Monday, 13 October 2008 9:55 AM

Fiji High Court Dismisses Qarase Case, Legalises President's Actions in Coup

The High Court of Fiji dismissed deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's challenge on the legality of the interim government in its ruling on Friday, declaring that the President's actions following the military take-over in 2006 was legal.

As reported by Fiji Times Online, the Suva High Court, in its landmark ruling last week Thursday, 'dismissed ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's challenge' and cemented the 'President's powers in times of emergency'.

'Acting Chief Justice Anthony Gates, while delivering the ruling said the decision by His Excellence, the President Ratu Josefa Iloilovatu to appoint an interim government post military takeover was valid'.

'A panel of three judges Justice Anthony Gates, John Byrne and Divendra Pathik delivered the judgement stating the President's decision was to exercise prerogative powers to rule directly until elections could be conducted'.

Mr. Qarase's case 'had sought several declarations from the High Court relating to the military coup of December 5th, 2006 and other key actions taken by the interim regime after that date' and the 'President's powers post-coup in 2006'.

There were immediate reactions to the ruling last week. According to the report, Mr. Qarase said 'he was surprised and disappointed about the decision on the case' and that the 'decision will encourage future coups'.

'"The decision will encourage future coups, because all that the coup perpetrators need to do is to get the President to validate all illegal actions carried out during and after the coup," he said', adding that 'justice no longer appears to be the business of Fiji's judicial system, saying the judgement today has made a complete mockery of that system'.

Former Opposition leader, Mick Beddoes, also ousted after the 2006 coup, said that the 'judgment legitimised treason as a means of changing governments in Fiji which only served to encourage more coups in Fiji', also adding that 'he was grateful that the decision exposed the judiciary as no longer independent'.

Mahendra Chaudhary, leader of one of Fiji's major political parties, the Fiji Labour Party and former Finance Minister of the interim regime said that 'party welcomed the ruling, adding it necessitated the need to re-examine and clearly define the reserve powers of the President'.
Former Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka, who staged Fiji's first coup in 1987, stated that the ruling was "dangerous" in that it 'provided a legal justification for the December 2006 military takeover'

The response from regional neighbours, Australia and New Zealand, has been the same with both saying that democracy should come first.
In response to the ruling, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Smith, 'told Radio Australia that despite understanding that the former PM may appeal against the ruling, it did not change the fact that Mr Bainimarama was backing away from promises he made'. He was referring to Bainimarama's promise to regional leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tonga that Fiji would hold elections by the end of March next year.

A statement from the Embassy of the United States of America in Fiji stated that the 'suspension of certain aid from the United States still stands despite the High Court declaration'.

In the meantime, interim 'Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has called on all citizens to respect the declaration by the High Court favouring the regime' and 'invited registered political parties to meet, discuss and agree on an agenda for the way forward towards constitutional and sustainable democratic governance'.