Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Economist deconstructs Frank's power play

Fiji's dictator might be able to keep the country's media from asking pesky questions about his recent manipulation of the constitutional process (such as, WTF?), but the international press is not so easily cowed. The esteemed UK magazine The Economist has weighed in on Frank's machinations and predicts that the country's "strongman" has already overplayed his hand.

Under the headline "Opportunity blown," The Economist predicts that Bainimarama has lost any hope of even claiming legitimacy for the process. The respected publication quips that "soldiers tend to be poor at handling their nation’s affairs, and so it has proved in the Pacific island state of Fiji." Frank's mistake was in ditching the opportunity for discussion of the draft constitution -- his draft, not the one proposed late last year by the Ghai Commission -- by his hand-picked Constituent Assembly. By not allowing even this measly level of public participation in the process, he cannot hold it up to international scrutiny without people holding their noses. After all, allowing the draft to go to the CA would have "empowered a popular body to deliberate on the affairs of the nation," notes The Economist. In Frank's Fiji this is simply not allowed. Fortunately, such strong-arm tactics do not come without peril, and Bainimarma, according to this analysis, has already bungled it.
By firmly reasserting his control, Mr Bainimarama may perhaps have avoided the risk of troublesome upstarts seizing control over the transition. But he has also blown his chance to preside over the creation of a new political order that is durable and legitimate.
The constitutional consultation process, according to The Economist, was such a success in attracting more than 7,000 submissions that even the RFMF emerged from it stoked about the country's potential under a democracy. The Yash Ghai-led Fiji Constitutional Commission accepted the regime's “non-negotiable” provisions, then demonstrated its independence by pointing out that many of the interim government's decrees, which limited rights the FCC planned to enshrine, would have to be ditched. For one brief, shining moment, Fiji had a chance.
Such was the euphoria around the process that the armed forces, in their own submission, said that the FCC had triggered “a sense of belonging culminating in a national pride” and a “togetherness which we must continue to foster”.
Under the expert-led constitutional consultations, observed The Economist, troubled Fiji "seemed to be enjoying a political renaissance." Then Frank went and blew it because his mile-wide authoritarian streak simply could not truck any semblance of democratic participation. That might mean, after all, someone being allowed to disagree with him and get away with it. Fijians must by now be asking themselves how much the future of their country has been endangered by relying on the wisdom and equanimity -- or lack thereof -- of one self-appointed leader.

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