August 08, 2012

Fiji SDL party deny calling for a Christian state

Updated 7 August 2012, 17:11 AEST
Fiji's opposition SDL party has denied making a submission to the country's constitution commission calling for Fiji to be declared an officially Christian state

It's been reported in Fiji that the largely indigenous Fijian party has called for Fijian to be the official language of the country, for only indigenous i-Taukei to be known as Fijian, and for references to sexual orientation to be removed from human rights laws.

But a senior party official says they have made no such submission, and they are still working on what they will say to the commission, which will probably come in late September.

The official said some individual SDL members have have said things on their own, but they do not represent the party as a whole.

Dr Brij Lal is an academic and a commentator on Fiji affairs, and he tells Bruce Hill that the SDL almost certainly doesn't hold the extreme positions that are being attributed to it.

Presenter: Bruce Hill

Speaker: Fiji academic Dr Brij Lal, from the Australian National University in Canberra

LAL: My sense is that the SDL as a responsible party, as a major party in Fiji, I just don't believe that they will be making those kinds of statements now. I mean they have publicly embraced the idea of one person one vote, for example. So I'd be very, very surprised. My own sense is that it's probably some individual member of SDL who shares those nationalistic views who has made a submission and maybe his remarks have been misrepresented and attributed to SDL. So my own sense is that a major political party would make official submission later on and not so early in the piece. So I would take this "claim" with a huge grain of salt.

HILL: Why would it be reported in the Fiji media that this is the SDL party submission when we called the SDL, they point blank denied it and said they're still working on their constitutional commission submission, which won't be ready until the 10th of September? Why would the Fiji media be reporting that it is their position when they're saying that it's not?

LAL: Well this is an important and intriguing point. Maybe it is in the interests of some groups in Fiji, maybe even some individuals of political parties to portray SDL as a racist party without really checking with the leaders of that party. I mean Mr Qarase was just jailed recently so I think the party has other things on its mind rather than preparing a detailed submission to the commission. So maybe there's an element of mischief making in this, I can't tell. But it is beyond me that any responsible party would make those kinds of claims now, especially now that the demography has changed in business Fiji inside and outside majority, and I think most sensible people in Fiji would say that it is far more important to live a Christian life than to have a Christian state. So I think that these claims have to be taken with a huge grain of salt.

HILL: There has been a stream within some indigenous Fijian iTaukei thought about these ideas for some time. I remember a politician called Sakiasi Butadroka who was toying with a lot of these ideas, the idea that only Fijians were really Fijian and that Fijian should be the language, Christianity should be the official religion of the state. How widespread do you think this still is within the iTaukei community in Fiji?

LAL: Well these ideas have been around for a long time. In 1974 Mr Butadroka asked for the deportation of all Indo-Fijians back to India. I mean these positions were circulated before the Reeves Commission in 1995/96 by the SVT, Mr Rabuka's party. The idea of being a Christian state was also advocated by a number of other Fijian parties. So there is a history to this. But that was a time when Fijians felt threatened, they were in a minority and they took these extremist views. And there are a number of church leaders and political leaders who actively propagated these ideas. But my sense is that since 2000 and later on the political climate in Fiji has changed and the demographic transformation that has taken place in Fiji has taken some of the heat out of these very, very sensitive and contentious issues.

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