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Great Council of Chiefs (Fiji)

From Academic Kids

Template:Nobility of Fiji The Great Council of Chiefs (Bose Levu Vakaturaga in Fijian) is a constitutional body in the Republic of the Fiji Islands. It is not to be confused with the House of Chiefs, a larger body which includes all hereditary chiefs, although membership of the two bodies overlaps to a considerable extent. The Great Council of Chiefs is established under Section 116 of the 1997 Constitution, but it actually predates the Constitution by many years, having been established by the British colonial rulers in as an advisory body in 1876, two years after Britain had annexed Fiji. The Constitution merely formalizes and codifies functions that the Council had long performed. It has continued in existence without interruption, although its composition and functions have varied over the years.

Composition of the Council

The Great Council currently consists of 55 members, mainly hereditary chiefs along with some specially qualified commoners. Its composition is as follows:Template:Politics of Fiji

These arrangements came into being on 9 June 1990. Previously, 22 parliamentarians holding seats allocated to indigenous Fijians held membership ex officio in the Great Council of Chiefs, along with 2 or 3 representatives from each of the 14 provincial councils. In addition, there were 8 chiefs and 7 commoners chosen by the Minister for Fijian Affairs. Following two military coups in 1987, the Council decided to abolish the right of elected parliamentarians to hold ex officio council membership, and to reduce the number of government appointees.

Except for the life member, all members serve four-year terms.

Constitutional role

According to the Constitution, the Great Council of Chiefs has two major powers:

  • It functions as an electoral college to elect the President and Vice-President of Fiji, for a five-year term. In certain circumstances prescribed by the Constitution, it may remove the President or Vice-President from office, in the case of felony, incompetence, negligence, or being unable to carry out their constitutional duties.
  • It chooses 14 of the 32 members of the Senate. (Although Senators are ceremonially appointed by the President, his role is a mere formality: the Constitution obligates him to accept and appoint the 14 nominees chosen by the Council, as well as 18 Senators nominated by other institutions (Prime Minister 9, Leader of the Opposition 8, Council of Rotuma 1). Filling nearly half of the seats in the Senate, the nominees of the Great Council of Chiefs have an effective veto if they vote as a block, as they are almost certain to be joined by enough of the other Senators to muster a majority. They do not always vote as a block, however: Fiji's chiefs are a very diverse body. In practice, the Great Council of Chiefs delegates its prerogative of choosing Senators to Fiji's fourteen provincial councils, with each province choosing one Senator.

In addition to these constitutionally mandated functions, the Great Council of Chiefs has other roles that may from time to time be prescribed by law. In addition, it is considered almost compulsory for the government to consult and secure the approval of the Council before making major changes to the Constitution, although nothing in the Constitution requires it to do so.

Recent history of the Council

From the late 1980s onwards, the Great Council of Chiefs was compromised by manipulation from the government. Since the coup of 2000, however, it has worked, with mixed succeess, to regain its independence. In 2001 it dismissed 1987 coup leader and former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka from the chairmanship, in the midst of allegations about his possible involvement in the coup of 2000. It has also cut its former ties with the Fijian Political Party (which it originally sponsored in the early 1990s, and has declared its intention to eschew party politics in the future, although individual members of the Council will, of course, remain free to participate in politics as individuals.

In June 2004, the Great Council of Chiefs was plunged into crisis when the Cakaudrove Provincial Council decided not to return Ratu Epeli Ganilau as one of its representatives on the Great Council. This decision had the effect of prematurely ending Ganilau's term as Chairman of the Council, as its regulations require the Chairman to be a member. It is thought that Ganilau's open disagreement with several senior government figures, including Vice-President Ratu Jope Seniloli and Information Minister Simione Kaitani, along with fears that he was undermining the neutrality of the Great Council to use it as a platform from which to advance his own political ambitions, were factors in the Cakaudrove Provincial Council's decision. He was replaced by Ratu Ovini Bokini, who was thought to be more sympathetic to the government.

Despite Fiji now being a republic, the Great Council still recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as its Paramount Chief.

On 20 April 2005, the Fijian government announced plans to grant greater formal powers to the Great Council. This proposal was immediately opposed by Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry, who said it would lead to "dual government," in Fiji, and also drew criticism from Ratu Epeli Ganilau. The former Chairman of the Great Council, now the interim president of the National Alliance Party, said that he believed that the powers of the Council were already sufficient.

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