Wednesday, June 8, 2011

[pima.nius] Racist overtones in Tevita Mara debate

2:14 PM |

Racist overtones in Tevita Mara debate

Updated June 8, 2011 07:55:26

In Fiji, a non-government organisation is renewing its calls for the public emergency regulations to be lifted and for work to get underway on a new constitution as soon as possible.

The Citizens Constitutional Forum's chief executive, Reverend Akuila Yabaki has joined calls from the former senior military officer Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara, for the regime to end the Public Emergency Regulation.

Reverend Yabaki says he's also concerned that the online debate about the situation concerning Tevita Mara has spiralled into an ethno-racist spat.


Presenter:Geraldine Coutts
Speaker:Reverend Akuila Yabaki, chief executive, Fiji Citizens Constitutional Forum

COUTTS: Now, can I just ask you what you think should happen first off in terms of these emergency regulations. Why are they still there all this time, like years after they were enforced?

YABAKI: Well basically, I think there is a fear about what might be described as a return to 2000, events of 2000. The PR has been in place now for 26 months. It came into place in 2009 and been extended 30 days each time until today, and there's no sign, despite all the promises that it will be lifted. Now what has happened, we're arguing that if you lift the PR and I've written to the prime minister twice, the last time was October and I've written another. I've called for a public consultation in a more recent letter to the government so that we can debate whether it is right that the PR should remain or there otherwise. But as you alluded to, the fact that when you shut people up, they find others ways of expressing themselves and more and more people are turning to the blogs and things that happens all over the world, not just Fiji, why not.

COUTTS: Has the interim prime minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, responded to either of your letters?

YABAKI: No, no, not I think they shelf it, but we do know that the sense of fear that they do not want to enter to that, although they say it will be lifted sooner or later, but I was concerned. One of the arguments that I put forward was that I was in Geneva for the presentation of the universal periodical review for Fiji to be when, exactly over a year ago and the promise was made there by the ambassador of Fiji, that they would lift it when they have the media decree in place, but now they coexist. The media decree came into existence 2010, may be November, October or sorry June and has still been in place, so they coexist.

COUTTS: Well as history has shown, not just through post-Fiji's coup, but throughout the Asias that if you do have any sort of like with the censorship of the press, that it pushes it underground. Now you're talking about the underground chatter about Tevita Mara. What are you seeing?

YABAKI: Yeah, I think unfortunately we issued a statement that we are beginning to see the ugly head of racism rising again.

COUTTS: What are you seeing, why are you saying that?

YABAKI: Because the arguments that's being used I think Ratu Mara's statements and the give and take under the surface seems to be going back to the same mindset.

COUTTS: But can you give me a specific example?

YABAKI: Sorry, I missed that.

COUTTS: Can you give me a specific example?

YABAKI: I think they're talking about there's some racist comments about Muslims or so forth being in charge and that's the sort of thing, sort of cheap shot that we do not want. We want to debate about the big issues, about reforms and land reforms, electoral reforms. Those are the issues that when you do not open up the discussion, people take cheap shots like that, which tends to fuel ethno-nationalist rhetoric we want to avoid. We do not want to go back there and I think if you ask Frank Bainimarama, he would say that he instigated the coup to rid the country of racial politics. But as long as you have PR, you are not encouraging that open discussion with a visionary for a better Fiji, that's what we need at this time.

COUTTS: Well, Tevita Mara....

YABAKI: If they change the Constitution to allow voting for 18 years of age, I mean that is great. It means 200,000 people have been told by the election people will be in the market to vote and that's a promising change for this country when (undecipherable)

COUTTS: OK, we'll get to more details of the Constitution in a moment. But I want to stick with Tevita Mara for another moment or two. He said a lot of things, he's had five blog utterances now and said a range of things calling on reform and that the leadership in the country is no better than previous leaderships in the country. What do you say to that?

YABAKI: Well, I didn't read that blog. You're quoting the blog for me, but if he talks ab out reform, then that is welcome, but he open debate to discussion about reform should be welcome and should be allowed to happen. But if you don't do that, then they do these other cheap shots about racist rhetorics which they do and we already called issued a statement was picked up as well internationally that the bigger Biketawa declaration which allows, which is a way that Pacific countries in the Pacific Island Forum could build with this kind of recent uprising here and there could be applied here, where other members countries of the Pacific Island Forum could help to. I mean it's an issue between Tonga and Fiji, but somebody who sought refuge in a particular country, that could be sorted out in a transparent manner through the Pacific Island Biketawa declaration, but I've heard that is not accepted at the moment and nobody is speaking up for it. But I think it should be left to the two countries to sort things out and as you rightly say, it's left to this kind of under innuendos and things which have been picked up by people, which people use to exploit.

COUTTS: Well, what's happened to the people's charter and there's been a lot of talk about constitutional reform and a new constitution and also the president's public dialogue and forum with politicians all of which seems to have died out. Why?

YABAKI: Well, some of those, one welcome change is the dialogue that is taking place between I mean some of the ones I've been engaged in is senior states officers at the level they have permanent secretaries and some of them part of the military council I think and the private sector and civil society, some legal people, that discussion is going on quietly.

COUTTS: But are all those people who are still allowed to sit at that table hand picked by the regime?

YABAKI: No, their's choice, but what you have, what you're talking about if it's the political dialogue of political parties and so forth, that is one that needs to take place. We haven't got to that level yet.

COUTTS: Well, it did start. There were political dialogues that have taken place?

YABAKI: It began, but it was suspended after April, 2009, and we haven't returned to that. So we are building up bricks.

COUTTS: Brick by brick? Alright, what about the Constitution, is it being rewritten and if so, when?

YABAKI: No, no, the plan is to begin that in September, 2012, but some of us, my own organisation has called for that to begin earlier rather than later and we've already started our own homework working on that and waiting to be engaged with the state. The state has made a statement saying that the constitutional commission is about to be put in place and it will be open and inclusive and we have not invited ourselves. We are ready to be part of that process and we urge to be invited to be part of it, because we've been down this road before as you well know and some of us have had experience in this. We welcome some particular reforms, like getting rid of race-based voting and I said that no country, you're own country has not welcomed that, getting rid of race-based voting. I don't think a self-respecting nation should not constitutional race-based voting in the 21st century and I think that should be welcome and we did propose that in the process leading to the 1997 Constitution, (undecipherable) we did that and also we welcome the voting age to be at 18 years. I think those are two positive moves. If we get those two things out of this mess if you like, it will be on a good turn.


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pacific islands media association
pima.nius@gmail.com
aotearoa, new zealand
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pacific islands media association
pima.nius@gmail.com
aotearoa, new zealand
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The pima.nius googlegroup is a facility for discussion and distributing information. Content sent by this googlegroup are forwarded from various networks and media publications.
 
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