Fijian verdict welcomed
Published July 19th 2003 in Reuters Wire

LONDON. The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Don Mckinnon, today described as "an important landmark" the ruling of a five-member Bench of the Supreme Court of the Fiji Islands that the Prime Minister must give proportional representation in his Cabinet to all parties with more than 10 per cent of the seats in the House of Representatives. Mr. McKinnon said in a statement: "The decision signifies an important landmark in the political history of the Fiji Islands. I welcome the leadership demonstradted by the Prime Minister, Qarase, in his reaction to the Supreme Court ruling on Friday and his statement in which he said that his task now is to implement the decision taking into account the political questions that the Constitution does not address."

The Secretary-General expressed the hope that Mr. Qarase and the former Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, would maintain a dialogue in good faith through their `Talanoa' process to map the way forward. The Supreme Court ruled that under Section 99 of the Constitution the Prime Minister must invite all the major parties to be represented in the Cabinet. It left to the Prime Minister the selection of persons in consultation with the leaders of the parties concerned.

The decision will lead to the refashioning of the government by including up to eight ethnic Indian MPs from the Fiji Labour Party led by Mr. Chaudhry in this racially-divided south Pacific nation. The judgment was delivered amid tight security in the capital Suva while public reaction to the development was being watched.

The `Talanoa' process was facilitated by the East West Centre in Hawaii to promote a Pacific-Island style dialogue that would bring together people with opposing views without any predetermined expectations of an agreement. Under this process, Mr. Qarase, who is the leader of the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) party and Mr.Chaudhry, have held several rounds of discussions on issues critical to the Fiji Islands. The developments in the islands were considered most recently in May 2003 by the Commonwedalth Ministerial Action Group.

Political observers said the development left Mr. Qarase with three options: offer the labour MPs minor posts, reshuffle the Cabinet to allot to labour MPs senior posts, including those that concern the ethnic affairs portfolio, or order snap elections. Mr. Qarase only recently ruled out the third option. Australia and New Zealand, Fiji's biggest trade partners which are Pacific neighbours, and aid donors, have welcomed the court's decision.