Asia Pacific Report newsdesk
Fiji celebrated Constitution Day today virtually due to the ongoing civid-19 pandemic crisis, but many see the day as a hollow event not worth celebrating.
The national holiday marks the eighth year that the adoption of the controversial and contested 2013 Constitution by the Bainimarama government has been observed.
Among the critics this year is opposition National Federation Party (NFP) leader Professor Biman Prasad who says the document is “widely rejected” around the world while being “frequently ridiculed” at home in Fiji.
- READ MORE: Former PM Chaudhry challenges day to mark ‘flawed’ constitution
- Fiji police warn against public holiday gatherings
“Every year the FijiFirst Party desperately attempts to talk up the Constitution,” he declared in a statement today mocking the document.
“It even tries to suggest that it is one of the world’s best. Yet no serious constitutional lawyer believes so. Around the world it is widely rejected. In Fiji, it is frequently ridiculed.”
Prasad said the Constitution was nothing more than “a piece of paper if it is not honoured in spirit”.
“In Fiji, the Constitution does not belong to the people. The people live in fear of its institutions.”
Dr Prasad spelt out the reasons he believed caused this “national fear”:
- “Most people live in fear of the government. Many fear police assaults, which are now routine.
- “Other people fear being identified with the opposition, because they will be denied government benefits.
- “People who do not want to be vaccinated are denied welfare. Those who dissent with the government line on vaccinations are arrested.
- “Laws such as Bill 17 [introducing governance changes for indigenous land] are rammed through the Parliament without consultation. Even MPs who criticise these laws are detained and questioned by police.
- “Under our Constitution people have a right to health. Yet this government’s shocking handling of the covid-19 second wave has led to hundreds of deaths, both from the disease and from denied care. We have had some of the highest covid infection rates in the world.
- “Trade unions are refused the right to march to demand workers’ rights. And the government has not increased the already pitiful minimum wage for nearly five years. Even people with full-time work live in poverty.
- “Our Human Rights Commission is supposed to enforce and protect our constitutional rights. Yet it is widely ridiculed as a pro-government mouthpiece and a national joke.”
Dr Prasad lamented that this was the Constitution as Fiji lived it today – “the so-called ‘reality of the matter’.”
He pledged a National Federation Party government would abolish “Constitution Day” if elected in Fiji’s general election next year.
“We will instead create a Founders’ Day – a day to commemorate the great leaders of Fiji’s past, a reminder to all of us about those who led us in the lead-up to independence and helped to create our country.
“A NFP government will also reinstate Ratu Sukuna Day as a public holiday.
“We have been blessed with sound, wise leadership in the past. One day, good leadership will return to our country.”
- Fiji reports five covid-19 deaths and 160 new cases in the reporting period that ended at 8am today.