Statement by H.E. Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, Minister for Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation
6TH BALI DEMOCRACY FORUM
7 - 8 November, 2013
Theme: “Consolidating Democracy in a Pluralistic Society”
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am pleased to be here at this fourth meeting in what has been a relevant gathering, the Bali Democracy Forum. I thank the Government of the Republic of Indonesia for its invitation and for the hospitality shown to me and my delegation.
Fiji is indeed fortunate that the convening of the Bali Democracy Forum, now in its sixth year, has been happening at a time when Fiji’s political history and democratization progress in particular has been re-written and begun to unfold. A significantly important development in that process was the adoption of Fiji’s new Constitution on September 6, 2013 by the President of Fiji, HE Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, a Constitution that, as the last Forum was briefed on, was widely inputted by the people of Fiji.
The Theme of this year’s Forum is therefore pertinent and apt as far as we are concerned. As most of you are aware, a fundamental flaw that has resulted in our chequered political history has been the apparent disconnect between the fact of our pluralistic society on the one hand and the misrepresentation of such in democratic ways in the life and institutions of Fiji’s political, social, economic and cultural systems on the other. Our new Constitution has thus provided the framework to address such anomaly.
As Fiji’s Prime Minister Cmdr Frank Bainimarama had briefed the UN General Assembly on last September, Fiji’s new Constitution ‘introduces the first genuine democracy Fiji will enjoy since we gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1970. 43 years and three constitutions later, we finally have a Constitution that is worthy for the Fijian people.’ He went on to say that ‘it is a Constitution that meets the test of a genuine democracy that upholds the legal and moral basis of a common and equal citizenry without denying anyone’s individuality or culture.’
The 2013 Fijian Constitution enshrines principles that are at the heart of all the world’s great liberal democracies - an independent judiciary, a secular state and a wide range of civil, political and socio-economic rights. It recognizes the indigenous peoples of Fiji and their customary practices; protects the rights of the predominantly indigenous landowners and also of their tenants; demands accountability and transparency from Government officials; builds strong and independent institutions; and replaces our old weighted electoral system with one based on the principle of one person, one vote, one value.
We consider that an historic achievement, which is the culmination of a path that Fiji embarked on in 2007 to establish a modern and stable society that can be a proud and responsible part of the global community.
As most of you may know, for years we struggled to be a nation under a system that created different classes of citizens and in which the votes of some Fijians counted more than others. How could we be one nation when our fundamental law said that we were not one people?
The very idea of a just and equal society, of an accountable government, of loyalty to the nation-state, was being eroded from within. There were too many elites that thought the best way to entrench their own privileges was to sow the seeds of division and undermine our independent institutions. The removals of government in 1987 and 2000 were the most radical expressions of this dysfunctional governance and political system. As a result, tens of thousands of Fijians suffered and many made the decision to leave their home forever, to leave Fiji. When addressing the United Nations Prime Minister Bainimarama said it was ‘one of the most shameful episodes of our history and that he was determined that it must never, never happen again.’ He added that ‘we must never allow a fellow citizen to be second class, to be less than an equal of his neighbor.’
The reforms that the Bainimarama Government has been implementing since 2007 pursuant to the letter and spirit of the Peoples Charter for Change, Peace and Progress, has seen to the gradual alignment of policies and regulations in all sectors to give teeth to the Constitution that we now have. I am pleased to also mention that an ambience of hope and confidence pervades the Fijian society now, leading to civil society, religious bodies, government ministries and the private sector all pursuing advocacy and education programs and awareness-raising to ensure that Fiji’s new Constitution is thoroughly understood and the institutions such groups represent are properly aligned to the demands of Fiji’s supreme law. And by the way Mr Chairman, for the first time in Fiji’s history the Constitution has been translated tino the main vernaculars and distributed to the segment of Fiji’s 900,000 populations including schoolchildren who can read in English, Hindi and iTaukei language.
Every month that passes we are building the foundations of our new parliamentary democracy. Unlike in the past, we are building a credible and fair system that will guide this process.
Four political parties have registered thus far under new laws that create transparency and accountability, and close to 540,000 Fijians – out of an estimated 620,000 eligible voters – have registered for the 2014 election.
In concluding Mr Chairman, the rays of hope for a better Fiji that all Fijians are now witnessing cannot come without strong, decisive and caring leadership. That is essential if our pluralistic society is to enjoy the dividend of a true democracy. Such a leadership we have been fortunate to enjoy since 2006 and we hope we will continue to enjoy under the parliamentary democracy that we look forward to after our general elections come September 2014.
I thank you Mr Chairman for this opportunity and wish the Forum every success.