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Fiji Times challenges move towards new constitutio

Published: Sat 2 Sep 2000 05:36 PM
FIJI: Fiji Times challenges move towards new constitution
USP Pacific Journalism Online: http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/ USP Journalism on the Fiji crisis (UTS host): http://www.journalism.uts.edu.au/archive/coup.html USP Pasifik Nius stories on Scoop (NZ): http://www.scoop.co.nz/international.htm Have your say: http://www.TheGuestBook.com/vgbook/109497.gbook
SUVA: The Fiji Times today challenged the drafting of a new constitution for Fiji after the naming of a University of the South Pacific academic who had a leading role in the 1990 racially-biased constitution to head the new constitutional commission.
In an editorial headed "One constitution too many," the newspaper said: "Fiji has had three constitutions in as many decades. Do we really need another?
"Under the 1997 constitution - passed unanimously by Parliament and endorsed by the Great Council of Chiefs - democracy could be speedily restored while the perceived flaws in that constitution could be legally addressed."
The Fiji Times said the new constitutional commission, to be headed by USP's director of the Institute of Pacific Studies, Professor Asesela Ravuvu, would presumably find in favour of a requirement that the post of prime minister as well as president must be an indigenous Fijian.
Prof Ravuvu was named in a proposed interim government list by rebel leader George Speight published in the Daily Post on June 19.
"If the events of 1987 opened Pandora's box, the happenings of May 19 threw the lid into the ocean," said the Fiji Times.
"No elected government can now feel safe - and no amount of redrafted constitutions will alter that."
The newspaper, which had a long-standing feud with deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, blamed the political crisis on the ousted leader.
"The problem with the People's Coalition regime was not the constitution," the Fiji Times said.
"The problem was Mahendra Pal Chaudhry."
In the past, Chaudhry had accused the paper of "fanning the fires of sedition and communalism", a charge rejected by the newspaper.
The paper said that a new constitution could prevent a new "dictatorial" Indo-Fijian prime minister, but it could not prevent a Fijian prime minister acting in a similar manner.
The Great Council of Chiefs unanimously endorsed Prof Ravuvu to chair the new constitutional commission being set up by the military-backed interim government.
However, the 1990 constitution, which the professor helped draft was later rejected as "racist" by the Indo-Fijian and many international communities. This eventually led to the drafting of the multiracial 1997 constitution by a commission headed by former New Zealand governor-general Sir Paul Reeves.
The chiefs council's new commission includes former Speaker Dr Apenisa Kurisaqila and former diplomat Charles Walker, who were cabinet ministers in the Alliance government of then prime minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who was forced to step aside as president during the Speight rebellion.
Three nominations by the "vanua" (indigenous community) - deputy chair of the chiefs' council, Adi Litia Cakobau; former foreign affairs minister Berenado Vunibobo; and lawyer Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure - have all had close associations with Speight.
Nominated to represent the island of Rotuma in northern Fiji was former civil servant Fatiaki Misau.
Radio Fiji reported that the chiefs agreed to include four Indo-Fijians and one person representing other races on the commission.
No terms of reference have yet to be announced.
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