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EDITORIAL : Great Reason To Celebrate Today

EDITORIAL : Great Reason To Celebrate Today
September 07
08:18 2016

On this first Constitution Day, a quiet introspection can be extremely valuable for those who have been mouthing off against the 2013 Constitution.

It would be a good time for some soul-searching as we focus on what is best for this nation moving forward. Forget our narrow sectional interests but look at the national interests that will guarantee our beloved Fiji long-lasting peace, stability and economic prosperity.

We thought the 1970 Constitution, which heralded our Independence, was a perfect document. It was only good as long as the Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara-led Alliance Government was in power. Multiracialism existed in name only. The Alliance Party kept the races apart. It was made up of three constituent bodies, operating as separate entities but coming together for political convenience for the party – the then Fijian Association, representing the iTaukei, the Indian Alliance, representing the Indo-Fijians, and the General Voters Party, representing other races. The Fijian Association played a dominant role because it formed the Alliance powerbase. The separation led to the coining of the expression, an unholy alliance. It mirrored a race-based electoral system in the then Constitution.

It reared its ugly head in 1977 when an Alliance Government minister, Sakeasi Butadroka, the founder of the iTaukei nationalist movement, severely criticised the Constitution saying it sold out iTaukei interests and called for the repatriation of Indo-Fijians. The Public Order Act was subsequently enacted in Parliament to outlaw public outbursts that will incite racial hatred and tension.

The then Constitution came under the spotlight again in 1987 after the Alliance Government was defeated by the powerful National Federation Party-Fiji Labour Party coalition. Prior to the first military coup, Taukei Movement supporters took to the streets protesting against what they described as the Indo-Fijian dominated government even though it was led by an iTaukei, then Prime Minister, Dr Timoci Bavadra.

The racial mistrust and antagonism continued after 1987. Despite attempts to address the issue in the subsequent constitutions, these were cosmetic treatments. They failed to address the real cause of the problems.

As long as we continued on ethnic lines, the problems would not go away. In 2000, ethnic tensions flared up again during the George Speight coup which deposed our first Indo-Fijian prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry, the FLP leader.

The racial polarisation continued into the next general elections in 2001 and in 2006, when the predominantly iTaukei-based SDL Party led by Laisenia Qarase won with FLP close behind. The then Constitution required the sharing of Cabinet posts in what was supposed to be a government of national unity. On paper, it looked and sounded good. In reality, it did not work. Racial tension escalated and deteriorated into an acrimonious relationship between Mr Qarase and Mr Chaudhry and their followers.

The racial division was exemplified when the coalition of the NFP (Indo-Fijian based) and Mr Rabuka’s SVT Party (iTaukei-based) were decimated in the 2001 and 2006 general elections.  SVT did not win a seat, NFP won only one seat in 2001. Both parties failed to win a seat in 2006.

People resorted to their ethnic groups. The SDL was seen as the new voice for the iTaukei and FLP for the Indo-Fijians. The two major races did not trust the merger between the NFP and SVT and voted with their feet. Such was the strong feelings at the time that they began to sip through the national psyche or consciousness and acted as a drag on national unity and progress.

Allegations of corruption and nepotism were rife. It was time for change and there were even some politicians now in the opposition who supported change then.

This year marks the 10th year since the new revolution started.

The 2013 Constitution is the cumulative result of that process of change. It embodies those universal principles that now define us as a nation of one people and one vision – where the rights of each person are respected irrespective of our ethnicity, culture, religion, interest or personal circumstances. The barriers that divide us have been removed, we are now all called Fijian, all forms of discrimination are outlawed and everyone has equal opportunities.

Infact the provisions of this Constitution comply with the best international practices of equality, freedom and justice. It’s the reason why we should celebrate today.

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Waisale Serevi
Sevens Legend
September 2016
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