Friday, May 22, 2015

Fiji: Removing the opposition

Last year, Nauru's government abused its parliamentary majority to suspend the opposition from Parliament on a spurious privilege motion. Its a disease which is spreading: last night, Fiji's "democratic" regime did the same, suspending an opposition MP for making a derogatory reference to the Speaker during a constituency meeting:

Fiji opposition MP Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu has been suspended from the House of Representatives for the next two years.

FBC reports that late last night, parliament passed a motion to suspend Ratu Naiqama based on the recommendation of the Priviledges Committee.

He is not allowed to enter Parliament precincts including the Opposition Office until the suspension expires.

Ratu Naiqama uttered a slur against the Speaker Jiko Luveni last week.

In New Zealand we understand that the purpose of parliament's power to discipline its own members exists solely for the purpose of maintaining the order of the house, and ends at the chamber door (or at least at the edge of the parliamentary precinct). If an NZ MP calls the Speaker a biased National Party crony or worse outside the house, its a matter for defamation law, not the privileges committee. But even if you think that forcing MPs to pretend to respect the Speaker outside the house as well as in it is a matter of parliamentary order, the penalty is still grossly disproportionate to the offence.
Throw in the violation of natural justice - Lalabalavu's accuser got to sit and vote on the committee judging him - and it just looks like a tawdry stitch-up designed to remove an unwelcome voice of opposition from parliament. Which given that the purported purpose was to ensure respect for the institution of Fiji's parliament, seems to be an own goal.