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By CROSBIE WALSH
(Professor Walsh pioneered development studies at universities in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. He established the Centre for Development Studies at the University of the South Pacific in Suva and has long connections with Fiji. His blog on Fiji can be found at http://crosbiew.blogspot.com/)
Watching the slow metamorphosis of former PM Laisenia Qarase from pupa to butterfly may well soon be a spectator sport.
After lying dormant for a year or two, he’s slowly emerged to express some concerns about the legality and composition of the Constitution Commission, but for the most part he has left former colleagues Chaudhry and then Beddoes to speak on his behalf.
All of them, unsurprisingly, say there is no need for a new constitution.
But now, following an SDL meeting in Lautoka on Friday, Qarase has acknowledged that “some amendments to the Constitution is (sic!) necessary for example the electoral system needs to be reviewed, as public opinion moves towards the principle of one man, one vote and one value”.
He then went on to say: “Other aspects of the Constitution need to be reviewed as well [but] there is no need to formulate an entirely new Constitution for Fiji.”
Leaving aside the semantics -at what point does an amended constitution become a new constitution?- and Qarase’s smart use of review versus formulate an entirely new constitution, surely, after all this time, we could rightly expect something more specific.
For example, on the electoral issue, what does he think about proportional representation, the size of electorates and the number of electoral candidates?
Does he think the new amended electoral provisions should be embedded in the constitution, as they were in the 1997 constitution, or should they be open to amendment by parliament?
What has he or his party to say about the powers of the President, Senate and the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) that were, with parliament, integral parts of the legislature under the 1997 Constitution?
We need to be told what he would retain or amend in these important constitutional provisions.
Should the President (and Vice-President), for example, be appointed by the GCC on the recommendation of the PM, as in the 1997 Constitution, or should he or she be elected by the nation, or by parliament, or by some sort of electoral commission?
What should be the role and extent of presidential powers?
Should Senate be resurrected, reformed, replaced or abolished? What should be the role of the the GCC?
In short, precisely what “other aspects of the Constitution need to be reviewed”? Just the headings would do.
I know it’s too early for Qarase and the SDL to inform the public in any detailed way on what they want to see in an amended or new constitution, but they have surely had long enough to flag the main issues they think need attention.
The issues they don’t flag will then tell us what they wish to leave unchanged.
Or perhaps they have flagged them already by not mentioning them, and the only thing they are prepared to see changed is the one man one vote issue?
One way or the other, Qarase and the SDL (and, indeed, the FLP and UPP) need to come clean with the public.
Sniping at the Bainimarama Government is not enough. Government has already signalled most of its wishes in the People’s Charter and Roadmap – processes, it should be noted, that they chose to ignore.
Qarase needs to spell out the main issues, and what he wishes to retain and amend in the Constitution that takes Fiji to the polls in 2014. He should spell these out before Prof Yash Ghai, the Chairman of the Commission, arrives in about two week’s time.
In that way, he’ll get better feedback from the public.