Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 07:40 | SYDNEY
Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 07:40 | SYDNEY

Fiji talks the talk on democracy


Jenny Hayward-Jones


20 November 2009 12:18

Fiji's interim Government has finally announced the commencement of a National Dialogue Forum – on 1 February 2010. The Forum will be held in preparation for a constitutional forum to be commenced in September 2012. 

Although Colonel Pio Tikoduadua, the Prime Minister's Permanent Secretary, has stressed that discussions at the Dialogue Forum will be 'wide ranging and inclusive', there are a number of pre-conditions for involvement.

Applicants must undertake to make contributions 'not inconsistent with the principles enunciated in the People's Charter for Change, Peace and Progress, they must not have any pending criminal charges or proceedings in Fiji's court system and they must not represent political organisations based on the communal representation.' Just in case any politicians thought there might be a loophole here, the Colonel also made it clear political parties would not be invited to the Dialogue. Civil society and other groups would, however, be welcome. 

It's not quite clear why more than two years of preparation are required for a constitutional forum, particularly when apparently two-thirds of Fiji's population have already expressed support for the People's Charter – Bainimarama's preferred basis for a new constitution — after extensive consultations. And if participants are not permitted to express views inconsistent with the People's Charter, how much further can a Dialogue Forum take the debate about Fiji's future?

But putting all that aside, this decision can at least be described as a step forward for Fiji. Any dialogue in the current environment is better than no dialogue. 

Just as significantly, interim Prime Minister Bainimarama has just assured the European Commission that his Government is committed to upholding the rule of law and strengthening the judiciary, and to respecting human rights and democratic principles. He said this would be evident in the 'decreeing of new legislations and the resurrection by decree of those essential elements of the abrogated constitution dealing with such matters.'

It will be interesting to see whether these decrees end the Public Emergency Regulations and press censorship – surely the bare minimum requirement for proving respect for human rights and democratic principles. A Dialogue Forum that lives up to its promise of inclusiveness would also be a useful demonstration of commitment to democratic principles, with little risk to Bainimarama's rule.

Photo by Flickr user United Nations Photo, used under a Creative Common license.