NEWS

Symbolism In New Parliament

Today we reach another milestone in our political evolution. It’s a historic day as our Parliament, under new rules and system, convenes for the first time in eight years. This
06 Oct 2014 09:59
Symbolism In New Parliament

Today we reach another milestone in our political evolution.

It’s a historic day as our Parliament, under new rules and system, convenes for the first time in eight years.

This is the day that everyone has been looking forward to. It’s special because we have come a full circle.

It was here in May 1987 that Sitiveni and his group of soldiers overthrew the democratically-elected government of Dr Timoci Bavadra in the name of an indigenous cause. That coup changed the course of history for Fiji.

It was also here in the 1970’s that firebrand nationalist leader Sakeasi Butadroka called for the repatriation of Indo-Fijians back to India. It was the first time after Independence in 1970 that racial tension, which had been simmering for awhile, spilled out into the open. A stubborn Mr Butadroka refused to retract his statement and apologise. Eventually, he was expelled by the Alliance Government led by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. Mr Butadroka went on to form the Fijian Nationalist Party which contributed to the shock loss of the Alliance Government in 1977.

In the same debating chamber of the early eighties, Arthur  Jennings, the first Fijian to become an All Black and a National Federation Party MP, asked the Government side if the NFP won the next election would there be a coup. No one took him seriously.

There were some heated moments in the debates. One was when Mr Butadroka, after his expulsion, clashed with Alliance MP Solomone Momoivalu. The debate spilled on to the corridor. Even the big bowl (tanoa) of yaqona (kava) used by MPs to chill and relax did not help.

In the 1987 Parliament, there were 52 seats. Twelve communal seats were each reserved for iTaukei and Indo-Fijians. Three were reserved for General Electors (Part-Europeans). Ten national or common roll seats were reserved each for iTaukei and Indo-Fijians. Five were for General Electors.

There is none of that this morning when the 50 MPs get sworn-in. There are no reserved seats on the basis of race. Every MP is a Fijian, now our common identity, elected in a non-racial one person-one vote system.

In 1987, there were two houses in Parliament. The elected House of Representatives and the unelected Senate.

Today, it is just one house, the House of Representatives. The parliamentary chamber has been renovated with the installation of modern technology. But it retains many of its old features to symbolise the old and the new.

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