Written by Paul Buchanan on Thursday, January 17th, 2013
Revelations that the Fijian military-bureaucratic regime has rejected important aspects of the draft constitution submitted by a panel of international jurists led by professor Yash Ghai make clear the intention of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) to continue to play a core role in Fijian politics after the 2014 elections.
That has led observers to question the RFMF’s commitment to democracy, and led some to wonder if the elections will even be held as scheduled. As things stand a constituent assembly selected from a variety of stake-holding groups by current Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Baimimarama, will be convened in March 2013 with a charge to deliver the constitution for ratification by September. Once ratified, that constitution will be the foundational charter under which the September 2014 elections will be held.
There appears to be a consensus amongst foreign observers that the military objections to the draft charter are a sign of its reneging on its promise to restore democratic governance in 2014. Many see this as a sign of bad faith on the part of Commodore Baimimarama and the RFMF. In truth, this view may have neglected what the RFMF had in mind all along when it proposed the 2014 elections and hand-over date. What it had in mind was not a liberal democracy akin to those of its traditional patrons. Instead, what it envisioned, and which it has been pretty honest about when speaking of its vision of Fiji’s political future, is something that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s in Latin America and Southeast Asia: a “protected” or “guarded” democracy as a successor the the military-authoritarian regime. The concept is neither new or novel, and the learning curve derived from the precedent of larger countries is clear in the Fijian case. Fijian use of comparative referents is not unusual in any event.
Before detailing the specifics of “guarded” democratic regimes and the future of such in Fiji, it is worth reviewing some basic issues in constitution-drafting. Constitutions basically outline procedural and substantive guarantees. Procedural guarantees refers to the rules of the political “game:” who gets to vote, how they vote, how the votes are counted, who is eligible for office, how voting is apportioned, the duties and responsibilities of government and its respective agencies, the rights are people entitled to in and outside of the political process, etc. Substantive guarantees refer to the privileges accorded citizens: free speech, freedom of thought, association and movement, the right to cultural autonomy and identity, and often much more. Some constitutions are drafted along “minimalist” lines in that they refer mostly to procedural rather than substantive guarantees. Others are more ambitious, detailing substantive rights to education, health, housing, welfare, caloric intake, a role in governance and redress for past injustices. It goes without saying that the latter are harder to implement. In most instances constitutions are a blend of procedural and substantive guarantees, usually with an eye to providing the basic foundations for governance in which the rule of law can apply (and in which substantive guarantees can be negotiated).
A “guarded” or “protected” democracy is one in which elected civilian authorities constitute the government, and in which the universal rule of law applies. However, unlike liberal democracies,where the military is subordinate to civilian authority, in guarded democracies the military as an institution serves as the ultimate arbiter of policy decisions.
Unlike limited democracies, in which the franchise and collective rights are circumscribed, in guarded democracies there are no limitations on individual or collective freedoms, including the right to vote. Nor is the military directly involved in politics. Instead, in a guarded democracy the military serves as an unelected overseer of the political system precisely because it sees itself as an apolitical, autonomous and professional commonweal organization not beholden to partisan interests.
Guarded democracies are not military authoritarianism wrapped in civilian garb.
If the civilian government operates within the operational and policy parameters established by the military in the transition to electoral rule, then the military stays in the barracks and out of politics. It is only when civilian authorities are perceived by the military hierarchy to be overstepping their bounds (as defined by the military), that the armed forces as an institution intervene in the political process. This makes the military the power behind the throne and encourages self-limiting behavior on the part of civilian political elites.
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