Friday, March 22, 2013

Fiji's new constitution

Since the coup in 2006, Fiji's military dictatorship has supposedly been working towards a return to democracy. Except, of course, they haven't. First, they scrapped elections promised for 2008. Then they abrogated the 1997 constitution in favour of rule by decree. Things looked up last year when they hired a Kenyan constitutional expert and began a consultation process on drafting a new constitution. But when that came up with a constitution they didn't like, they burned it in front of him and threw it out. And now, they've scrapped the constituent assembly that was supposed to debate, amend, ratify and legitimise the new constitution, and unilaterally imposed their own draft.

Bainimarama naturally blames the political parties for this, who showed a "lack of commitment by the political parties to register under the requirements of the law" (you know, the one it is impossible to register under and which outlaws all unapproved political activity and which even the registrar of political parties had no faith in). The real reason of course is that the constituent assembly could have amended the draft. And there are clauses in the draft that Bainimarama cannot afford to have removed - namely those granting himself and his cronies perpetual and irrevocable immunity for the coup (alongside, of course, a clause saying that coups are illegal and that any purported grant of immunity has no effect).

Fijians now have two weeks in which to comment on their future constitution, after which it will be imposed anyway. Given that the regime now openly supports torture, I doubt they'll be getting any adverse feedback.

As for the draft itself [PDF], its not a terrible document, if you ignore the immunity clause and the worrying provision that the military is responsible "at all times" for ensuring "the security, defence and well-being of Fiji and all its residents" (giving them a licence for future coups). It is of course full of irony, promising "respect for human rights, freedom and the rule of law" and affirming freedom of the press, publication and the media; freedom of assembly; freedom from torture; and judicial independence (all of which Bainimarama has revoked). If it was passed by democratic means, it would be largely uncontroversial. But the manner of its imposition makes it illegitimate from the start. Assuming of course it ever gets that far. Bainimarama has gone back on his word repeatedly, and there's no reason to believe he'll behave any differently when it actually comes to giving up power.