Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry has declined yet another attempt by the President to appoint him Leader of the Opposition.
Mr Chaudhry says he is bound by the FLP decision to exercise its constitutional right to be represented in cabinet and therefore has to await the decision of the Supreme Court in the matter.
He has, however, urged the President to leave the office vacant for the time being as, outside of the FLP, no-one in the opposition was credibly qualified to hold the office.
President Ratu Josefa Iloilo wrote to Mr. Chaudhry on 15 October appointing him Leader of the Opposition: “Acting in my own deliberate judgement, I have this day appointed you to be the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives of the Parliament of Fiji”.
“In making this appointment, I am not unaware of the pending court action, which you filed to pursue the rights you claim under Section 99 of the Constitution. I have no doubt that you know what to do when the final outcome of that court action becomes known,” the letter said.
Mr Chaudhry wrote back on October 23, after seeking legal advice, declining the appointment. He said he was unable to accept the position because the Fiji Labour Party had exercised its constitutional right to be in government.
FLP’s cabinet case has been pending since the Fiji Court of Appeal, ruling on the issue in February this year, declared that the Qarase government was unconstitutional and that the FLP had a right to proportional representation in his cabinet.
The prime minister appealed the ruling but to date the Supreme Court has not been constituted to hear the case despite its constitutional, political and economic significance to the country.
In his reply to the President’s letter of appointment, Mr Chaudhry said he was “quite baffled” by the long delay in constituting the Supreme Court to hear this particular case considering that the same court was assembled twice this year to hear two other cases of constitutional importance.
“The delay in disposing of this most important case is proving quite harmful to Fiji’s interest and it ought not to be condoned.” Mr Chaudhry said the delay was costing the country development cooperation assistance and trade concessions under the Cotonou Agreement of the European Union.
“It is also a major factor impeding investment in the country and, above all, it is not assisting in restoring trust and confidence in Fiji, both domestically and in the international courts.
On his advice that the President withhold appointing a Leader of Opposition until such time as the Supreme Court rules on the prime minister’s appeal, Mr. Chaudhry said of the non FLP members in the House “no one is currently qualified to be credibly appointed as Opposition Leader”.
Fiji’s recently appointed chief justice Daniel Fatiaki has repeatedly maintained since taking office that he was in no hurry to constitute the Supreme Court to hear the case. He believes the multiparty Cabinet case does not deserve priority over other cases pending since 1999.
Fatiaki has been the focus of a bitter controversy over his alleged role, along with that of the former CJ and another fellow judge, in the abrogation of Fiji’s 1997 Constitution. He was forced to withdraw from hearing a constitutional case last year because of this controversy.
His appointment as CJ raised strong criticisms from civil society groups on the same grounds.