The recent developments in Myanmar remind us that even cosntitutions adopted with low expectations can mark significant political change. In this light, it is worth watching forthcoming developments in Fiji, where military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama yesterday lifted the three-year-old state of emergency, and announced the need to move toward a new constitution. The new draft, he says, will be based on the principle of one-man, one-vote, and will not use ethnicity as a formal basis for politics. The state of emergency was declared after the Court of Appeals found that Bainimarama’s 2006 coup was illegal.
Bainimarama is sticking with a timetable he announced back in 2009, when he said that the constitution-making process would begin in September 2012. Bainimarama appears commited not to reinstate the abrogated 1997 constitution. That document, which led to the election of Fiji’s first-ever ethnic Indian government, was blamed for perversely reinforcing the ethnic bases of politics, despite its intentions otherwise. It remains to be seen whether the new drafting process will use the 1997 text as an informal basis. This approach might save some drafting energy while allowing for the mitigation of the electoral institutions that exacerbated ethnic conflict.
Back in 2009, Bainimarama also said that the process would involve wide consultation among stakeholders. It remains to be seen whether he will deliver on this promise.