How to change the way we vote

Written By : General Editor. The intention of the Interim Government to alter the way we elect our parliaments has never been a secret. It was and is a central
06 Jun 2008 12:00

Written By : General Editor. The intention of the Interim Government to alter the way we elect our parliaments has never been a secret.
It was and is a central objective in Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama’s coup manifesto. He is committed to abolishing the communal voting system – something cobbled together by political leaders though it was not envisaged in the original draft of the 1997 constitution.
Cdre Bainimarama wants to take the race element out of politics and he sees the removal of the communal seats as vital to that end. Of course he is right and there is widespread support for that policy.
Equally he (and very many others) regard the alternative voting system as far too complicated for Fiji’s purposes. What will be proposed in its place is not yet clear but it is apparent that it has to go. The experience of the voters at two elections tells us so.
The question remains, however: How is this to be achieved in the absence of a parliament which is the only authority that can legally alter the constitution which is very clear on the conduct of an election?
The same constitution mandates communal voting and the alternative voting system.
Now this may well be seen as an overly legalistic interpretation – but unless these changes can be made legal there is the very genuine danger of endless court challenges to the 2009 election outcome – something Fiji can well do without.
The Interim Government’s preferred agent of change is the People’s Charter which will be the outcome of the deliberations of the National Council for Building a Better Fiji.
The charter, however, – even in the unlikely event that it is approved by a majority of the population – will, again, have no legal standing. It cannot override the constitution which was approved by a unanimous vote of parliament, a parliament that included several prominent members of the interim regime.
It’s something of a conundrum. While there is solid support for those and other electoral changes, they stand little chance of gaining public acceptance at a referendum or whatever other device is selected to have the charter approved when packaged up with other measures that will have next to no support.
And even if, by dint of social manipulation the charter is accepted, it is certain to come up against a constitutional challenge practically before the ink on it is dry.
To ask the electorate to approve each charter clause one by one is obviously impractical while to expect people to approve a document that contains clauses they dislike is equally so.
The option of recalling parliament on condition that it approve the charter and amend the constitution accordingly seems unreliable to say the least.
So perhaps the only way for the Interim Government is to abrogate the constitution and impose the charter by decree. The implications of that though are massive and far reaching. To put it extremely mildly, it would not be publicly popular.
We all want a fairer election process and most of us want a simpler voting system. But much thought will need to be devoted to the means of achieving them.

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