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Fiji's 'democratically elected government'
Press Statement, 30 May 2000.
Western media seems to be misinformed about the background to the events unfolding in Fiji. It is more than a clash between a democratically elected government, it is about a perceived threat to indigenous rights.
Speight's leadership in this coup is disastrous. He has held hostages for several days, threatened to kill the daughter of Sir Kamisese Mara and not taken heed of the Council of Chiefs. Genuine indigenous concerns will be lost by Speight's inability to control his ego.
Following the former two coups led by Sitiveni Rabuka, Fiji was abandoned by the Commonwealth. Huge international pressure was exerted for Fiji to adopt a western style constitution. A working party of three were put forward to draft a constitution. Sir Paul Reeves was invited to give an indigenous perspective to the working group which consisted of a New Zealand constitutional lawyer and an Indo-Fijian, who was mutually agreed by the Opposition and the Rabuka government.
At the time the constitution was released in Fiji in 1997, a Maori delegation was in Fiji attending a South Pacific conference about the United Nations Draft Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples. The Maori delegation issued a press statement condemning the new Fijian constitution for eroding indigenous rights. The constitution compromised the native people under the western term 'equality'. Despite his personal disappointment with the constitution, General Rabuka was perceived by members of the Taukei Movement to have compromised his stance on indigenous Fijian rights, by his Government's acceptance of the Constitution.
The 1999 May elections were held under the new 1997 constitution. Either 8 or 11 of the 14 provinces did NOT accept the '97 constitution, nevertheless, it was adopted. All of that constitution has still not been translated into Fijian, preferential voting was brought in. Educational awareness campaigns explained HOW the voting system worked, but did not give Fijians any clue as to the impacts of casting their preferences one way or another. Rabuka lost the 1999 elections but was invited to sit on the Great Councils of Chiefs. Indo Fijians voted en bloc for the Chaudry government which promised many reforms. Fijians in coalition with Fiji Labour thought that Tupeni Baba or Adi Kuini Speed would be named Prime Minister.
This 'democratically elected government' has made a number of moves which could easily be perceived as 'threatening' to indigenous landowners - eg most recently, the govt was negotiating to sell Fiji's vast mahogany reserves estimated at $200-400 million dollar WITHOUT consultation with the landowners. Chaudry's 'reassurance' was, "I'm sure that when they hear what we have in mind,they will agree!"
Hence the calls about who can be Prime Minister and the need for changes to the constitution.
So much of today's disturbance derives from the western style constitution that does not entrench indigenous rights. It is my contention that a more proactive Maori would have been suitable for the original working party on the Fiji consitution. Some prominent Maori promoted by the New Zealand Government are accustomed to seeing indigenous rights from a deficit view, and thus make judgements based on our own isolated minority experience. Maori lawyer Moana Jackson would have been more appropriate in the drafting committee.
To their credit, the Fijians have the Great Council of Chiefs, which was manouvered by English colonists who were appalled by the Land Wars in Aotearoa.
Link to main page on Fiji.