Fiji's military dictatorship's trashing of its new draft constitution is a major step backwards and a disappointing development, New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says.
Last night the Fiji regime said the draft constitution, which was drawn up with the help of $500,000 in New Zealand aid, was an appeasement to racist divisions in the Pacific nation.
Military ruler Voreqe Bainimarama said the draft would be scrapped and his legal officers would write a new constitution to be presented to a constituent assembly he would appoint next month.
And next week he would issue a new decree on who could register political parties.
But of major concern to the military, which seized power in 2006, is that the draft proposed limiting the future role of the military in politics and directed that soldiers would not have to obey illegal orders.
The military has been responsible for all Fiji's four coups.
Last year Bainimarama, who rules by decree, commissioned Kenyan law professor Yash Ghai to draft a new constitution, but after it was presented to Fiji President Epeli Nailatikau last month, police seized copies Ghai had arranged to be printed, and burnt the printer's proofs.
McCully told Radio New Zealand today that last night's spiking of the constitution was "a very disappointing development".
Ghai's report had been commissioned by the regime itself which at the time was regarded as helpful.
"The fact that they have trashed the work of the commission is pretty unhelpful," McCully said.
He said the move would bring into question whether promised elections next year would be free and fair.
McCully said it was always going to be a problem to get the military out of politics and back into their barracks.
The moves yesterday were a big setback but New Zealand would continue to work toward change.
"This is not flash," McCully said.
"This is a backward step of some proportions."
In Fiji, Bainimarama, and the military-appointed and directed Nailatikau, both spoke to the nation last night.
Nailatikau plugged Bainimarama's successes and said Fijians wanted a constitution that would endure.
He said they wanted one that had fundamental principles of democracy, good governance, accountability, human rights and transparency enshrined in it.
"We can no longer pander to the old school of thought that one ethnic group is always under threat from another," Nailatikau said.
Politicians used to claim that Fijians were under threat from Indians and the country needed to break that shackle, he said.
"Ghai's draft succumbed to the whims of the few who had an interest in perpetuating divisions within our society," the president said.
He called the draft constitution "very disheartening".
Although speaking as head of a military regime that had seized power, Nailatikau said Fiji could not allow "unelected people to make decisions for the rest of the general public".
"We need a merit-based society," he said.
"We need to remove discrimination. We need to remove extremist politics."
Ethnic Inidans account for 37% of Fiji's people while the 56% who are indigenous Fijian are also split along vanua or family lines.
Bainimarama then told the nation he had asked for the draft constitution to be amended to ensure it was positive.
He said a new draft of what would become Fiji's fourth constitution would be available by the end of this month.
He would then send it to a constituent assembly made up of people he would appoint to finalise it.
"We are on track to hold truly democratic elections under the principle of common and equal citizenry, and the principle of one person, one vote, one value," he said.