Opposition Loyalty Shake-Up: Threats to Democracy?

Dialogue Fiji executive director Nilesh Lal has raised concerns about the functioning of the Opposition caucus following the declaration of support for Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka by nine former FijiFirst members of Parliament.

Lal emphasized that a strong and unified Opposition is crucial for any democracy to ensure robust debate, accountability, and transparency within the parliamentary system.

“The recent developments threaten to undermine these democratic principles,” said Lal.

He highlighted that in the Westminster system, there are two distinct sides: the Government and the Opposition. “Typically, in a Westminster parliament, the Government side (comprising MPs supporting the Prime Minister) sits on the right of the speaker, while the Opposition (MPs supporting the Opposition leader) sits on the left,” he noted.

Lal suggested that since the nine former FijiFirst MPs had declared their allegiance to the Prime Minister, they should occupy the benches on the government side (as backbenchers).

“It is greatly detrimental to the functioning of the Opposition caucus if they remain part of the Opposition while supporting the Government,” Lal added.

“In Westminster systems, the Government and Opposition have an adversarial relationship, which is necessary to ensure that the Government is held accountable. You cannot be part of the Opposition and support the Prime Minister.”

Lal pointed out that Fiji’s Constitution is clear on this matter and provides specific guidelines on how the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are chosen, and how MPs are aligned.

“The nine independent MPs who have expressed their support for the Prime Minister cannot be party to choosing the Leader of the Opposition because they are expressly excluded by Section 78 (1)(c).

“Therefore, the remaining 17 independent MPs are the only ones eligible to elect the Leader of the Opposition, being bona fide opposition MPs.

“According to Section 78, subsection 4, the majority of these 17 independent MPs can now write to the Speaker, informing him of whom they have elected as their leader.”

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