Concerns in Fiji over process for new flag
The Fiji Government is pushing ahead with its plans to change its flag, despite heavy dissent from the opposition benches.
The Fiji government is pushing ahead with its plans to change its flag, despite heavy dissent from the opposition benches.
The National Federation Party and the main opposition party, Sodelpa, say the Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, has no mandate to change the flag without a referendum.
A national competition is underway for a new design, but as Alex Perrottet reports, there are concerns that the Prime Minister has already made his mind up about that, too.
Alex Perrottet reports.
The Prime Minister told the Fiji Sun newspaper this week that submissions are being received from all over the country, and they include symbols of national unity such as a rugby ball, a coconut tree, a dove and depictions of the sea. But the opposition leader, Ro Teimumu Kepa, says the Prime Minister has told the nation on radio he wants to keep the colour blue. She says he is still acting like a dictator.
RO TEIMUMU KEPA: I'm not sure that they know really that this is a bipartisan committee which sits and with consultations from the people, with the people, that they can have a better decision making rather than them coming through parliament and then they just change it. It's difficult for them because they've been dictators for eight years.
The Sodelpa MP Bill Gavoka presented a petition with 1,500 signatures to Parliament, but it was dismissed. He too is concerned about the process.
BILL GAVOKA: They've given us some perimeters on how to design the flag and they say it must remain blue. Look, it's an ill-thought thing and this is very typical of Bainimarama's government, he shoots from the hip. That is what we are hearing, that they want to keep the blue background.
Bill Gavoka says the government is lost, as the chair of the committee won't be able to proceed without the opposition members, who say they will not join it.
BILL GAVOKA: I think they've got themselves into a bind, the minister who is chair of that design committee of the flag is himself not sure on how to progress because we are not part of it, the opposition has refused to be a part of it, so that brings into question the legitimacy of all of this. They are a little lost on how to progress.
The chair of the committee is Iliesa Delana, the assistant minister for youth and sports. He couldn't confirm if the government had given any directives about the design of the flag. He said he couldn't confirm anything until the committee sits, which will be during the next term of parliament, starting on May the 11th. The leader of the National Federation Party, Professor Biman Prasad, says it's an important issue and there are many Fijians on both sides of the debate.
BIMAN PRASAD: The government should not behave in a dictatorial manner, the government did not win the election on this particular issue. The right thing for the government to do is to call for a referendum. I mean they are out of dictatorship, we have a parliamentary democracy, and the people must have a choice. I mean democracy is about giving people a choice.
The government came under fire last week for circulating petitions through schools, asking teachers and students to collect signatures in support of the move for a change. The Prime Minister has previously said he wants to hoist the new flag on October the 10th, the 45th anniversary of independence.
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