Fiji political parties support draft constitution | Pacific Beat

Fiji political parties support draft constitution

Fiji political parties support draft constitution

Updated 1 January 2013, 16:47 AEDT

Three of Fiji's main political parties have banded together to support the draft constitution prepared by the Constitution Commission.

The SDL, Labour and United People's Parties have issued a statement accepting the document, printed copies of which were confiscated by Police recently.

Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry, speaking on behalf of the three parties, says they are very concerned that the draft constitution could still be drastically altered by the constituent assembly, but as it is it is a document that provides a reasonable future for Fiji.

Presenter: Bruce Hill

Speaker: Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry

CHAUDHRY: It's a question of what sort of Fiji we want. We might have political differences but at the end of the day we'd like to see a free Fiji, a democratic Fiji, a Fiji where human rights are respected, where there is rule of law and where people are free, because we don't want to be a military dictatorship.

HILL: Well you've actually come out, all three of these main political parties, and said that you support this draft constitution that the Constitution Commission has actually produced. It's kind of unusual for three quite different political parties to agree on something like this isn't it?

CHAUDHRY: Well it may be but we've been having this problem with coups for the last 25 years and in this period of time we have changed the constitution three times, this will be our fourth constitution. Having had a look at the contents of this constitution, while everybody may not have got what they wanted or what they would have liked, on balance I think it's a document which we can work with, which can be improved if need be once we have parliament in place. But I think it's a very comprehensive document and on all aspects of governance, including human rights, bill of rights and the rule of law, economic management, accountability, transparency, I think it's a very well thought out document and if it is given full effect, I'm sure Fiji will rid itself of a lot of problems that we've been facing in the last 25 years or so.

HILL: Well there's a big question mark over that if it's given full effect, because the next step officially is that this document, which you three political parties now say you support, goes to the Constituent Assembly all those members are hand-picked by the coup installed military government. Do you have confidence that this document will get through that without being severely changed?

CHAUDHRY: Well we hope it does but there is scepticism about it. The military is of course making its own rumblings. In the last few days it seems to want its way, and it made a submission to the Constitutional Commission, which of course was done in Canberra we believe and nobody knows what was in it. But certain aspects of it has come out in the Fiji Sun in the last two days or so which are of course different from what the draft document stipulates. So the military insists that they will not let anything that they see as of not to be in the draft constitution through the Constituent Assembly. So there is pressure from the military and whether the deliberation from the Constituent Assembly will be free, fair and democratic, I doubt that very much.

HILL: So if as a result of this process at the end of the whole Constituent Assembly process what eventually transpires is a document that's nothing like this one that you say you support, would the three political parties perhaps consider still continuing with the process, or would you look at it again and think well perhaps this is something that we can't support and we don't want to be part of this process at all to give it legitimacy?

CHAUDHRY: Well I think the document that we would like to see must be a document which is fair, which respects the rule of law, human rights and makes elected governments accountable to the people, which are all covered in the draft document. I don't think that the Constituent Assembly has people who can improve on this, I don't think so, I think the best thing for them to do is to accept the document. After all the commission that did the document was appointed by the regime itself, no one else had a say in the appointment of this commission. So this is a document prepared by their own chosen people, and I think they should have the courage, the gumption to accept it.

HILL: The interim government would no doubt say who cares what these people think; the Labor Party, the SDL, the UPP, these are all yesterday's men, they're the people that brought Fiji into the situation where we had to stage a coup, things were so bad, you're yesterday's men, no one really worries what people like you think anymore, you're irrelevant?

CHAUDHRY: Of course not, I think the … was the election itself, let's have free and fair elections and see what the people think. I think they're fed up of the way the country has been run in the last six years, we have an economy in recession, poverty levels have gone up, people can't afford basic things and the extent of medical care is atrocious, our … is all in a shambles. So people are not happy and because of the oppression that there is in the country they're unable to speak out and because of a media, which is not doing its job, which is not articulating what the people think, which is not coming out with … because they have been subjugated. People may think differently, but the ground reality is quite different.

HILL: Speaking of that, has the Fiji media covered the incident in which Professor Yash Ghai says that galley proofs of the constitution were burned in front of him while the police loaded all the printed copies and took them away?

CHAUDHRY: They did not run Professor Ghai's interview, they ran military regime of defending their actions of seizing the documents and burning the documents.

HILL: I noticed that in your joint statement you actually make a personal statement directly to Professor Ghai?

CHAUDHRY: Yes I think we need to apologise to him and we must thank him for a well done job under very difficult circumstances. He was under a lot of pressure, but he stood his ground, and I think this is what these people don't like here, because they wanted the document to take a certain turn which he rejected and he stood firm on the universal principles and the basis for the whole document has to be democratic. It must have respect for human rights, it must be transparent, it must provide for transparency and accountability, and these are things which don't go down well with the regime.

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