter of 14 May 2007 is the one officially known as the Constitution (Amendment) Act 1997 of the Republic of the Fiji Islands; and
3. The Peoples’ Charter for Change, Peace & Progress is to be an integral character of the future governance for the Republic.
All these Assumptions have been proven wrong.
The Commission’s Report has been trashed by the Interim Government who have come up with their own Draft Constitution which, to date is still to be promulgated by Decree.
The National Voters’ Registration which was closed sometime last year is being resumed with the Government repeatedly assuring the Fiji public and the International Community that General Election will be held in September 2014.
Commodore Bainimarama, the Interim Government Prime Minister has said he will contest the Elections, but has not formed a Political Party. This is in spite of the fact that he had made it known that neither he nor any in his Cabinet would contest the General Election.
The Political Parties in Fiji have had to make some changes to adhere to the new Regulations decreed into place by the Interim Government. These have not been easy, but it is encouraging to note that all have tried to comply with the requirements of the Decree, albeit grudgingly.
There are voices of dissent that the Decree and the Draft Constitution militate against the concept of free and fair democratic elections, but we must remember that the 1992 General Elections that my party won was run in accordance with the 1990 Constitution and its Electoral Provisions which were not what one would class as based on the basic tenets of free and fair democratic elections. It, however, allowed ‘the people’ to elect their own representations into Parliament where they would have the people’s mandate to amend and correct any anomalies in that Constitution and its Electoral Provisions in a Democratic way.
The result of the first elections under the Fiji 1990 Constitution was the review of that Constitution, in accordance with the Constitution Review provisions of that Constitution. The Review of the 1990 Constitution was undertaken by a Commission headed by one of the then Pacific’s most respected learned leaders, the late Sir Paul Reeves a former Archbishop of Wellington and former Governor General of New Zealand.
The Sir Paul Reeves Commission recommendations were reviewed by a Joint Parliamentary Select Committee which produced the Constitution Amendment Bill which I as Prime Minister moved in the House, seconded by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Jai Ram Reddy who after our elections defeat in 1999 became President of the Fiji Court of Appeal and later, a Judge in the International Court of Justice which presided over the Human Rights Abuses and war crimes hearings in Rwanda.
That Constitution Amendment was enacted by the Parliament of Fiji when it was unanimously passed in both chambers and assented to by the then President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara on 25 July 1997, exactly seven years after the promulgation of the 1990 Constitution which had the mandatory Review Provisions that it be reviewed within seven years after its promulgation on 25 July 1990.
The Preamble of the 1990 Constitution contained, among other things the history and evolution of the Constitution of Fiji from 1970 to 1987 then described the fount of the authority by which the then President, Ratu Sir PenaiaGanilau decreed the Constitution into Law with the words;
“…IN EXERCISE OF THE POWERS VESTED IN ME AS PRESIDENT OF THE SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF FIJI, AND ACTING IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE ADVICE OF THE PRIME MINISTER AND THE CABINET OF THE INTERIM GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF FIJI, I HEREBY DECREE AS FOLLOWS…” then followed the Chapters, Sections and Provisions of Fiji’s 1990 Constitution. Among the Sections was Section 161 on the Review of the Constitution which stated; “This Constitution shall be reviewed after a period of time but before the end of seven years after the promulgation of this Constitution. Thereafter, the Constitution shall be reviewed every ten years.”
The Preamble of the 1997 Constitution which was the result of the review stipulated in that Section 161 had these words:
“WE THE PEOPLE OF THE FIJI ISLANDS, etc., etc.
WITH GOD AS OUR WITNESS, GIVE OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.”
As the executor of the Military Coup of 1987, I can say that the re-democratisation of Fiji was not completed until ‘We the people of Fiji’ gave ourselves that Constitution of 1997. That Constitution has been claimed by the Interim Government of Commodore Bainimarama to have been abrogated by the post-2006 coup President of Fiji in 2009, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, although the declaration by the Fiji Court of Appeal that the abrogation is null and void stands unchallenged.
That Ladies and Gentlemen, is where Fiji is as we are told that a General Election under a new Constitution and its Electoral provisions yet to be promulgated – 15 months short of the promised elections date.
When we look at Fiji’s Constitutions and Elections, we find that the first General Elections under the October 1970 Constitution was held in May 1972 – 18 months after the adoption of the 1970 Constitution.
The 1990 Constitution was promulgated on 25 July and the first election held under its electoral provisions was in May 1992 – 22 months after it came into being.
Fiji went into the 1999 Elections in May, 22 months after the enactment of the 1997 Constitution Amendment Act and its electoral provisions with the result that the main architects of the Bill were thoroughly defeated in that election.
We are now into Voters and Parties registration mode, but the political party in which the Interim Government may want to continue to fight for the Fiji they are trying to promote has not been formed or registered.
In the meantime Fiji continues to consolidate its favour with new-found political ideology sympathisers, especially China, of whom we heard a lot yesterday from Professor Terence Wesley-Smith and during the launch of the book on ‘China and the International System: Becoming a Great Power’.
THE COURSE AHEAD
I started my address this morning with a quotation from Edward Shevardnadze declaring that ‘the future belongs to freedom’. In his autobiography he was not only writing about his native Georgia, but also the then Soviet Union and also the struggle his Georgia was having in the face of increasing political pressure from the Soviet Central Command which had taken a very dictatorial and oppressive attitude to people, opposing ideologies and member states since the Khrushchev era.
The Fiji situation is not dissimilar but on a different scale, magnitude and profile.
The people of Fiji, particularly in the rural areas and most of whom are indigenous Fijians, now politically correctly called Itaukei, have been promised and in some cases have seen better infrastructure development and improvements. Their land have been pooled into a Government Land Bank for government to promote the development and usage of for promised better return to the Landowners. Some new mineral mining and exploratory developments have been started since the Military regime took over in 2006, some in dubious land transactions outside the ambits of the statutory Native Land Trust Board, set up in the 1950’s to safeguard native land ownership while also making land outside of immediate support and maintenance requirements of the landowning units, available for national development projects like mining, tourism, infrastructure, electricity generation and the expansion of urban boundaries. There is now duplication or a parallel in processes for the acquisition of land for development and the protection and benefits assurance are not harmonised.
Some landowners are confused, while some are still hopeful things will turn out right.
In the meantime, the countdown to elections continues.
There have been no elections since the military government took over – municipal, provincial or national. Apart from sporting bodies and Trade Unions, all new office bearers of any note has been appointed. In recent weeks there have been pictures in the local newspaper of the Minister responsible for Elections with Diplomats of some countries at what was reported to be briefings on the Elections programme progress and also about soliciting funds to finance the promised elections.
Some of these countries including New Zealand had contributed funds for previous so-called progressive programmes towards democratisation which have been aborted or trashed by the government.
Many in the business sector were very supportive of the military regime in the early months and years of their taking over government. As repressive Tax, and assets regulations and media and religion control worsen, their sentiments changed and favour diminished.
The government’s attempt to force unity has resulted in more rigid sectarianism and polarisation into pro government and anti-government political blocks.
Because of the absence of true media freedom, reports in the pro-government media cannot be fully credible while the fearful ‘neutral’ and not government supported media cannot be bold enough to be credible also.
Social media and blog sites are full of allegations against government and also those prominently opposing government. In these cases, I have used my exposure in the social media as a bench mark, I have found more inaccurate and totally false information about myself in the few mentions I get to make me totally discount the things I see in these avenues. There are some credible sites which openly declare their authors and not use pseudonyms, but in many cases, these too are politically biased depending who bought the bread that is on their table.
The government’s attempt to weaken or even dismantle indigenous institutions and customary values have forced the new nationalistic wave of sentiments now moving towards legitimate and internationally ratified conventions for the protection of indigenous and first citizens’ rights.
The current impasse between the interim government and the Methodist Church and the dissolution of the Council of Chiefs are two factors the indigenous people will not easily forgive nor forget. The brutality shown in the early months of the regime’s rule will remain in the memory of many generations to come.
International pressure on the interim government to honour internationally acceptable values have come unilaterally from the governments concerned rather than on lobbying by Fiji dissidents living in or out of Fiji. Even with the cool diplomatic relations between Fiji and its former friends, the UN continues to call on Fiji to provide peacekeeping and truce monitoring troops in the troubled spots of the Middle East, representatives of these former friends continue to promise aid toward elections even after the let downs in the past which include the trashing of the internationally funded Yash Ghai Commission report and draft constitution.
I have picked these points to try and establish the current situation in Fiji.
All the points I have highlighted cannot be easily seen, unless one has a natural intuition of the nation and its breath of life to be able to discern what is hidden from view.
In order to be able to think of the Course ahead, we need to understand the current situation which will affect the future movement of the country.
Liberty is a yearning of each human heart. Development is relative.
In my limited reading about some men we can call ‘shakers’ of world events, I have been impressed by the man I quoted in the beginning of this presentation, Edward Shevardnadze.
He saw the problems that existed in his country as I see the problems in mine.
He saw that the economy in his native Georgia ‘was weakened at its most crucial point, the workers’ standard of living’. We also see this in Fiji where Government has had to build personal homes that were destroyed in cyclones. It is a way of spoon feeding and vote buying that is not only corrupt but also dehumanising in that it erodes a man’s pride (or it should) and sense of responsibility for his wife children and future generations.
Fiji is in that mode now and if things are not changed soon we will have a nation of parasites living happily ever after in the happy isles.
While we await General Elections, we also await the assets declarations promised by Cabinet Ministers. It would be more transparent if assets acquired since December 2006 only are declared.
Judging from the government supported and the independent but fearful media, the interim government is enjoying words of support from some chiefs and community leaders in the rural areas and some captains of industry. Interestingly, most, if not all of these were right there with me in 1987, with Chaudhry in 1999, with George Speight in 2000 and with Qarase during his term from 2001 to 2006.
Some of Qarase’s stalwarts have now been reinforced by some victims of the interim government to form the core of the new Social Democratic liberal Party. Some of the other parties are prepared to work in concert with SODELPA and fight the elections as a United Front, and there are also those that have said they will not join a united front.
All these parties should realise that in an election where there is no transferrable preferential vote, all other parties are against your chances of winning. And when you are not party to the formulation of the rules and conditions of the election, your chances of winning are further eroded.
The pro interim government party will have difficulty winning a fair and democratic election.
Following my presentation, my namesake Doctor Sitiveni Ratuva will tell us what to expect.
Maybe the organisers should have also invited Doctor Sitiveni Halapua and the three Sitivenis of the Pacific can put on a joint seminar on the how to and how not to change governments in the Pacific.
But for now the Course is clear, elections then democratic and Parliamentary re-engineering of our laws and the Constitution.
But as the Prince of Denmark, Hamlet, mentioned in his soliloquy ‘Aye, there’s the rub…’ for in that re-engineering what safeguards for self-preservation the interim government has put in place could be dismantled.
What their assessment of their chances of escaping a democratic audit of their performance in the period 2006 to 2014 will eventually determine whether there will be a fair and democratic election or a pre-determined result election.
In the meantime, Fiji needs some serious self-examination to determine its secure future, similar to the one made by the two friends of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev and Edward Shevardnadze, the one they called perestroika, which led to an open minded and open eyed political chain reaction which brought about the reunification of Germany, broke up the Soviet Union and gave rise to the Commonwealth of Independent Republics which include Shevardnadze’s Georgia which has returned to its State Religion declared in the 4th Century i.e. Christianity and the continuation of the respect of native cultures and language.
We must never forget that China also learned from perestroika and will endeavour not to let that progressive Communism development which dismantled the Leninist brand interfere with the also progressive Maoist brand of Communism and its expansionism agenda into the Pacific. Aid hunger in the Pacific, particularly in Fiji will make it difficult for the former friendly aid feeders to come back into Fiji unless the elections change the leadership landscape rather than simply the democratic scenario.
The course for Fiji is clear – elections, parliamentary rule democratic normality; however, like in all maritime tragedies, the courses set for the ships are clear but captains’ decisions and icebergs are non-negotiable. And our national captain is a Commodore.