Monday, May 7, 2007

Democracy: Which Model? - 8 May 2007 - By Suresh Prasad

There seems to be a mystifying euphoria among the vocal pro-democracy individuals within the NGO circles in direct proportion to the blatant international arm twisting and economic aid blackmail being applied to Fiji's Interim Government to hold national elections sooner than later as a step towards democracy. It's as though the next election would be a panacea and a hasty return to the much touted democracy, a remedy to widespread and entrenched corruption and ineffective racist governance. These individuals, who incidentally were conspicuously silent during the turmoil caused by the 1987 Rabuka coup and the siege and hostage taking of the entire Chaudhry government in 2000 by Speight, have yet to clearly articulate what brand of democracy is being flaunted this time around. Are we talking about a full and fair parliamentary democracy of one person-one vote or a restoration of the biased and divisive model of democracy that has spawned corruption and racism to the benefit of a handful of individuals behind the fa├žade of 'Fijian interest'. Perhaps those individuals and 'friendly' nations that are shouting the loudest for a quick pathway to democracy need to pause and examine what is their understanding of democracy in Fiji given that Mr Qarase and others labelled it a 'foreign bird' quite some time ago.
Is it the same model that has entrenched racial divides? And is it now is being brought back to perpetuate the politics of race? Or perhaps this time around we will have a brand of democracy that the 'big brother' nations have themselves strived over the years. It is ironic that the very vociferous pro-democracy advocates in Fiji, including the 'purists' within the legal fraternity and those shouting over the fence from our neighbouring nations, have not spouted their views on which model of democracy they contemplate imposing on Fiji. It is equally ironic that the same self-styled bastions of democracy, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, while on one hand want a quick restoration of this rather elusive democracy but on the other hand have adopted obstructionist positions, under the guise of smart sanctions, to block the very public service and statutory appointments that will propel Fiji towards true democracy in the fullness of time. What ought to be paramount for Fiji to survive and become self-reliant is to guarantee good governance based on fundamental rule of law and popular sovereignty. Any impetuous and ill-considered return to parliamentary democracy will continue to entrench Fiji as a subservient nation despite our gaining independence almost four decades ago.
We haven't, it seems, learned from other hasty returns to democracy after the previous coups. The apologists of the 'friendly' nations within the NGOs in Fiji are gearing up once again to appease the 'big brother' nations under the guise of getting the aid tap running again; not realising that this perpetual 'kere-kere' will forever condemn Fiji to the vicious cycle of foreign aid dependency and thus prevent it from becoming a truly self -sufficient sovereign nation. An effective democracy sits on the platform of grass-root consultations, if need be through the tried and tested process of national referendum. Should this not be the process that we should subscribe to in order to bring back a meaningful model of democracy in Fiji? The gullible foreign media it seems has fallen into the trap of hypocritical cry for freedom from a handful of NGO employees living the high life on the funds of equally gullible overseas donor governments. Shouldn't there be a referendum to seek the view of the silent majority who are after all are the ones who once again will endure the pain of this jaundiced democracy that is being shoved down Fiji's rather sore throat as if this so called to return to democracy will resolve and clean all that Bainimarama and his team have set out to do.
Or is there yet another agenda being followed by our big brother nations with the support of their well-paid stooges within the well-endowed NGO ranks of keeping Fiji racially polarised by bringing back the Qarase brand of democracy. Is there a hidden agenda to perpetually keep this fledging nation in a kind of economic subservience to be exploited at whim by our suddenly concerned neighbours? Does this agenda include creative and systematic destabilisation of Fiji to warrant foreign military intervention, perhaps by RAMSI, to bring back a semblance of hypocritical civil order and to restore democracy…the Qarase brand? A good example is the hastily drafted and adopted constitution which elevated the chiefs from their traditional advisory roles to matters pertaining to native welfare. Instead the Reeves Constitution burdened them with an ill-conceived responsibility of a constitutional role within the modern parliamentary apparatus. With all due respect to the traditional collective wisdom the chiefs might have, it was quite an inappropriate constitutional step to have dragged them into a national legislative role. Was the constitutional agenda then surreptitiously high-jacked by a select few racists with corrupt parallel agendas of their own or was it done to appease the chiefs and further entrench the politics of race, once again, to suit their own egotistical racist- personal agendas?
There seems to be a symbiotic link between individual wealth creation in Fiji albeit by corrupt means, and the politics of race. We can now only speculate and contemplate on the reasoning behind the haste with Fiji is being urged to embrace the previous model of divisive democracy at the insistence of other nations. The elevation of an unrepresentative and unelected group of chiefs to this national constitutional role is quite unique to Fiji, given that this elitist organisation, the Council of Chiefs, does not represent the other half of Fiji's population comprising significantly of Indo-Fijians and other minority races. It is debateable whether individually or collectively the chiefs, unrepresentative and unelected as they are, have the capacity to even represent effectively the native interests in the context of internationally accepted democratic practices and protocols. The chiefs have repeatedly found themselves lacking in an array of modern competencies and capacities to grapple with complex issues emanating out of democratic model of governance that was so hastily thrust upon us. It is farcical to even consider the notion by the architects of this constitution that a wide-ranging, full and fair consultation took place before its adoption by the parliament.
It is quite evident that the unscrupulous and corrupt Qarase government effectively utilised the lack of capacities within the chiefly ranks to push its own agenda under the guise of traditional consultative protocols. This dichotomy between the traditional chiefly role, responsibilities and popular political sovereignty needs to be resolved; possibly through a review of the constitution. I am not suggesting an abrogation of the constitution in its entirety but a meaningful and constructive review. Any constitutional document needs to be regularly reviewed, hence in modern democracies the appointment of various parliamentary review committees as a fairly standard process of updating and making it appropriately relevant to the ever changing needs of an evolving society. The constitutional weaknesses and oversights cannot be allowed to be exploited by charlatans to the detriment of the nation. The so-called road map to democracy, in its final form, must delineate not only existing political constraints to good governance but also provide appropriate remedies for their resolution. Post-1987 coups have corrupted the rule of law in Fiji and previous ill-considered returns to the same divisive brand of democracy haven't assisted Fiji in moving forward.
Fiji's vulnerability and exposure in this context is akin to a wrecked ship that needs to be refitted to sail once again the treacherous sea of democracy; particularly treacherous, if we allow our big brother nations control of the tiller. That's the commander's dilemma. He's to prove his government's collective mettle in the full glare of rather unhelpful big brother scrutiny and amidst equally unhelpful court challenges seeking an examination of the legality or otherwise of his December 5 takeover and subsequent actions by his government. I am sure the learned judges adjudicating on these matters will be familiar with this Latin saying by Publilius Syrus: "Honesta turpitude est pro causa bona" meaning for a 'good cause, wrongdoing is virtuous'. It also goes without saying that in attempting to tread a path of justice and fairness one must be able to distinguish between the venial and the venal - between ordinary wrong and outsized wrongdoings. And here I contend that laws have very little, if anything, to do with justice. Bainimarama has an amply qualified, experienced and committed team of eminent persons in his government. This group has decades of experience in effective political governance. Invariably, with such an august team to assist and support him, the commander, we hope, will exercise sound, objective and mature judgement in all matters pertaining to restoration of democracy in Fiji. Dr Prasad, a career academic, is engaged in community capacity building and regeneration projects both in Australia and overseas.

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