Postdate: 26/ 05/ 2003
CITIZENS’ CONSTITUTIONAL FORUM OUR CONSTITUTION & MULTI PARTY GOVERNMENT FOR A STABLE, HARMONIOUS AND VIBRANT FIJI
Multiparty Government – what is it all about?
- The 1997 Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It is important that we all follow the rule of law. A constitutional government is one which includes the two main political parties.
- Our Constitution requires the Prime Minister under Section 99 to establish a multiparty government. In establishing a multiparty Cabinet, the Prime Minister must invite all parties whose membership in the House of Representatives comprises at least 10 percent of the total membership of the House.
- This provision in our Constitution ensures that all communities participate in making laws and public policies. Why do we need a constitutional multiparty Government?
- A multiparty government is the best possible way of ensuring that we have broadly based, rather than ethnically based governments.
- Even more so, majority of Fiji citizens (68 percent according to a Tebutt Opinion Poll in February 2003) believe the Fiji Labour Party should be included in the Government.
- The majority of our people believe that a multiparty government is workable.
- Through a multiparty government, our political leaders can promote national reconciliation.
- The Compact Chapter of the Constitution (Article 6(h)) expects our leaders in the formation of a government and in the conduct of affairs of the nation to take full account of the interests of all communities.
- The Compact Chapter also expects our leaders to negotiate in good faith where the different interests of our communities are seen to be in conflict and, to endeavor to reach agreement.
- The Compact says that in these negotiations, the paramountcy of the Fijian interests as a protective principle will continue to apply so as to ensure that the interests of the Fijian community are not subordinated to the interests of other communities.
- Because the Compact says there should be negotiations to achieve consensus solutions to our problems, a multiparty government should encourage better understanding of each community’s views of its interests and needs.
- In this manner, a constitutional multi-party cabinet will encourage racial and religious tolerance, and promote national unity.
- At this time it is vital to have a consensus building multiparty government because the country is faced with grave problems.
- Tough decisions have to be made to secure the ailing Sugar industry. Thousands of displaced farmers have to be resettled. Our garments industry’s future is in doubt. Investments remain low. Unemployment, poverty and violent crime are rising.
- We need political unity and shared leadership through a multiparty government to overcome these divisive problems and take us forward. The Vision of the 1997 Constitution for the Fiji Islands will not be realized if there is no respect for the rule of law. Our economy and institutions will not develop. We will not have a country where communities respect each other’s rights and interests.
Will a multiparty government only create instability?
- Differences between political parties are not impossible to resolve. They do not have irreconcilable differences. The majority of ordinary citizens want our political leaders to work together and resolve their differences.
- The operation of a mandatory multiparty government is no different from that of any coalition government in a democracy. Fiji has had two coalition governments in our recent past although their terms were abruptly ended. There have also been many successful multiparty or coalition governments in other countries. New Zealand is one such example. Switzerland is an example of consensus multiethnic government. Fiji can learn how differences are managed and consensus reached from the experiences of such countries.
- The Korolevu Declaration provides guidelines for operating a multiparty government.
- By emphasizing cooperation, a multiparty government that has the full cooperation of our leaders is an essential tool for achieving good governance and sustainable economic development.
- By providing a framework for resolving policy differences between political parties, a multiparty government offers the prospects for a more stable form of government.
- Our leaders have to commit themselves to working cooperatively at the highest level of decision making. This will ensure that Fiji avoids further instability. The costs of not having a constitutional multiparty government
- Political stability of a country and constitutionality of its government is of great concern to foreign and domestic investors.
- The ongoing brain drain of professionals and experienced trades people will continue.
- The future of the sugar industry, new land lease arrangements, resettlement of displaced farmers, and racial intolerance are problems that can be effectively resolved by a multiparty government.
- Poverty exists in all communities and not only amongst indigenous Fijians. A multiparty government will ensure that the needs of the poor and disadvantaged in all our communities are dealt with fairly.
- Racial scapegoating and mistrust between our communities may worsen unless our leaders come together and take the lead in showing the nation that they work together. Multiparty government and the International Community Fiji is part of the global economy. It needs to trade with other countries in order to survive. Other countries want an economically vibrant and politically stable Fiji because Fiji is a market for their exports and a destination for their investments. That is why they have policies to encourage the rule of law and promote political stability. By failing to establish a constitutional multiparty government, Fiji’s progress continues to be held back.
- For example, The European Union has put on hold $42 millions dollars worth of development assistance to Fiji. The release of these funds is contingent on adherence to Supreme Court ruling on multiparty government.
- One of the pre-conditions of Fiji’s reentry into the Commonwealth of Nations was an undertaking that Fiji will strive towards the formation of a constitutional multiparty government. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) is waiting for the Supreme Court decision and the implementation of the multiparty provisions.
- Our international partners like New Zealand, the USA, the UK, and the European Union are awaiting the implementation of the Supreme Court decision.
- The UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed its deep concern that section 99 of the 1997 Constitution, which ensures power sharing between ethnic communities through the creation of a multiparty Cabinet, is not currently being implemented.
- All these create uncertainty about Fiji in the international community and all citizens are worse off because of uncertainties about our country. Power Sharing hasn’t worked elsewhere, why should it work in Fiji? Fiji is not South Africa or Northern Ireland where multiparty governments had encountered major problems. Our experience of conflict, our cultures and history are different.
The multiparty government concept is an innovative solution to the problems of communal politics in Fiji. This is an opportunity for Fiji to nurture consensus building between diverse communities through a multiparty system of government. Fiji can be a leader in the world by demonstrating that cooperation between communities through a multiparty cabinet can work to bring peace and sustainable development.
A Public Appeal We urge you or your organization to write to Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase (4th Floor, Government Buildings, Suva Fax 3306034) urging him to invite the Fiji Labour Party and other minority political parties for the formation of a genuine multiparty government in accordance with Section 99 of our Constitution after the results of the Government appeal to the Supreme Court is known towards the end of June. ]
We ask that you call on leaders of all political parties to commit themselves to realizing aspirations and goals of our Constitution.
For more information, please contact:
Citizens’ Constitutional Forum 7a
P.O. Box 12584
Phone: (679) 330 8379
Fax: (679) 330 8380
You may write to: Executive Director, CCF requesting a free copy of “Your Constitution Your Rights”. This document presents our constitution in a simplified manner with illustrations. It is available in English, Fijian and Hindi.