22 Aug 2013

Fiji Govt releases country's fourth constitution

9:15 am on 22 August 2013

The Fiji government has made public the country's fourth constitution.

The document was drawn up by the regime after it dumped last year's draft drawn up by the Yash Ghai-led Constitution Commission.

It replaces the 1997 constitution, which the regime abrogated four years ago.

In a statement, the government says this constitution paves the way for elections by September 30th 2014, for the first time, on the basis of equal votes of equal value.

It also says the President, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, will give his assent to the document on September the 6th.

As previously flagged by the Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the final version of the document differs from the Draft Constitution by containing specific provisions that guarantee and strengthen the protection of communally-owned i'Taukei, Rotuman and Banaban lands.

The Ministry of Information says that during the consultation process that followed the release of the Draft in March, a large number of submissions were received calling for explicit protection clauses.

It says these have been accepted and incorporated into the final document.

In addition, it says, for the first time, an extra provision gives any landowner the right to a fair share of royalties derived from the exploitation of resources beneath the surface.

The Constitution provides for a single chamber 50-member Parliament - up from 45 in the draft document- which will be the country's supreme authority and be elected on the basis of one person, one vote, one value.

Elections are to be held every four years and every Fijian over the age of 18 is entitled to vote.

In another alteration to the draft document, individual regional constituencies are abolished.

A government statement says there will be one national constituency covering the whole of Fiji, as in The Netherlands and Israel.

And every voter will get one vote, choosing the candidate who they believe best serves their interests under a proportional representation system.

The constitution also says a Prime Minister who commands the party with the most seats in Parliament will head the elected Government and, in line with current practice, a President will be the Head of State and perform the ceremonial function of Commander in Chief of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.

The 98-page constitutional document in English has also, for the first time, been translated into the two main vernacular languages - i'Taukei and contemporary Hindi.

In the 15 days before the President gives his approval, members of the public are invited to read the vernacular versions and provide feedback on their accuracy.