Excluding the SDL from Military Government: a recipe for further instability [The Fiji Times, 5 February 2007]
Behind the pieces of paper and the hundreds of thousands of words that embody the 1997 Constitution, is the very real and hard political relationships between ethnic communities and their political parties.
The pieces of paper and the words can be changed, and constitutions can be passed or abrogated.
But the very real balance of power between the major ethnic groups and political parties will continue to determine the history of our country.
All our political parties claim to adhere to the 1997 Constitution, including the provisions for multi-party government.
In 1999 and 2001, the majority political parties failed to make the multi-party provision work.
In 2006, SDL made a break-through by including the FLP in Cabinet, with important portfolios.
That SDL-led multi-party Government has been replaced by a Military Administration which is clearly dominated by the Fiji Labour Party and National Alliance Party.
This Administration excludes the elected representatives of the bulk of the Fijian voters.
This is a serious and unacceptable breach of the spirit of the multi-party Government, a political step backwards, and an invitation to further political instability.
A government “acceptable” to most
For more than thirty seven years, our people have struggled to create a constitution that delivers a government that is acceptable to the bulk of our citizens.
While “democracy” was central to the 1970 and 1990 constitutions, a major weakness always was that the “winner took all”.
For seventeen years until 1987, the winner was the Fijian-dominated Alliance Party (except in 1977). The elected leaders of the Indo-Fijians were not in Cabinet.
When the NFP won in 1977, and when the NFP-FLP Coalition won in 1987, there were coups of one sort or another against the governments elected largely by Indo-Fijian votes.
1997 Constitution was therefore a major break-through in that any party which had more than 10% of the seats in Parliament would be invited into Cabinet.
This was a very real mechanism to encourage power-sharing between the largest political groupings in the country.
No major party, no major ethnic group would be left out of Cabinet, if they wished to join and they had a mere 10% of seats in parliament.
That is not just the “letter of the law”, but also the “spirit” of the law.
So why is that spirit of the multi-party government not reflected now in the Military Administration?
Not just an “Interim Administration”
In 2000, the post-coup Interim Administration did not include any parliamentarians elected by the Indo-Fijian voters.
It may not have been a big issue then, for an “interim” administration.
At the beginning of the 2006 coup, the public was under the impression that the Military Administration would be genuinely an “interim” one, until government had been “cleaned up”- perhaps in a year or two.
Now the Military Administration is suggesting that they may be in place for at least five years- as long as the normal elected government would normally rule.
This government cannot therefore be considered to be a mere “interim” administration.
It is important therefore that it should also embody the spirit of the “multi-party government” by the inclusion of all major political parties in cabinet.
Why exclude the SDL?
The Military Administration is claiming that elections will be held after the 2007 Census results are out, the electoral boundaries have been properly adjusted, the voter registration system has been made more efficient, and the voters properly educated.
Almost certainly following the next elections, the SDL Party will still be the largest party representing the Fijian voters.
SDL may again have the numbers to form government. It is almost certain that SDL will have enough numbers to be required to be invited into Cabinet.
So why is SDL being left out of the current Military Administration?
Perhaps there are individual elected representatives of the SDL who the military objects to, because of events in 2000 and after.
But surely the entire SDL Party and its supporters cannot be excluded from the reins of government, because of the 2000 events.
The law of the jungle
Some members of the public may feel that this military administration will “do more good for the people” than those who had been previously elected.
Or that a benevolent military dictator may be better for a country than democratically elected governments.
The Military Administration asserts that they will fairly look after the interests of all groups inFiji, including the supporters of the SDL.
But justice must not only “be done”, but be “seen to be done”.
For good or bad, people everywhere want the comfort of their elected leaders holding the reins of government. That is the fundamental spirit of democracy.
Currently, SDL supporters only see other political parties (namely Fiji Labour Party and the clearly unsuccessful candidates of the National Alliance Party wielding power.
This absence of SDL elected leaders from this military administration is surely unacceptable.
The 2006 military coup, in removing a democratically elected government, clearly broke the “letter of the law” of the 1997 Constitution.
The current administration also disregards the “spirit of the law” regarding the provisions of the multi-party government, that all major parties should be represented in government.
If, the current power-brokers ignore both the “letter of the law” and the “spirit of the law” and marginalize the largest political group, they encourage the marginalized to resort to the “law of the jungle”. That would be another step backwards forFiji.
It is urgent that the military begin dialogue with the SDL with a view to including their representatives in power-sharing until the next elections, whether it be two years off or five years off.
For the sake of peace and stability.