Richard Fowler, the President of the Wellington District Law Society spent time with officers of the Fiji Law Society last October.
In his column in this month’s Council Brief (the WDLS monthly newspaper) he has described their dilemma (and his). Should they condemn and refuse to cooperate with the Commodore’s government? The following are excerpts:
"…. Should I be ‘tut-tutting’ in the nicest possible way albeit careful to be ‘only expressing a personal opinion, of course’ and then brace myself for an automatic knee jerk accusation of patronising neo-colonialism? After all, the then (Clark) government’s analysis was simple: the democratically elected government had been ousted at gunpoint and those responsible or participant in the interim government should be treated as pariahs and NZ should have nothing to do with them unless either the Quarase government was allowed to return to office or fresh elections held.
"Yet I am afraid that nothing about the present Fijian situation as outlined to me was that simple – particularly for Rule of Law type issues. I am no apologist for the 2006 coup but there are certainly some very odd aspects to the situation that do not sit easily with the abovementioned ‘simple’ analysis. There is even a ‘back to front’ quality to much of it. The best I can do is pose for you the questions that started worrying me:
· If Commodore Bainimarama was the counter-coup hero who removed George Speight in 2000, installed Quarase as interim Prime Minister, and then went back to his barracks rather like a latter day Garibaldi, what caused him to re-emerge and, for that matter so different from the previous coups, at glacial speed?
· Why does the Labour party representing over 40% of the population and supported by most of the Fijian Indians, the people most obviously and adversely disenfranchised in the previous coups of 1987 and 2000, give some support to the interim government and even for a period participated in its cabinet?
· Why does the highly respected multi-racial Citizen’s Constitutional Forum featured in Time magazine at the time of the last coup and containing numbers of people who were detained or imprisoned in earlier coups support the initiatives of the interim government to find a new and viable electoral system and participate in those explorations?
· Why do the Taukei movement and others who were behind the previous coups and who favour an electoral system that guarantees indigenous Fijian dominance, oppose those initiatives?
"….Contrary to what was suggested concerning a pervasive military presence in the New Zealand newspapers recently, in the whole of the week I was in Suva I never caught sight of one soldier and further the interim government during that week lost a very public Court challenge to the legitimacy of some of its actions and did not reach for extra-legal remedy. Indeed save for some well publicised divisions within the judiciary, the ordinary business of the law appears to continue unaffected.
Who could blame the Fiji Law Society for cutting the interim government some slack in the light of the latter’s avowed intent to achieve a fairer electoral system that is not racially slanted in lieu of holding an election now which would just have the effect of perpetuating the old one? At what point does the Fiji Law Society cease to do so – because sooner or later the Commodore has to demonstrate meaningful progress? And where would that leave the participation of the Fiji Law Society up to that point?
I held my peace and boarded the plane thankful that no law society in New Zealand has ever had to face the issues the Fiji Law Society is facing.
Would that our policy toward Fiji could be as graceful.