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The Truth Behind Speight's Racial Myths

The Truth Behind Speight's Racial Myths

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SUVA: Rebel leader George Speight staged his attempted coup for Fijian paramountcy over Indo-Fijian and other races in the Pacific country. But the real struggle has been a fight for power among the Fijian leadership.

His rhetoric about the threat to indigenous rights posed by the 1997 multiracial constitution is based on myths.

Also, his representation of the elected Mahendra Chaudhry government as an Indian-dominated government is a myth - just as it was in 1987.

Fijian paramountcy already existed under the constitution - but the document was also fair to other races.

Here are some of the facts behind the racial myths:

1. In the prorogued Parliament, Fijians had 51 per cent representation in the House of Representatives (elected lower house) and 72 per cent in the Senate (appointed upper house). Overall, Fijians had 57 per cent representation in Parliament during a current session of both Houses.

2. In the House of Representatives there were 22 Fijians, 17 Indo-Fijians and two from other other races making up 41 members who are out of Parliament. The four Fijian women hostages freed today took the number to 45 members outside Parliament.

3. Among the hostages there are 10 Fijians, 14 Indians and two others - a total of 26 (an additional captive is not an MP).

4. In the Senate, there were 23 Fijians (72 per cent), eight Indians (25 per cent) and one from other races took the total to 32.

5. When both Houses are combined there are 59 Fijians (57 per cent), 39 Indians (38 per cent) and five others (five per cent) bringing the total to 103 members.

6. In the last general election (May 1999), Fijians still had more than 50 per cent control of both Houses on the actual racial breakdown.

7. Both deputy prime ministers were indigenous Fijians and crucial portfolios such as Fijian Affairs, Lands, Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Agriculture and Health were held by Fijian members.

8. The speaker of the House of Representatives, the president and the vice-president of the Senate are indigenous Fijians.

9. In spite of the apparent abrogation of the 1997 constitution by the military regime, when a judge was recently sworn in at Lautoka the oath was taken under that constitution with Vice-President Ratu Josefa Iloilo officiating. This has been taken by many lawyers as evidence that the constitution is still valid.

10. Forty six of the 103 representatives already given a popular mandate during last year's election are now outside Parliament. Why have they not been asked to form an interim government? If the majority of MPs decided to convene Parliament, they could do so by doing the following, according to political sources:

* All MPs agree in principle that whatever has happened since the armed seizure of the hostages on May 19 is illegal and has no effect.

* Under section 68(3) of the 1997 constitution, if Parliament is not in session, the President receives a request in writing from not less than 18 MPs requesting that Parliament is summoned to meet without delay to consider a matter of public interest.

* In the absence of the President, the Vice-President acts as President who must approve the urgent parliamentary session after the application under section 68(3).

* The speaker's support is needed to chair the session.

* A joint approach by political parties to be made to the head of the military regime, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, to provide security for the parliamentary session.

* The venue for the parliamentary session could be held at a venue at Lautoka in the west.


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