Details of Fiji constitution leaked

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 08:47 28/12/2012

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A leaked copy of Fiji's secret draft constitution reveals a civilian bid to remove the country's powerful military from the political process.

The draft also proposes immunity from prosecution for military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama, his soldiers and those who joined his regime, but only if they make an oath submitting themselves to democracy.

In 2006 Bainimarama overthrew elected Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.

He has promised to hold elections by 2014 under a new constitution drawn up by a commission partly funded by New Zealand aid.

Commission chairman Yash Ghai presented the draft to President Epeli Nailatikau earlier this month but no copies have been released.

A government printing shop working on the draft was visited by members of the Fiji military who removed all 500 copies.

When the military presented its submission to the commission it said of itself that it was ''the last bastion for law and order in Fiji''.

It demanded that it be protected in the way it was in Fiji's second constitution, created by original coup plotter Sitiveni Rabuka in 1990 when the country was known as the ''sovereign democratic republic''.

That constitution - which was condemned internationally as racist - said the military had the ''overall responsibility'' for the security, defence and well being of Fiji and its people.

The new constitution's explanatory notes said it ''emphasises that the military does not have any role as a guardian of the constitution or conscience of the nation''.

It said the military's role was to protect the country ''from external threats'' and was under civilian control through the elected parliament.

The post of president will no longer be termed ''commander in chief'' and security force members must not obey manifestly illegal orders.

''But it is of particular relevance to the military, especially in a country with a record of coups,'' the notes said.

A manifestly illegal order ''includes carrying out a coup''.

The new constitution also said there would be no justification for a coup and warned no immunity would be granted for any coup.

But it contains a continued immunity for Rabuka and now Bainimarama, both of whom could face treason charges under previous constitutions.

Immunity would only apply to people who take an oath which says that they accept the sovereignty of the people.

Bainimarama previously swore to uphold the constitution that he sacked with his 2006 coup.

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