SUVA (Al Jazeera / Pacific Scoop / Pacific Media Watch): Fijians are weighing up a controversial new draft constitution aimed at restoring democracy in the South Pacific nation for next year.
But there are concerns that the document could be used by the current military ruler Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama to maintain his hold on power.
Critics say that what Bainimarama is doing amounts to a “constitutional coup”.
After his return to his Sydney base, Thomas commented on his Al Jazeera blog:
Last month, the country’s unelected military ruler scrapped a constitution, written by a respected independent expert, in favour of one drawn up by his government.
Many in Fiji and elsewhere fear the government-sanctioned charter will merely provide cover for ongoing autocratic rule.
Fiji’s so-far unelected prime minister, of course, denies this. When I met Commodore Frank Bainimarama last Thursday (making it two PMs in one week!), he told me he was committed to holding free and fair elections late next year.
On their own, though, elections don’t mean democracy. There has to be a level playing field going into them; the dice can’t be weighted in one candidate’s favour.
That’s what good constitutions ensure. They level playing fields and make sure the dice aren’t dodgy.
At the Sydney lunch, [Australian Prime Minister Julia] Gillard gave the stock response about Fiji, without referring directly to concerns over the latest incarnation of the constitution.
She said: “Commodore Bainimarama needs to be held to his promises and accountabilities about having those elections, and they need to be held on time and properly done.”
Few now doubt Bainimarama is indeed committed to the first part, that elections are held “on time”. But, without the second part as well, elections “properly done”, Fiji may be a democracy in name only.
Constitutional clauses can sometimes be dry, but they can also be crucial.
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