Thursday, January 9, 2014

Fiji's New Constitution: A New Era for the country

New Constitution: A New Era for Fiji
By Guest Writer, Author Rajendra Prasad
Foreword by: Thakur Ranjit Singh

Western Democracy failed Fiji: We need home-grown solution

Western Democracy, as advocated by NZ and Australian governments has failed Fiji more than once. This form of democracy for Fijians has degenerated into a dirty term. Successive Fijian Governments abused democracy under guise of going through free democratic elections, bereft of equality and social justice. In this blindness Australia and New Zealand promoted racism, corruption and rape of democracy through their aid and support for supposedly democratic governments for over three decades. Under the watchful eyes of these Developed neighbours, who are still blind to this, successive Fijian governments played hide and seek with democracy. Unfortunately, they continue to punish Fiji now. Rightfully, Bainimarama has told these two neighbours to go where they belong, into oblivion, while Fiji moves ahead. Fiji has unique fundamental problems unappreciated by its Developed neighbours, and even some Fijians who are too much into Western Democracy - a failing element in Fiji. Therefore it needs its own type of unique home-grown system to move ahead. The new Constitution, despite its apparent shortfalls, does this. Fiji had moved ahead without the need to seek blessings of NZ and Australia.This commentary of the new Constitution has to be appreciated by these neighbouring governments. They can continue to ignore, fail to understand and remain unappreciative of Fiji’s predicament at their peril.


New Fiji Constitution: Revolutionary in content and intent

Guest Writer: Author Rajendra Prasad, Auckland.

Fiji’s persistent foray in breaking and making Constitutions has produced the fourth Constitution, which is founded on “one person, one vote, one value.” In launching the Constitution, on August 22, 2013, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said that they had to destroy the notion that those born to privilege (meaning Chiefs) had special status over the rest simply by their right of birth. The previous three Constitutions had provided for special place and privileges for the Chiefs. Morphing the chiefly system into the democratic structure was like mixing oil and water. The two were incompatible. The chiefs became powerful allies of successive Governments and when they lost power, as in 1987 and 1999, they landed their support for coups against democratically elected Governments to restore their comrades back into power. This, in essence, became the wicked face of democracy in Fiji. 

Fiji prime minister Frank Bainimarama has rescued Fiji from an adulterated form of democracy that promoted racism and divisiveness. It is that defamed democracy which attempted to disinherit almost half its population, failed to deliver equality and social justice to all its citizens. All this while, Australia and New Zealand clapped on, as long as Fiji had some form of Western Democracy, which has failed us. Fiji needs a home-grown solution and the new Constitution grants that. Though not perfect, it is miles better than democracy that has been manipulated by successive Fijian leaders for personal interests. 

The 1970, 1990 and 1999 Constitutions retained ethnic voting, entrenching institutional racism to flourish. The new Fijian Constitution is revolutionary both in intent and content and is expected to take Fiji on a new path that will enhance racial integration. It alone has initiated a pride in Fijian citizenship that was not felt by everyone in the past. Unfortunately, such a noble move did not come from any of the democratically Governments.

36 years of narrow, insensitive and corrupt Fijian Governments

The nature of governance, in the past, created wealth and security for a few who enriched themselves while the ordinary citizens were left to fight for the crumbs. The political masters spoke the oracles of the saints, preaching tolerance, harmony and unity but in practice advocated intolerance, disharmony and disunity. Deceitfulness defined Fijian politicians, as they secured their fortunes at the expense of the poor majority who writhed in poverty. For thirty-six years since independence (1970-2006), Fiji had the misfortune of being governed by narrow, insensitive and corrupt Governments. Their policies and practices impinge on the freedom, rights, equality and dignity of its citizens.

Today, a nation that was savaged by its democratically elected leaders is being rescued by the Bainimarama Government. In six years of its rule it has achieved significant milestones, which has, for the first time, revealed to the people of Fiji what good governance entails. Accepted that it is not perfect but it is certainly better than the democratically elected Governments of the past. It is not the form but content that matters.

Australia and NZ: Guilty of undermining good governance in Fiji

A lot has been made about the elective process but not the process of governance that habitually violated the basic tenets of democracy. Yet, near neighbours, Australia and New Zealand turned a blind eye and poured aid funds, promoting corruption, racism and desecration of democracy in Fiji. For their indiscretion, they have lost not only Fiji but their influence in the Pacific too and their days on the Pacific Islands Forum may be numbered.

The new Constitution is cited as a revolution, a radical departure from the norm of ethnic voting that underpinned successive Constitutions. The sectarian walls that divided the children of Fiji have been demolished. ‘One person, one vote, one value’ has become the national mantra and the heart of the nation pulsates with amity, goodwill and unity. Race, religion and culture would no longer feature prominently in the national consciousness on Election Day. The political and provincial boundaries have been removed and Fiji is now one constituency for the purposes of election. Fifty politicians elected to the new Parliament will truly be national leaders who will not be hindered by narrow walls that divided them in the past. Indeed, for the first time, the new Constitution will provide a strong foundation for a true democracy to root in Fiji.

In the contemporary world, democracy is a much-maligned word. No two democracies in the world are same. Fiji’s road to establishing a true democracy cannot be attained overnight. It is an evolutionary process and given a chance it will evolve, endure and establish a brand that is unique to Fiji. The parameters for its evolution are established. Hopefully, it will enable a new breed of national leaders to emerge who unite the peoples of Fiji.

Marriage of Convenience borne by self-interest alone

Members of the United Front for a Democratic Fiji (from  right), former prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry ,former prime minister Laisenia Qarase,  Dr Tupeni Baba and  Attar Singh -Politicians who failed democracy, failed to protect it, and abused its principles under guise of being in elected governments [Photo courtesy of Fiji Sun]

The politicians of the bygone era have formed a United Front to oppose the Constitution. They did not unite when unity would have been in the best interest of the nation. It is a marriage of convenience where divorce is a natural consequence, as each is driven by self-interest. They boycotted the Constitutional briefing. Deception, disruption and destruction were the weapons of choice for a few and they need to be disabled for the good of the nation. Justly, trading in misinformation, distortion and lies by political parties or politicians should constitute a criminal, if not treasonous, offence with punishment that befits the crime. For too long, the nation has suffered in silence and the villains of Fiji politics must pay for their crimes.

AN UNHOLY ALLIANCE: Former prime ministers , from left , Laisenia Qarase, Mahendra Chaudhry (inset) . Edward Beddoes, leader of the "Others" Party has joined hands to form a marriage of convenience to jointly oppose Bainimarama. Provision of 1997  Constitution allowed for multi-party governments to promote racial harmony. These leaders failed to unite then, to rescue Fiji from racism and ethno - Nationalism. All of them practised this to hang on to political power. Now they are shedding crocodile tears and came in an unholy alliance, a marriage of convenience to oppose Bainimarama.

In the past, the diversity of Fiji was used by successive Governments, political parties and politicians to divide the people to secure their own interests above the interests of the nation. Today, Fiji stands at the crossroads. A new era beckons its people to unite and join hands in shaping a new nation that fosters tolerance, goodwill, harmony and unity among its citizens. To achieve this, Fiji needs leaders of courage, vision and compassion to guide its destiny.

An unholy alliance, to be wary of : three leaders who failed to unite when they were needed to do so, and failed Fiji's democracy: Beddoes, Qarase and Chaudhry.

The onus will be upon the people to choose and support leaders who have the welfare of the people and nation in their hearts. In this regard, they have the wisdom of the past to distinguish between the failed politicians and those who hold promise to carve out a new Fiji where the badge of its citizenship gives honour, dignity and pride to all its citizens.  God Bless Fiji!

 (Rajendra Prasad is the former Town Clerk, Ba (1972-1987) and is the author the of book, “Tears in Paradise – Suffering and Struggles of Indians in Fiji 1879-2004)