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Opinion: What Should Happen If Speight Gives Up?

Commentary: WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN IF SPEIGHT GIVES UP?

By Jone Dakuvula
A personal view:


Jone Dakuvula is the former organising secretary of the Fiji Labour Party, a former media adviser to ex-Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, a former adviser to Opposition Leader Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, and is currently with the Citizens' Constitutional Forum (CCF) group.

"Those who support Speight's coup are willing to have Fiji become an international pariah state and an economic basket case just so they can become members of an interim government. The members of these Fijian parties have no respect for the 1997 Constitution and the government that was democratically elected under it. They preferred its destruction through illegal means. Why then should they remain parliamentarians?"

SUVA: In his television press statement on Monday evening May 22, SVT member of Parliament Jim Ah Koy, after condemning the Chaudhry-led government's handling of issues affecting indigenous Fijian interests, called for dissolution of Parliament, the formation of an interim government by the President and another commission to review the constitution.

He said the constitution was not supported by the indigenous Fijians because in 1997, many of the provincial councils had opposed the Reeves report. This was Ah Koy's original position before his tune to support a "Constitutionally correct solution" in his advertisements on Wednesday May 24, 2000.

Ah Koy's television statement raised a number of questions. The first one is whether the President, in a situation of civil emergency, can dissolve Parliament and form an interim government.

This will not be possible because the President assumed executive powers under the 1998 constitution.

Sections 107 and 108 of the Constitution state the conditions under which the President may appoint a new Prime Minister to form a Government from the House of Representatives if the current Prime Minister has lost the confidence of the majority of the members of the House.

And he can only dissolve Parliament if he accepts the advice of the Prime Minister to dissolve the House. The President cannot remove the Prime Minister without reference to the House of representatives to ascertain who can command a majority.

There is no provision in the Constitution that gives the President the power to decide on his own to form an interim government or to power to decide on his own to form an interim government or to dissolve Parliament.

Even though George Speight¹s seizure and imprisonment of most of its members have interrupted the current parliamentary session, the constitution is still in place and therefore the Parliament also still remains.

In terms of the Constitution, the President has no authority to listen to anybody else, including the Council of Chiefs, about the status of Parliament or the form of government that is to come into being once George Speight releases the hostages and surrenders his armed men to the police.

In other words, when the "civil coup" is over, the President has no option but to consult Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry about his intention with respect to his leadership of the present government.

If the Fiji Labour Party, which has a clear majority of 37 parliamentary members, reaffirm their confidence in the continued leadership of Chaudhry, then the President has no choice but to accept that.

On the other hand Chaudhry may decide to step down, in which case he can advise the President if he thinks there is another person who can be appointed because that other person can command the majority of the members of the House of Representatives.

There is also no provision in the Constitution for the President to pardon the coup makers and its supporters as Speight's spokesman, Jo Nata, has been asking. People can only be pardoned under the prerogative of mercy, after they have been tried and convicted. And they should have a good case for presidential pardon.

Do Speight's armed group have a case to be forgiven?

Jim Ah Koy's suggestion for appointment of an interim government is obviously the "moderate" position of those who have been opposing the 1998 Constitution and want it changed. What changes they want are another question.

They seem to sympathise with George Speight's demand for the complete removal of the Labour-led coalition government and the replacement of the 1998 Constitution by the 1990 Constitution.

Ah Koy represents the position of most MPs in the S.V.T, the Nationalist party, V.L.V. and F.L.P. factions that do not support the government, including independent Simione Kaitani and the S.V.T. office drafter, Dr. Ahmed Ali.

With the exception of Jim Ah Koy (who is not interested in becoming a member of Parliament at this time), Ofa Duncan and Ratu Kinijoji Maivalili, all the other MPs (and some senators) who oppose the Government would not mind being appointed into an "interim government" formed in a political situation where the present Constitution is completely abrogated.

Unfortunately for them, that situation has not arisen because of the President's assumption of executive authority and because the Fiji military forces, the police, the civil service and judiciary's had sworn allegiance to the President and the 1998 Constitution. That fact and probably legal advice may have compelled Jim Ah Koy to backtrack from the original preferred result.

The question then is, will his other parliamentary colleagues follow suit? People like Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, David Pickering, Konisi Yabaki, Ratu Esira Rabuno, Ratu Tua'kitau and others who have not to date condemned the coup? Then there are the others, like Rakuita Vakalalabure, Simione Kaitani, Viliame Volavola, Peceli Rinakama, Berenado Vunibobo etc who we reported to have accepted Speight's invitation to join his "Cabinet".

The question they have to answer is whether there is any moral or legal justification at all for them now to remain as Members of Parliament. Having supported an illegal attack on Parliament and the criminal seizure of most of its members, I do not think they have any moral right to remain in Parliament as representatives of the people who elected them.

I believe they should do the honourable thing and resign. For how can they remain "Honourable Members" and face the people on the opposite side of the House whose rights they have shown such utter contempt for? How can they legitimately talk about constitutional change when they were willing to endorse an illegal abrogation of the constitution that some of them had voted for in 1997?

Having actively promoted a campaign of racist accusations against the present government and demolished Mahendhra Chaudhry as a threat to indigenous Fijians, these Members of Parliament were directly or indirectly responsible for the civil coup of May 19.

I write here with some inside knowledge because I was once one of Ratu Inoke Kubuabola's close advisers on the Opposition sides between June and September 1999. I was aware then that a shadowy Committee was formed in June last year to initiate a campaign of destabilisation aimed at toppling the Government in the shortest time possible. Thereafter, we kept hearing rumours of postponement of dates.

It all began when Ratu Inoke said to the SVT Management Board Meeting on May 27th 1999 (in which I was present) that they must be prepared to fight and to shed blood if need be to return political power to the indigenous Fijians.

In June 1999, Apisai Tora joined this committee and later, some members of the rebel F.A.P faction. I learnt in June last year that there was an understanding with the late Sakiusa Butadroka, that the members of the Fijian Nationalist Party would do the dirty work while the S.V.T supports from behind and fronts the public campaigns in Parliament and outside.

Most of the members of the destabilisation committee I think were not members of Parliament but their activities last year were undertaken with the knowledge of Ratu Inoke Kubuabola.

At the time I was in the Opposition Office, he was receiving regular reports of these campaign activities. I do not know whether Ratu Inoke and his S.V.T colleagues knew of George Speight's illegal Cabinet and their other actions in which they have shown their public support of the coup.

That is why I believe MPs who supported the coup should leave Parliament.

Having allowed Speight to announce the abolishment of the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (Great Council of Chiefs), where do the SVT supporters of Speight's coup now rest their case as the party that was formed by the BLV?

The BLV has endorsed the Constitution and they have now upheld it again in supporting the President's assumption of executive authority. Those who support Speight's coup are willing to have Fiji become an international pariah state and an economic basket case just so they can become members of an interim government.

The members of these Fijian parties have no respect for the 1997 Constitution and the Government that was democratically elected under it. They preferred its destruction through illegal means. Why then should they remain Parliamentarians?

ends

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