Saturday, February 18, 2023

A bad start for Fiji's democracy

Earlier in the week, former Fijian dictator (and now opposition leader) Voreqe Bainimarama gave a speech in parliament where he attacked Fiji's president for supporting the outcome of democratic elections and called on the military to carry out another coup to overturn them (and presumably return him to power). The speech violated the Fijian parliament's standing orders, which prohibit bringing the head of state into debate, as well as treasonous words, and he was referred to the privileges committee. Today, it recommended that he be suspended from parliament for three years, a recommendation which has just been confirmed by the House.

When he was in power, Bainimarama was ruthless in using suspension from parliament as a weapon against his enemies. In 2016 he had Tupou Draunidalo suspended for the rest of the term for objecting to one of his Ministers referring to the opposition as "dumb natives". She ended up resigning. In 2019 he assaulted NFP MP Pio Tikoduadua in the parliamentary precinct, then had him suspended for six months refusing to apologise to his attacker (the assault was captured on video. The parliamentary staffers who videoed it were fired). But as much as I enjoy seeing the dictator hoist by his own petard, this is excessive. While suspending an MP may be justified for a severe breach of standing orders, long suspensions of MPs are fundamentally unjust and undemocratic and effectively strip voters of their democratic representation. 136,829 people voted for Bainimarama at the last election. And their votes have now effectively been rendered null and void by the Fijian parliament's unjust and vindictive punishment. And that's a very bad start for Fiji's democracy.