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A bird’s eye view of Fiji Islands.

Political rights and ethnic rights became inseparable and as a result, problems associated with political governance automatically assumed ethnic forms. Elections became the means by which underlying ethnic sentiments were publically articulated, when the ethnic battle lines were drawn and when ethnic cleavages were reinforced. Historically since independence, elections have been the most tensed moments. Coups in Fiji have in fact mostly been preceded by elections. In other words, coups have largely been extra-legal extensions of electoral grievances. The new electoral system diminishes the significance of ethnicity and has the potential to remove the associated tensions which have characterized past elections. The once ethnic-based political parties are now compelled by the requirements of the new proportional representation system to be multi-ethnic in membership, ideology and appeal.

Secondly, the new single

confidence in the new democratic order.

Another critical issue is in relation to the provision of immunity for the coup makers. While the Ghai draft provided immunity for the 2006 coup perpetrators it ensured that there should be no more immunity for any future coup perpetrators. In contrast, while the new constitution grants immunity for the coup perpetrators since the first coup in 1987, it does not have provision disallowing immunity for future coup perpetrators. Furthermore, the immunity provision in the constitution cannot be ammended. This is a major concern because continual granting of immunity encourages future coups. There is also concern that the very rigid rules regarding the ammendment of the constitution can also encourage potential coups. For instance, amendment bills need to be passed by a three quarters majority in Parliament. Following this, the next step would be to pass it through a

referendum where another three quarters majority would be needed to eventually ratify the amendment. Chances of obtaining a three quarters majority in a referendum is not easy and this has potential to invoke frustration and encourage future coups as the only available option for any badly needed constitutional change.

While the Ghai draft provided a number of mechanisms to avoid future coups, the new constitution does not. In fact government seems to project the image that by its very existence, the new constitution will automatically put things in proper order, that Fiji will enter a new phase of political development devoid of past problems. The lack of sustained debate on this issue has increasingly encouraged this assumption.

The new electoral system Perhaps one of the progressive aspects of the new constitution is the electoral system. For the first time,

184 | The Parliamentarian | 2013: Issue Three

there will be no ethnic reservation of seats as in past constitutions. There will only be a single national constituency consisting of 50 seats. The system is based on proportional representation meaning that the number of seats a party is allocated would be proportional to the number and percentage of votes it receives. For instance, if a party collects 50 per cent of the votes (out of a total number of 500,000 plus voters) it will be allocated 25 seats, which translates to 50 per cent of the seats. This system has a number of advantages. Firstly, it neutralizes the tendency for institutionalized ethnic mobilization as in the previous elections. The ethnic-based seat allocation in Parliament in the past encouraged the formation of ethnic- based political parties and political campaigning and mobilization along ethnic lines. This naturally bred zero-sum ethnic contestation, nurtured ethnic consciousness and accentuated political tension.

constituency electoral system makes politicians become more nationally focused rather than communally and regionally oriented. This is important for a small developing country such as Fiji where the focus of development should be driven by a progressive national vision rather than parochial local interests. The new system has the potential to encourage national rather than local or communal loyalty, a necessary ingredient for national unity.

Thirdly, the proportional representation system provides more chances for political parties to win seats. Fiji’s first past the post system under the 1970 and 1990 constitutions allowed for the dominance of two major political parties. The 1997 election provided for the preferential alternative voting system which allowed for smaller parties to win seats but there was still a dominance of two major political parties. The current system will probably see greater distribution of seats which would inevitably lead to a possible coalition. A coalition of non-ethnic political parties would

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