Fiji flag change 'undemocratic'
The parliamentary opposition in Fiji has slammed the plan for a new national flag as undemocratic but the Prime Minister says it's time for a new flag which is more relevant to the country.
The parliamentary opposition in Fiji has slammed the plan for a new national flag as undemocratic.
The Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has announced the flag will be changed and its colonial symbols dispensed with, making it more relevant to every Fijian.
However, opposition to the move has surfaced quickly, including a petition to call for the government to halt plans to change the national flag until the public is properly consulted.
Sally Round reports.
The sea blue flag with its Union Jack in one corner and coat of arms carrying bananas, sugar cane, a lion and dove, was first raised at independence from Britain in October 1970.
Frank Bainimarama says it is now time for a make-over.
FRANK BAINIMARAMA: We need to replace the symbols on our existing flag that are out of date and no longer relevant, including some anchored to our colonial past. The new flag should reflect Fiji's position in the world today as a modern and truly independent nation state.
He says 45 years on from independence, on national day in October this year, a new flag will be hoisted. Mr Bainimarama says everyone including school children will be encouraged to enter a design competition to be judged by a government-appointed national committee made up of a cross section of people. He says everyone will be able to give their views and vote via social media.
But the Opposition Whip, Ratu Isoa Tikoca, says the whole idea of a flag change should have first been brought up in Parliament, followed by community consultation and a national referendum.
RATU ISOA TIKOCA: Finding a committee to deliberate on this issue is just a lie or probably something just to let the international community know that there is a process of democracy that has been reached or a process that we've gone through before this decision is reached. Unfortunately this decision has already been made.
Ratu Isoa says the current flag reflects Britain's important contribution to Fiji.
RATU ISOA TIKOCA:That is a great history which everybody else in a hundred years time, they will know that flag reflects that. What history have we created from 1987 to this year? It's coup after coup after coup. Maybe a rifle and a mask could be one to remember about that.
The National Federation Party says Fiji has more important things to think about like growing unemployment and the high cost of living.
The issue has been running hot on social media according to a regular user, Jasmine Kaur. She says there's been a mixed reaction to the idea of changing the flag among young people.
JASMINE KAUR: Some people feel the colonialism part of it needs to go away however some people have reactions like it's a symbol that they're closely associated with and they don't want to see it removed, especially since the decision to change the flag wasn't through a nationwide consultation process.
Fiji dropped images of the Queen from new bank notes and coins two years ago replacing them with pictures of Fijian plants and animals.
A Fijian culture and language expert at the University of the South Pacific Paul Geraghty says that entailed a lot of discussion so it'll be a challenge in multi-cultural Fiji to get consensus on the flag, although there are plenty of symbols which might work.
PAUL GERAGHTY: Things like a tanoa, which is a kava bowl, a tabua, which is the tooth of a sperm whale, which is very important in Fijian culture and then some people might also say well let's also recognise the contribution of the Indian community and there are certain household artifacts which are typical.
Fiji-based Tessa McKenzie was one of the designers of the current flag. She says they looked for lasting symbols which would be meaningful for everybody and Fiji should not be so quick to sever links with its past.
TESSA McKENZIE: The three agricultural symbols, they are a permanent part of our lives - bananas, coconut, sugar - they're part of our economy. With regards to the lion, it's not a British lion, it's a heraldic symbol. There are very few flags in the world that have pale blue and so I think that's a very powerful symbol too.
Tessa McKenzie says she might resubmit the present flag when the competition is held.
The flag design competition is due to get underway this month.
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