Fiji court rules interim regime unlawful

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Fiji's Court of Appeal has ruled that the removal of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and the appointment of Fiji's interim regime following the military coup in 2006 was unlawful.

It has ordered President Josefa Iloilo to appoint a caretaker Prime Minister to dissolve Parliament and call elections. However, it has denied former Prime Minister Qarase's argument that he should be reinstated, instead ruling that the President should appoint an independent person.

Former Prime Minister Qarase welcomed the decision. "We are very happy with the decision of the Court of Appeal today... the Constitution of Fiji 1997 is the supreme law of Fiji and it has to be respected by everybody including the President," he said.

Interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said that the ruling had created a power vacuum. "There is a vacuum, because the court has not said that (ousted prime minister Laisenia) Qarase comes back as Prime Minister, the court has simply said that the President has to appoint a caretaker Prime Minister, a third party," he said.

He said the government would be appealing the ruling.

Fiji's military government was reportedly on alert in anticipation of the ruling, with police manning roadblocks throughout Suva, the capital city.

The case was brought by former Prime Minister Qarase. It questioned whether President Iloilo had constitutional authority to replace the Qarase administration with an interim government headed by military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama.

Soqosoqo ni Duavata ni Lewenivanua Party lawyer Brad Walker argued that the President's powers to dismiss the Prime Minister were constrained by the constitution. State counsel Richard Gordon QC argued that the President had powers to act outside the Constitution to protect the country in times of crisis. But the court ruled that the President's prerogative powers had been extinguished by the 1997 constitution.

A previous decision by Fiji's High Court ruled that President Iloilo's actions were lawful and valid.

The case was heard by Judges Justice Randal Powell, Justice Ian Lloyd and Justice Francis Douglas.


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