The new Fiji constitution

Fiji has released what is basically the final constitution for next year’s elections, and thereafter. It is embedded below.

The constitution is a vast improvement over the former constitution which was racially divisive. It has many laudable aspects to it.

I blogged in March on the draft constitution and said:

  • Explicitly rules unconstitutional any future coups, or immunities for future illegal actions. A valiant attempt to stop the coup culture. But the wide role five to the military allows them to intervene in future and claim it is constitutional
  • Clearly defines Fiji as a secular state with of religion, and that religious beliefs are subservient the the constitution and laws.
  • All citizens are equal, regardless of racial background.
  • A comprehensive bill of rights but the of speech section has a long list of limitations which could in fact lead to fairly restricted speech.
  • A 50 MP proportional representation Parliament, with one list. Was previously proposed to be a 45 MP with four regional lists.
  • No hereditary upper house
  • A four year fixed term
  • A neutral President appointed by Parliament. President is Commander-in-Chief, not the PM as originally proposed. President may not be a member of a political party
  • An independent Judiciary
  • The PM appoints the Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.
  • The role of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces is “to ensure at all times the security, defence and well-being of Fiji and all its residents”. I think that is far too wide a role, and can be used to justify the military doing almost anything they want, so long as they believe it is necessary to the “well-being” of Fiji. It is not their job to decide. Their job should be to protect Fiji from external threats.
  • Grants immunity to all those involved in past coups etc, and this section can never be amended or repealed.
  • Constitution can only be amended by a bill in that is then ratified by a three quarters majority in a referendum, and unclear if it needs three quarters of those voting or three quarters of all registered voters

The major problem with the constitution is the process, not the substance. It has been decided upon by the Commodore, and will be proclaimed by him without any public vote. Furthermore it is very very difficult to change it in future, and the clauses dealing with immunity are stated to be beyond amendment or repeal. So you have a document proclaimed by one man, that will be supreme law, and parts of it can never ever be changed even if 99% of Fijians want it.

But the reality of Fiji is they have imperfect choices. The constitution is generally very good, and greatly superior to what they have had in the past. It allows for elections next year, and hopefully a path back to democracy.

The true test for Fiji will come if there is a time the Commodore contests an election, and does not win. I suspect he will win next year, but then he will have an opposition who can criticise him more vigorously, a that provides the opposition with a voice, and hopefully a more free media. That means that his current advantages may not last forever.

Not that I have a view on whether or not he should remain PM. That should be a judgement of the people of Fiji based on how good a job he does as PM in growing the economy, providing good education and health, uniting Fiji and the like.

2013 Fiji Constitution by Cam Slater

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