Fiji slammed for scrapping draft constitution

Fiji slammed for scrapping draft constitution

Fiji slammed for scrapping draft constitution

Updated 12 January 2013, 8:36 AEDT

New Zealand has condemned Fiji's trashing of its new draft constitution as a backward step, while local critics say the military is determined to retain power.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully says the Fiji Government's trashing of its new draft constitution is a major step backwards and a disappointing development.

On Thursday the government labelled the draft constitution, drawn up by a committee headed by Professor Yash Ghai, as an appeasement to racist divisions in Fiji.

Military ruler Commodore Frank Bainimarama said the draft would be scrapped and his legal officers would write a new constitution to be presented to a constituent assembly he would appoint next month.

And next week he would issue a new decree on who could register political parties.

Mr McCully says the trashing of the draft will bring into question whether promised elections next year would be free and fair.

He says it was always going to be a problem to get the military out of politics and back into their barracks.


Some political watchers in Fiji believe the government has deceived the international community.

Professor Brij Lal told Pacific Beat Australia and New Zealand have been taken for a ride by the regime and should reconsider their involvement in the county's constitutional process.

"This is a wake-up call for Australia and New Zealand" he said.

"Their proposed reengagement with Fiji, they supported the whole review and draft constitution process to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, they welcomed the draft constitution and now this has happened."

Professor Lal says the new draft document will carry the stamp of the military government, and will then be passed by a committee chosen by the Prime Minister.

"The constituent assembly will be hand-picked by the Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama. There is no independence, there is no transparency and basically the military will have its way." he said.

"The [original] draft constitution was widely welcomed by the people of Fiji, by all the major political parties and now the military and the regime simply wants to have a document that is its handiwork and enshrines its interests and concerns and aspirations."

Misplaced criticism

Fiji's government is standing by its decision, citing shortcomings Professor Yash Ghai's draft and saying much of the criticism is unwarranted.

On Thursday, President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau criticised the Ghai draft for being "very bureaucratic" and said the institutions it would create would require a "very bureaucratic structure."

"It [the draft] has unfortunately, perhaps, succumbed to the whims of the few who have had an interest in perpetuating divisions within our society," Mr Nailatikau said.

However, Mr Nailatikau highlighted several positives of the Ghai draft, including provisions on social and economic rights, good governance and accountability and independence of the judiciary.

The government now says it will move forward with another draft.

Permanent Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Pio Tidoduadua, told Radio Australia they have until February to put together the constituent assembly and the country will have a new constitution by the end of April.