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Judgement Hailed - Uncertainty Follows

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* See PN item 3235

By JOYCELYN NARAYAN Pacific Journalism Online (USP)

SUVA (Pasifik Nius): Constitutional lawyers, political scientists and analysts today hailed the Fiji Court of Appeal's judgement upholding the 1997 constitution as the country's supreme law, but the country was plunged into uncertainly about the future.

Academic staff and a constitutional lawyer interviewed by Pacific Journalism Online agreed that the court had reached the "right decision" in declaring that the constitution was intact.

The judgement upheld the judgement of Justice Anthony Gates last November 15 against an appeal by the interim regime.

Politics lecturers Dr Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka and Dr Sandra Tarte at the University of the South Pacific both considered the judgement a good one, but were cautious about how Fiji would respond.

Many shops in downtown Suva were closed and there was an air of apprehension.

A constitutional lawyer with a major Suva law firm, Richard Naidu, said: "The decision is a good omen for a sensible resolution to be reached for this crisis."

According to Naidu, the short-term consequences would be important for Fiji because it would involve people working together to determine the future of the country.

"The Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) will have to get together and appoint a new President by the end of the term stipulated by the Appeal Court," said Naidu.

When asked about who he thought be Presidentafter March 15, Naidu declined to comment.

"I would not like to speculate on something as important as that. It is up to the GCC to appoint whoever it chooses and sees fit for the position," he said.

The court ruled that:

* The 1997 constitution remained the supreme law of Fiji and had not been abrogated.

* Parliament had not been dissolved - it was prorogued on 27 May 2000 for six months.

* The office of the President became vacant when Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara took effect on December 15. Vice President Ratu Josefa Iloilo may perform the functions of the President until March 15.

"We conclude that the interim civilian government has not proved it has the acquiscence general of the people of Fiji," the judgement said.

"Accordingly, it cannot be recognised as the legal government."

The judgement added that the elected government was "said to be ready to take over and is awaiting the outcome of this appeal.


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