Clark to Fiji: keep it constitutional

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Fiji coup leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama cannot make "shonky" changes to Fiji's constitution under the agreement he signed to move his country forward to elections, Prime Minister Helen Clark says.

Within 24 hours of that agreement being signed, Cmdr Bainimarama was already telling journalists he might change Fiji's constitution before holding elections in 2009.

Under the agreement he signed during a retreat by Pacific Island Forum leaders in Tonga, Cdre Bainimarama committed to holding elections by the first quarter of 2009 and promised his military regime would abide by the result.

Included in the agreement was a commitment from the Fiji interim government to work with the Forum Joint Working Group to produce a "credible roadmap" to those elections under the existing constitution and law of Fiji, and give priority to this.

Miss Clark said Tongan Prime Minister Feleti (Fred) Sevele had made clear the leaders' view that this meant the current Fiji constitution.

But the day after the retreat on the island of Vava'u, Cdre Bainimarama said he was considering changes to one or two clauses in the constitution.


He told reporters Fiji had already made a "commitment" to hold elections, even before the Pacific Islands Forum leaders met, and before the agreement.

He also said he had already promised his military regime would abide by the result.

"That commitment has been there, people have been leading you all in the wrong direction," he said yesterday.

Asked whether he would change the constitution, he said: "We have discussed that, yes...we might change the constitution before the election."

He said he could hold a referendum, to get around changing the constitution without having a vote in Parliament.

It had not been decided how it would be done "but we know we must have one man, one vote".

He said there would be time to change "one or two" sections of the constitution before the elections.

Cdre Bainimarama said in a speech to the United Nations in September that at present all Fiji citizens had the right to vote for two candidates, one for a national seat of any ethnicity and another from a communal race-based seat.

"This in turn has kept our races apart," he said at the time.

Miss Clark told reporters the forum was clear that the process forward in Fiji had to be credible "and that rules out any shonky changes to the constitution".

"Fiji has a constitution and the commodore by his own admission says that constitution's still in force, therefore it's very important that the pathway forward is in line with the constitution and laws of Fiji," she said.

Everything would hinge on whether there was a credible roadmap to elections "and that doesn't mean those who have seized power by the barrel of a gun dictating changes or rigging the way which changes are made.

"I suggest the course now is for the Fijian interim government representatives to be sitting down with the Forum Joint Working Group in Fiji to work through these issues.

"We are all poised to support the next stages of the credible process but it has to be a credible process."

Cdre Bainimarama said Fiji was getting ready to hold the election.

Miss Clark said New Zealand would help fund the electoral process in Fiji as it had done in the past. Australia and the European Union were also committing funds to the elections.

"So we're all ready but we need two to tango."

Miss Clark has left Tonga to go to Niue for its Constitution Day celebrations.