Commodore Bainimarama’s unwarranted outburst over my remarks about delays in the constitution review process is not surprising.
One who professes to be a leader must learn to take criticism in his stride and respond rationally, otherwise he is not fit to lead.
According to Fiji Live, Bainimarama accuses me of being “jealous” and not doing much for “bringing about a better Fiji” during my political career. Besides, he wants me to “shut up” and not interfere in the work of his government.
Jealous about what, I ask? Is there anything worth being envious about looking at the record of his administration? And, just why should democratically elected political leaders be told to shut up when they have every right to raise questions and concerns about the future of Fiji.
He also questions where I was in the last 30 years or so when Fiji had a racist constitution? My advice to him is to read Fiji politics of the last 27 years to get the answer.
Did Fiji really have racist constitutions?
The only truly racist constitution Fiji ever had was the 1990 Constitution which was imposed on the people after the military coup of 1987. The FLP was at the forefront of the agitation to have this racist document scrapped.
The 1970 Independence Constitution and the 1997 Constitution were enacted by Parliament following agreement between the leaders of the various communities who call Fiji their home. The electoral provisions in these constitutions may not have been perfect from the standpoint of the ideal one vote one value system of the advanced democracies.
Nonetheless, these Constitutions guaranteed the fundamental rights of our citizens, including an independent judiciary, impartial law enforcement agencies (Police and DPP) and a free media. These freedoms are non-existent today under an autocratic system. As such, does it make sense to harp about perfecting our electoral system when the people are deprived of their basic freedoms and liberties as citizens?
FLP has always stood for a multi-racial Fiji
The Fiji Labour Party took up the issue of a more representative electoral system when the electoral provisions recommended by the Reeves Commission were altered in the 1997 Constitution by the SVT/NFP leadership .
I personally moved an amendment to reinstate the Reeves Commission recommendations when the Constitution Amendment Bill was debated in the House of Representatives in July 1997. Regrettably our attempt failed because the FLP, at the time, did not have the numbers in the House.
Bainimarama is wrong when he assumes that I am “jealous” because I feel left out of the constitution making process.
The part I play as the democratically elected leader of the FLP cannot be denied by anyone if the process is to be considered legitimate, credible and acceptable to the people of Fiji as well as the international community.
Do we really need a new Constitution?
In his address to the nation on 4th January 2007 when he was sworn in as interim Prime Minister, Commodore Bainimarama declared that he would uphold the 1997 Constitution as was mandated by the President.
He had made a similar statement on 5 December 2006 when he announced the military take over:
“We reiterate that while this course of action is taken with great reluctance, it is necessary to steer our beloved nation into peace, stability, a just solution and to preserve our Constitution.”
The Constitution was trashed by those who had promised to preserve it.
Would it not be wise, therefore, to redeem that promise in some measure by using the 1997 Constitution as the reference point for the current constitution-making exercise which, to be credible, should be conducted independent of the administration.
The President should oversee the process with the help of the international community to ensure that it is open, inclusive and permits the people to fully express their views on the issue, without any fear of reprisal.