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Baba says new interim govt 'unconstitutional'

FIJI: Baba says new interim government 'unconstitutional'


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SUVA: One of two indigenous deputy prime ministers in the ousted elected Fiji people's coalition government has condemned the swearing in of the new interim administration as an action outside the 1997 democratic constitution.

Dr Tupeni Baba, one of the Chaudhry cabinet members held hostage for 56 days and who previously held the foreign affairs portfolio, said interim President Ratu Josefa Iloilo's advisers had failed to consider alternative options - including a government of national unity as proposed by the coalition on July 20.

Only four of the 71 MPs elected under the 1997 multiracial constitution were included in an interim cabinet which has no popular mandate.

But interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase urged former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry's coalition to support his administration sworn in by the president yesterday.

He warned that any move to oppose his government would be dealt with according to law.

"For them to set up a self-proclaimed government would be a direct challenge to the executive authority of the president and the Great Council of Chiefs as the appointing authority," he said.

"If they persist with it, they will be dealt with according to law."

Dr Baba said in a statement quoted by the Fiji Sun that it was "most unfortunate" that the President's Office had failed to hold consultations with the elected government about the viable alternative political arrangement which would have been consistent with the 1997 constitution.

Under martial law on May 30, the military administration abrogated the 1997 constitution.

The former Chaudhry government caucus maintains that this act was illegal and subsequent action by the interim government is unconstitutional.

The former government is expected to file legal challenges.

"We are specially concerned that the interim administration which has been set up [yesterday] is outside the framework of the 1997 constitution," Dr Baba said.

"No account has been taken of the international realities facing our country, notably that the international community will not tolerate any political configuration that flies in the face of universally accepted standards of justice, democracy and equality."

He said the composition of the interim administration was discriminatory.

"It effectively disenfranchises the Indo-Fijian community who comprise around 44 per cent of the population. In effect it is an open invitation to the international community to impose further sanctions against Fiji," Dr Baba said.

He added that the new administration did not enjoy a mandate from the people.

Qarase said people calling for the reinstatement of the 1997 constitution and the Chaudhry government were unrealistic.

"It is not merely enough to focus attention on the constitutional democratic process," he said.

"We need to look deeper into the root causes of widespread Fijian disaffection, brought into the open by dissatisfaction with certain policies of the last government."

On the appointment of George Shu Raj, the only Indo-Fijian in the line-up, as an assistant minister, Qarase told the Fiji Times that he did his best to invite other members of the Indo-Fijian community.

"But fear for the safety of their families has been a real inhibiting factor," he said.

"However, it [Raj's appointment] is a first step and I will continue to consider this issue, as our country regains confidence."

Members of the deposed Chaudhry government majority sworn in yesterday were Ratu Tevita Momoedonu, of the Fiji Labour Party; Ratu Tu'akitau Cokanauto, of the Fijian Association Party; Mitieli Bulanauca, of the Christian Democratic Alliance; and Marieta Rigamoto, an independent Rotuman member.

Ratu Tevita briefly played a role as "prime minister" in May to enable then President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara to dismiss the captive administration in controversial circumstances.

Ratu Tu'akitau was a rebel backbench member of the government and he repeatedly tried to oust deputy prime minister Adi Kuini Speed as FAP leader.

The interim administration also includes a number of nationalists, including Taukei Movement activists Apisai Tora and Adi Finau Tabakaucoro, and 1987 coup conspirator Ratu Inoke Kubuabola.

Ratu Tevita, who retains the labour portfolio, told the Fiji Times rebel leader George Speight should be "behind bars for the rest of his life".

Speight and many of his supporters who held the country to ransom from May 19 have been in military custody since Thursday pending investigations into alleged treason.

Radio Fiji today reported that Speight and at least six of his ringleaders had been shipped to Nukulau island, about 15km off the Suva coast, before dawn today. Nukulau and neighbouring Makuluva island were gazetted as a temporary "prison zone".

"I think [Speight] deserves to be [in jail] for life for what he has caused this country. He is guilty of treason," Ratu Tevita said.

He added that he thought agitation in the country would "fizzle out" with Speight and his supporters behind bars.

Ratu Tevita denied that his decision to join the interim cabinet was a betrayal of the people's coalition.

"I believe the invitation was made on a personal basis and when it was relayed to me [on Wednesday night], I said, 'Okay, I think I should participate in this rehabilitation exercise'," he said.

Three more of Speight's ringleaders were arrested yesterday - Ratu Timoci Silatolu, former Fiji Intelligence Service leader Colonel Metuisela Mua and Ratu Epeli Kanaimawi.

A military spokesperson, Major Howard Politini, said security forces would arrest everybody who contributed to threats on the life of President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, adding that police had a list of suspects.

Fiji newspapers today welcomed the swearing in of the new administration.

"Thank God! Finally! A new interim government is now in place. Yesterday was probably one of the brightest days in a series of gloomy ones emanating from the events of May 19," the Fiji Sun said.

"This country has not bowed down to intimidation, and blackmail. If there is a time that this country needs support, then it is now. At a time when it is headed for economic and political ruin."

The Fiji Times called on the cabinet to serve only the national interest.

"On his part, Mr Qarase should remove immediately anyone who acts irresponsibly.

"As he himself stated two days ago, the interim administration does not enjoy the mandate of the people to govern. As such, there should be greater emphasis on openness, integrity, accountability and accessibility."

The interim cabinet: Laisenia Qarase - Prime Minister and Minister for National Reconciliation Ratu Epeli Nailatikau - Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Fijian Affairs Alipate Qetaki - Attorney General and Minister for Justice Ratu Jone Kubuabola - Minister for Finance and National Planning Ratu Talemo Ratakele - Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration Ro Teimumu Kepa - Minister for Women, Culture and Social Welfare Ratu Inoke Kubuabola - Minister for Information and Communication Ratu Tevita Momoedonu - Minister for Labour and Industrial Relations Tomasi Vuetilovoni - Minister for Commerce, Business Development and Investment Nelson Delailomaloma - Minister for Education Joketani Cokanasiga - Minister for Works and Energy Jone Koroitamana - Minister for Tourism and Transport Hector Hatch - Minister for Public Enterprises and Public Sector Reform Keni Dakuidreketi - Minister for Youth, Employment Opportunities and Sport Kaliopate Tavola - Minister for Foreign Affairs, External Trade and Sugar Pita Nacuva - Minister for Health Ratu Tu'akitau Cokanauto - Minister for Local Government, Housing and Environment Apisai Tora - Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries, Forests and ALTA, Ratu Inoke Takiveikata - Minister for Regional Development and Multi-Ethnic Affairs Mitieli Bulanauca - Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources Assistant ministers: Ratu Suliano Matanitobua - Assitant minister, Ministry of Fijian Affairs

Adi Finau Tabakaucoro - Assistant minister, Prime Minister's Office - to

assist with the preparation of a ten-year plan for Fijian and Rotuman development Adi Senimili Dyer - Assistant Minister, Ministry of Women, Culture and Social Welfare - to assist with Women and Social Welfare Bernadette Rounds-Ganilau - Assistant Minister, Ministry of Women, Culture and Social Welfare - to assist with Women and Social Welfare Marieta Rigamoto - Assistant Minister, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests - to assist with Agriculture and Fisheries. she is also to assist the Prime Minister in the latter's responsibility for Rotuma Ratu Semi Seruvakula - Assistant Minister, Ministry of Education Ratu Kolinio Rokotuinaceva - Assistant Minister, Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration - to look after Police George Shiu Raj - Assistant Minister, Ministry of Regional Development and Multi-Ethnic Affairs - to assist with regular liaison with Rural District and services to rural settlement and communities.

+++niuswire

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