Head of Fiji's military issues warning over constitution
The head of Fiji's military says there will not be another coup after September's election, but any government that tries rewrite the constitution becomes illegal.
The head of Fiji's military says any government that tries to rewrite the constitution post-election will disqualify itself but it is not for the army to step in.
General Mosese Tikoitoga told Radio New Zealand International when taking control of the military in March that he wanted to stay out of politics and concentrate on upholding Fiji's constitution.
He stresses the military remains nonpartisan but told Christopher GIlbert any government that attempts to throw out the current constitution will delegitimise itself.
MOSESE TIKOITOGA: There will not be another coup in Fiji. I stand by that statement and I am working with my officers and members of the RFMF (Republic of Fiji Military Forces) to ensure that there is no more coup in Fiji. We will remain apolitical to any political activity leading up to the elections. What the RFMF will do now is to become nonpartisan to any activities of all political parties. We will accept whatever comes into force after the elections. The reason why I said there won't be any more coups is because the constitution that we have now put in place is the framework (through) which Fiji can now look forward to proper, inclusive democracy that will nullify the reasons for past coups.
CHRISTOPHER GILBERT: Okay so the constitution as it stands is enough to ensure that there won't be another coup, as long as that constitution is in place?
MT: Yes, correct.
CG: So, if there is a change of government after the election, and that government wants to change the constitution, what will happen?
MT: There is a process within the constitution that allows changing any part of the constitution and that process will be the will of the people. That's what we will stand by. The process includes three quarters of the parliament has to agree on the change after we, the... the government then needs to put it to a public referendum. It has to be agreed by another 75 percent of the voters in the referendum to change part of that constitution. If that process is followed and the people and the Fijians agree to the amendment of the constitution then that part of the constitution will change.
CG: But, you're quoted here saying that the army will not tolerate an elected government rewriting the new constitution.
MT: Yes. It's not rewriting the constitution. It says that it will abide by the processes of the constitution. If they suddenly come in and throw away the constitution and want to rewrite the constitution, that is not the provisions of a constitution. And that cannot be accepted.
CG: Right, so you're open to the constitution being amended bit by bit but not rewritten all at once?
MT: Yes, correct. That's what is the provisions of the current constitution, and for me to defend that constitution we need to abide by that part of the constitution.
CG: If a new elected government comes in and tries to rewrite the constitution all at once, what will the army do?
MT: If they rewrite the constitution, which means if they throw away the constitution, that nullifies the government doesn't it? That makes that government illegal because they've thrown away the very document that brings them in.
CG: And will the army take power again?
MT: Look, the army will look after that constitution. I don't know what you mean, if the army will take power again. If the government disqualifies itself then there are processes for a new government to come in and have a new election to be done. The process of having another election or the process will then depend on the powers in the constitution where the President has the powers after that. It's not for the army to take charge. There is a process under the constitution, and the process, like I said, hypothetically if they throw out the constitution then they disqualify themselves.
CG: I want to ask you one more question about a different matter. This is from a press release from the USP Journalism Academic, that 'the head of Fiji Armed Forces has admitted the military has beaten and tortured Fijian citizens who expressed dissent on radio'. You told The Age of Melbourne that the victims were speaking on the radio and trying to start military groups, and had to be silenced. Is that true, has the Fiji military beaten and tortured Fijians who expressed dissent on radio?
MT: That is not what I said. During the interview I told the journalist that I don't deny that there were some people who were taken to task, after 2006, they were taken to task because there was potentially agitators that were trying to agitate the public. So we did what was necessary then to ensure the safety and security of all Fijians. That interview was done a few months ago. The timing of it coming out with any particular paragraph only to be chosen out of all that interview and being taken out of context by USP is wrong. We've made sure we've changed the mindset of military personnel to remain apolitical and to become nonpartisan to any political activity. We would truly appreciate it if commentators and political parties would exclude the RFMF from political discussions. If that can't be understood then I don't know how else I can convince people that we do not want to be part of any political activity.
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