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FIJI: Baba says Labour needs to make changes

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SUVA: Fiji's former deputy prime minister in the ousted elected government, Dr Tupeni Baba, has welcomed the judgement by Justice Anthony Gates but believes the Fiji Labour Party will need to consider amendments to the 1997 Constitution, the Fiji Times reports.

Reacting to Judge Gates' decision yesterday, Dr Baba said Labour would need to take on board the need for change.

This was in the light of the national turmoil triggered by the George Speight coup against the multiracial 1997 Constitution.

Dr Baba said Justice Gates' decision was one the Labour Party had expected in light of earlier judgments by Justice Joni Madraiwiwi and Nazhat Shameem.

They ruled that since there was no constitution in place, the 1997 Constitution still stood.

But the military installed interim administration vowed that it would not step down unless President Ratu Josefa Iloilo sacked it.

A statement from the Prime Minister's Office said the regime maintained that it would continue as the national government and legislative authority.

Attorney-General Alipate Qetaki said the administration would seek a stay order against the judgement, describing it as "declaratory only" and could not be enforced by law.

An appeal is due to be heard tomorrow on an earlier ruling by Judge Gates against moving the constitutional and human rights case brought by a refugee to Suva.

Trade unions, civil society groups and most political parties hailed the Gates judgement, but the opposition party in the ousted elected government, SVT, which now dominates the unelected interim administration, branded it as a "direct insult to the chiefs and the indigenous people".

The Fiji Times said in an editorial today the implications of the judgement were of "shattering importance".

"The judgement states: 'There is no constitutional foundation of legality for the interim government or for the Constitutional Review Committee.'

"In other words, the interim administration and the constitutional review committee are illegal."

The judge praised the army for restoring order but invited it to "ensore a smooth and amicable handover of government to that which will soon be chosen by the incoming Prime Minister, following my orders".

These orders include directions that the former president Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara is still in office and he should recall Parliament (also still in office) and appoint a prime minister who, in the president's opinion, can form a government that has the confidence of the House of Representatives.

A cartoon in the Fiji Times highlighted the confusion by introducing the two "presidents" of Fiji, Ratu Mara and Ratu Josefa.

The editorial noted the appeal against the judgement.

"But how can the attorney-general of the interim administration appear in the Court of Appeal as representative of a government that has no legal foundation?," asked the Fiji Times.

"The legal course would be to now recall Parliament and invite it to submit a government of national unity to the President.

"This would, at a stroke, restore the nation to democracy and the rule of law."

Describing the judgement as a "landmark decision", the Fiji Sun said it would "inch out mixed reactions".

"Some will tread with trepidation, while some will lap up the decision. A lot of questions will be floated though," the newspaper said.

"The ruling means that the existence of the interim administration now hangs in the balance with the Constitutional review Committee having no legality. It means Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara is still President ... and that the government of the day, leading up to the events of May 19, remains intact.

"To accept the ruling of Justice Gates is to open up doors that are currently shut," ther Fiji Sun added.

"The possibility of sanctions that were slapped on Fiji in the wake of the events of May being lifted would look a whole lot brighter.'


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