USP Journalism Programme
FIJI TIMES CHALLENGES MOVE TOWARDS NEW CONSTITUTION

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SUVA: The Fiji Times today challenged the drafting of a new constitution
for Fiji after the naming of a University of the South Pacific academic
who had a leading role in the 1990 racially-biased constitution to head
the new constitutional commission.

In an editorial headed "One constitution too many," the newspaper said:
"Fiji has had three constitutions in as many decades. Do we really need
another?

"Under the 1997 constitution - passed unanimously by Parliament and
endorsed by the Great Council of Chiefs - democracy could be speedily
restored while the perceived flaws in that constitution could be legally
addressed."

The Fiji Times said the new constitutional commission, to be headed by
USP's director of the Institute of Pacific Studies, Professor Asesela
Ravuvu, would presumably find in favour of a requirement that the post
of prime minister as well as president must be an indigenous Fijian.

Prof Ravuvu was named in a proposed interim government list by rebel
leader George Speight published in the Daily Post on June 19.

"If the events of 1987 opened Pandora's box, the happenings of May 19
threw the lid into the ocean," said the Fiji Times.

"No elected government can now feel safe - and no amount of redrafted
constitutions will alter that."

The newspaper, which had a long-standing feud with deposed Prime
Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, blamed the political crisis on the ousted
leader.

"The problem with the People's Coalition regime was not the
constitution," the Fiji Times said.

"The problem was Mahendra Pal Chaudhry."

In the past, Chaudhry had accused the paper of "fanning the fires of
sedition and communalism", a charge rejected by the newspaper.

The paper said that a new constitution could prevent a new
"dictatorial" Indo-Fijian prime minister, but it could not prevent a
Fijian prime minister acting in a similar manner.

The Great Council of Chiefs unanimously endorsed Prof Ravuvu to chair
the new constitutional commission being set up by the military-backed
interim government.

However, the 1990 constitution, which the professor helped draft was
later rejected as "racist" by the Indo-Fijian and many international
communities. This eventually led to the drafting of the multiracial 1997
constitution by a commission headed by former New Zealand
governor-general Sir Paul Reeves.

The chiefs council's new commission includes former Speaker Dr Apenisa
Kurisaqila and former diplomat Charles Walker, who were cabinet
ministers in the Alliance government of then prime minister Ratu Sir
Kamisese Mara, who was forced to step aside as president during the
Speight rebellion.

Three nominations by the "vanua" (indigenous community) - deputy chair
of the chiefs' council, Adi Litia Cakobau; former foreign affairs
minister Berenado Vunibobo; and lawyer Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure - have
all had close associations with Speight.

Nominated to represent the island of Rotuma in northern Fiji was former
civil servant Fatiaki Misau.

Radio Fiji reported that the chiefs agreed to include four Indo-Fijians
and one person representing other races on the commission.

No terms of reference have yet to be announced.

+++niuswire

Title -- 2940 FIJI: Fiji Times challenges move towards new constitution
Date -- 1 September 2000
Byline -- None
Origin -- Pasifik Nius
Source -- PN/Fiji Times, 1/9/00
Copyright -- PN
Status -- Unabridged
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