August 23, 2013
Fiji Government releases final version of constitution, paving the way for 2014 elections
Updated Thu 22 Aug 2013, 8:44pm AEST
The Fijian Government has released the final version of the country's new constitution, which it says will pave the way for elections by the end of September 2014.
Fiji's Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has presented the detail of the new constitution to media, registered political parties and other civil society groups this morning.
The new document will replace the 1997 constitution that was set aside by the military regime four years ago.
It calls for a single-chamber 50-member Parliament, with elections to be held every four years.
In January, the Fijian government scrapped the draft constitution drawn up by an independent commission led by Professor Yash Ghai.
The draft was submitted to be re-written, and Fiji's Government says the final version now includes stronger protections for communally-owned i'Taukei, Rotuman and Banaban lands.
It also alters the draft constitution to abolish the individual regional constituencies in favour of one national constituency covering the whole of Fiji.
Fiji's Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, says the change will give politicians a national focus.
"The idea is that if you are a member of parliament, you must be equally concerned about somebody in Lau, somebody in Ba, somebody in Thikombia, somebody in Drasa, wherever the case may be," he said.
"So the idea is that we have a focus on elected members of parliament having a focus on all parts of Fiji, and to ensure that political parties focus on national policies."
Constitutional lawyer Anthony Regan at the Australian National University's College of Asia and the Pacific in Canberra has told Radio Australia's Asia Pacific the aim is to break down the previous major ethnic divisions in Fiji, and to create a single national identity.
"It's a system of one national electorate with proportional representation, instead of what was proposed previously which would have four divisions in the country," Mr Regan said.
"There'll no longer be even a fairly tenuous link to particular areas as there would have been with the four divisions previously.
"That's a big change for Fiji where the people have been used to electing their members to local constituencies," he said.
The document has also been translated into i'Taukei and contemporary Hindi, and there will be a two week window for people to raise any concerns with the translations, before the document is given presidential assent on September 6.
Australia-based Fiji legal expert Brij Lal has told Radio Australia the public have been excluded from providing input into the content of the final draft.
"This was prepared by the Attorney General's and the Solicitor General's Department and there really has been no public consultation on the content and character of this document," he said.
"They're introducing major changes here that will change the political culture of Fiji and there's been no public input into it."
Mr Lal has told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat it's good previous constitutions' residential requirements for voters are no longer needed.
"Very large number of people from Fiji have migrated and now live in Australia and New Zealand," he said.
"Any citizen can (now) vote whether they live in Fiji or not."
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum says the new constitution includes a clause on free speech and a bill of rights.
"Obviously not all rights are completely without any checks and balances - there are certain limitations on rights imposed in all countries," he said.
The constitution also sets up an accountability and transparency commission to hold public office holders accountable.
It also calls for the compulsory teaching of the i’Taukei and Fiji Hindi languages at primary school level, alongside English.