A legal perspective on Fiji

Stephen Franks blogs on a column by Richard Fowler, the President of the Wellington District Law Society, regarding Fiji. Fowler has just returned from there and quotes Fowler:

Yet I am afraid that nothing about the present Fijian situation as outlined to me was that simple – particularly for Rule of Law type issues. I am no apologist for the 2006 coup but there are certainly some very odd aspects to the situation that do not sit easily with the abovementioned ’simple’ analysis. There is even a ‘back to front’ quality to much of it. The best I can do is pose for you the questions that started worrying me:

If Commodore Bainimarama was the counter-coup hero who removed George Speight in 2000, installed Quarase as interim Prime Minister, and then went back to his barracks rather like a latter day Garibaldi, what caused him to re-emerge and, for that matter so different from the previous coups, at glacial speed?

Why does the Labour party representing over 40% of the population and supported by most of the Fijian Indians, the people most obviously and adversely disenfranchised in the previous coups of 1987 and 2000, give some support to the interim government and even for a period participated in its cabinet?

I have to say that every Fijian Indian taxi driver I have had in the last couple of months has been 100% supportive of the coup, and saying how the NZ Government does not understand the situation.

Fowler goes on:

Contrary to what was suggested concerning a pervasive military presence in the New Zealand newspapers recently, in the whole of the week I was in Suva I never caught sight of one soldier and further the interim government during that week lost a very public challenge to the legitimacy of some of its actions and did not reach for extra-legal remedy.

Indeed, the Fijian Government has lost a considerable number of cases.

Who could blame the Fiji Law Society for cutting the interim government some slack in the light of the latter’s avowed intent to achieve a fairer system that is not racially slanted in lieu of holding an election now which would just have the effect of perpetuating the old one? At what point does the Fiji Law Society cease to do so – because sooner or later the Commodore has to demonstrate meaningful progress? And where would that leave the participation of the Fiji Law Society up to that point?

I held my peace and boarded the plane thankful that no law society in New Zealand has ever had to face the issues the Fiji Law Society is facing.

I am one that supports Fiji not having a race based constitution, that marginalises one particular race. But that doesn’t mean the ends justify the means, and the Commodore should have stood for election on the grounds of changing it, not done a coup.

However the coup is now a reality, and the end game is going back to democracy. And as I said, I have no problems with holding a on a new constitution first, and then elections.

But the problem is the Commodore is unable or unwilling to give any sort of timetable, to which he will be accountable. The longer it goes on, the more you suspect he will never give up power.

The challlenge for the Commodore is to turn rhetoric into reality and actually take steps towards elections. If he does so, then he will no doubt find sanctions start to get lifted. But if he doesn’t produce a timetable, then people will assume it is all about retaining power, not about changing the constitution.

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