Solidarity for Fijian democracy
by Mati English The November 15 decision by Fijian High Court Judge Anthony Gates, to order the reinstatement of the deposed President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and the democratically elected Fijian Parliament, was welcomed by the Australian trade union movement which has stood in solidarity with the people of Fiji since the May 19 coup. The High Court's ruling found that the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution was not legal. "Supporters of Fijian democracy, including Australian unions, have always maintained that the legal and legitimate solution to Fiji's constitutional crisis is the restoration of the 1997 Constitution, and the reinstatement of the democratically elected parliament", said ACTU President Sharan Burrow. The elected Fijian Government was overthrown when a failed businessman, George Speight, and a gang of his supporters took the Fijian Parliament hostage on May 19, 2000. Australian unions imposed cargo and communications bans against Fiji in support of the hostages who were released after 56 days. In his decision Justice Gates found that Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara is still President of Fiji and that the appointment of Laisenia Qarase's Interim Government by the military is illegal. He also found that the Judges who advised the military acted illegally and called on deposed President Mara to summon an immediate sitting of parliament which should resume its normal functions. The military said that it respected the High Court decision but would await the outcome of an appeal to be lodged with the Attorney-General. The post- coup government has already lodged an application with the Fiji Appeal Court to have the ruling set aside. "The decision is only the first step in the legal process", said military commander Frank Bainimarama. Post-coup Prime Minister Qarase has responded to the court decision by saying that he intends to remain in his position. Mahendra Chaudhry, the deposed Prime Minister, said that he was confident of popular support after the Court ruling: "I have no doubt that if there was an election tomorrow we'd still win, and win handsomely." Those who participated in the coup are a minority, he noted. The ACTU called on countries in the region to support the court decision. "It is now up to the Australian Government and other governments in the region to demand that the Fijian interim administration secede power and restore the democratically legitimate Parliament, President and 1997 Constitution."