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'Poor Will Pay The Price,' Says Chaudhry

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SUVA: Poor and the disadvantaged people will pay the price for the "illegal, unconstitutional and unlawful" decision of Fiji authorities, says "dismissed" elected Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry.

The Fiji Labour Party leader, who became prime minister after his party swept to a landslide victory in the May 1999 general election, yesterday accused President Ratu Josefa Iloilo and his advisers of not having any intention of acting within the bounds of the constitution or the rule of law.

Caretaker Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, who has never been elected to Parliament, reappointed his entire 28-member cabinet - the largest since independence in 1970 - and revealed that he intended to contest the planned election in four months.

In an editorial today, the Fiji Times claimed Qarase had misled the public by waiting until after he was reappointed prime minister before announcing his political intentions.

"It only remains to be seen what penalty the voters will exact," the newspaper said.

"And by reappointing his interim team, he hands most of them (those who also intend to seek election) a massive and hugely unfair electoral advantage."

Reappointment of the interim team - an administration ruled illegal by the Court of Appeal earlier this month - was wrong for two reasons, the Fiji Times said.

"It is too big for the job it is asked to do. And it contains a large number of active and aspiring politicians who cannot be expected to act impartially."

The newspaper said Qarase should have appointed only a handful of caretaker ministers "backed by an able and apolitical corps of permanent secretaries".

The Daily Post said today that Qarase had also admitted that some decrees and policies of the interim administration were not legally sound.

Qarase said decrees regarded as necessary for day to day running of the country - such as the Emergency and Budget Decrees - could be regarded as unlawful.

The Fiji Sun quoted Chaudhry as saying that Iloilo's appointment as President and Ratu Jope Seniloli as Vice-President were unconstitutional because the Great Council of Chiefs had not consulted him as the constitutionally elected prime minister.

Ratu Tevita Momoedonu's appointment as prime minister for a day was unlawful and "made a mockery of the constitution".

Chaudhry said the reappointment of Qarase as caretaker prime minister contravened Section 98 of the Constitution as he was not a member of the elected House of Representatives.

Chaudhry added that the dissolution of Parliament on the advice of Ratu Tevita was "null and void".

"Fiji had the option of dealing with the political crisis within the law. But those in authority chose to take the unlawful path," Chaudhry said.

"Thy chose not to listen to the good counsel of a majority of our people, our courts and the international community.

"Sadly, the innocent people - the poor and disadvantaged of all races in the community - will have to pay the price for the decision of those in authority not to act responsibly."

In Australia, the Australian Council of Trade Unions president Sharan Burrow has urged the international community to maintain and intensify its pressure on the Fijian caretaker administration to find a "swift and constitutionally valid solution" to the country's worsening political and economic crisis.

According to the ACTU website, Ms Burrow condemned as illegal, unconstitutional and unlawful the decision of acting Fijian President Ratu Josefa Iloilo to dismiss the democratically elected Chaudhry and re-appoint the caretaker Qarase regime.

"Those who are fighting for democracy in Fiji need to know they have the on-going support of the international community.

"Now is not the time for the Australian Government, the Commonwealth or the European Union to relax diplomatic and economic pressure on the Fijian administration to return the country to democracy. Now is the time for that pressure to be intensified," said Ms Burrow.

"The Fijian administration made a promise to the people of Fiji and the international community that it would respect the recent decision of the Fiji Court of Appeal upholding the validity of the 1997 Fijian Constitution.

"That promise has been broken," said Ms Burrow.

By ignoring the Court of Appeal ruling President Ratu Josefa was putting at risk the already fragile economic situation in Fiji, Ms Burrow said.

"Since George Speight hijacked the democratically elected Government at gun-point, hundreds of Fijians have become refugees in their own country. Farmers have been evicted from their land, 8,000 building workers have lost their jobs and 5,000 tourist industry workers are unemployed or working reduced hours. The Fijian administration owes it to these people to find a constitutional solution to this crisis and get the Fijian economy back to work."

Australian unions will meet early next week to discuss the situation in Fiji.

"Australian unions led the way with bans during the hostage crisis and we are willing to reconsider the imposition of bans if there are no concrete moves toward a constitutional solution to the Fijian crisis," said Ms Burrow.

+++niuswire


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