Laisenia Qarase

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Laisenia Qarase
image:laiseniaqarase.jpg
Order (Prime Minister): 6th Prime Minister
Term of Office

(Prime Minister):

(1st time) July 4, 2000 - March 14, 2001

(2nd time) March 16, 2001 - present

Followed: (1st time) military administration
(2nd time) Ratu Tevita Momoedonu
Succeeded by:
(1st time) Ratu Tevita Momoedonu (March 14 2001)
(2nd time) n.a. (still in office as of 2004)
Date of Birth February 4, 1941
Wife: Leba Qarase
Occupation: merchant banker
Political Party: United Fiji Party

Laisenia Qarase (born February 4, 1941) is the Prime Minister of Fiji. A banker by profession, Qarase first managed the Fiji Development Bank, then in 1998 became head of the Fiji Merchant Bank. In 1999 he became a Senator, and a leader of the opposition to Mahendra Chaudhry's government. Qarase was appointed Prime Minister on July 4 2000, after the coup that led to the removal of Mahendra Chaudhry was quashed by the military. A native of Karaba Island in the Lau archipelago, he is one of many Lauans to have held top leadership positions in Fiji.

Contents

Prime Minister of Fiji

Qarase has remained Prime Minister since, except for a period of two days (14-16 March 2001), when he temporarily vacated the office to meet a constitutional technicality; the Supreme Court of Fiji had ruled that his government was unconstitutional and that Mahendra Chaudhry remained the rightful Prime Minister. In a series of moves that legal experts have considered to be of doubtful constitutionality, Qarase resigned on March 14, in favour of Ratu Tevita Momoedonu (who had been a Minister in the Chaudhry Cabinet, so that Momoedonu could advise President Josefa Iloilo to dissolve the Parliament and call an early general election. As soon as this technicality had been attended to, Qarase resumed the Prime Ministership. He was subsequently confirmed in office when he led his newly formed United Fiji Party to victory in the election held to restore democracy in 2001. As Prime Minister, Qarase proved popular with business leaders, who appreciated his steps to liberalize the economy and boost tourism, the main source of foreign exchange.

Domestic policy

Qarase is known as a champion of the interests of indigenous Fijians. He has rejected suggestions that he is a racist, however. Addressing Muslims celebrating Muhammad's birthday on 25 April 2005, he said that the concept of racism was "alien and abhorrent" to him. He argued, however, that to ignore racial issues would be "irresponsible and dangerous," because race was "a fact of life." He said that his government was working to build "an inclusive society, where the views of every community and group are taken into account." He summed up his vision for Fiji by saying, "My government's aim for Fiji is not to return to where we once were but to journey forward together to a place we have not yet been, a Fiji of lasting peace and harmony, where nobody is left behind or goes without."

On 22 May 2005, he blamed lack of genuine mutual respect and appreciation among Fiji's diverse religions and cultures for many of the divisions the country currently faces.

In a speech on 25 May, Qarase affirmed his strong support for the chiefly system, saying that to weaken the chiefs would be to weaken the nation. "I believe that the chiefs of Fiji have relevance for all our citizens not just the Fijians, they still represent stability, order and continuity. ... If the chiefs were diminished, the entire nation would be weakened and be vulnerable," he said.

In a parliamentary debate on 3 June, Qarase set out his own interpretation of why indigenous Fijians want to keep the leadership of the country in their own hands. This attitude sprang from insecurity, which he considered understandable in view of what has happened to indigenous peoples elsewhere. He said that Indo-Fijians had not responded to indigenous initiatives to extend the hand of friendship of cooperation, and that until a higher level of interracial trust could be achieved, the insecurity felt by many ethnic Fijians would remain. Rightly or wrongly, Qarase said, those responsible for the overthrow of the Into-Fijian-led government in 2000 were responding to the Tagi in Taukei, or cry of the Fijian people. The government's controversial proposal to establish a Reconciliation and Unity Commission would give such people a chance to clear their consciences.

Foreign policy

Qarase has also taken a strong stand against what he sees as foreign interference in Fiji's "domestic affairs." On 2 March 2005, he strongly reacted to a U.S. State Department report critical of racial discrimination in Fiji, and of the racial divide between Fiji's two main political parties. He rebuked the United States for interfering in Fiji's internal affairs. "Fiji can make a similar report on the US on all those issues. Our report would be far worse than the US state department's report on Fiji," he said. Then, on 13 April 2005, he rejected criticism from Australia and some other countries over the prosecution and imprisonment of two foreigners charged with committing homosexual acts, and said that other countries needed to respect Fiji's independence.

He has also spoken out on issues relating to poverty and economic development in third world nations, including Pacific Islands states. Addressing the 28th annual meeting of the Association of Development Financing Institution in Asia and the Pacific (ADFIAP) at the Sheraton Resort in Nadi on 13 May 2005, Qarase said that poverty was the "greatest challenge" for development banks. He lamented what he called the greed and consumerism of rich countries which, he said, had the greatest concentrations of wealth in history while nearly half of the world's population is classified as poor, with more than a billion people living on less than one dollar a day. He called this disparity "an insult to the very concept of social justice" and "a shameful mark on the civilization of the 21st century." He went on to say that "The shame is compounded by the failure of developed countries to commit enough of their wealth and resources to helping poor populations from developing countries."

Qarase called for an international system to provide market access to exports from poor countries, to enable them to earn their own way in the world. He also condemned corruption, saying that it hindered investment, stunted economic growth, and led to rediced standards of living and to a fall in government revenues, and called it "a stain on the integrity of any nation."

Qarase is known as a staunch friend of Israel, a position he attributes to his strong Christian faith as well as to his partially Jewish ancestry. On his orders, all United Nations votes involving Israel must be referred to him personally for approval. His support for Israeli interests has not been unconditional, however, and Senator James Ah Koy (a fundamentalist Christian) has strongly rebuked him in Parliament for not standing for Israel strongly enough.

Political controversies

Qarase has faced challenges on numerous fronts. Less than one percent of the Indo-Fijian population voted for his party in 2001, with a further 22 percent voting for the National Federation Party, which was loosely allied to his party. Recent byelections and local government elections show that his support in the Indo-Fijian community has increased, but only marginally. Almost 75 percent of Indo-Fijian voters supported Chaudhry's Fiji Labour Party, which Qarase refused to include in his Cabinet, despite its winning of 28 seats, more than three times the number stipulated by the Constitution for representation in a multi-party cabinet. On 18 July 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that the exclusion of the Labour Party was in breach of the Constitution, and demanded that the situation be rectified. Subsequent appeals, counter-appeals, and negotiations stalled the appointment of Labour Party ministers, however. In June 2004, the Supreme Court that the Labour Party was entitled to 14 out of 30 cabinet posts. Qarase announced that he would respect the ruling and implement it. His refusal to include Chaudhry himself in any cabinet, however, continued to stall the ensuing negotiations about the composition of the cabinet, until the Labour Party announce late in 2004 that it was no longer interested in joining the cabinet.

Another challenge for Qarase is the conviction of persons responsible for their part in the 2000 coup. On 6 August 2004, Vice-President Ratu Jope Seniloli, and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure, were found guilty of treason and were given prison sentences of four and six years, respectively. Both are stalwarts of the Conservative Alliance, a coalition partner in Qarase's government. Anxious not to lose the six votes of that party, on which he relies for his parliamentary majority, Qarase declared that he was "dismayed by the severity of the sentences" that had been handed down. His government indicated, however, that it would not interfere with the process of law. On 29 November 2004, however, Attorney General Qoriniasi Bale announced that the government had decided to parole Seniloli on health grounds, in return for his resignation.

A similar scenario unfolded in the trial of Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, and Senator Ratu Josefa Dimuri. On 3 April 2005, Lalabalavu and Dimuri were convicted of unlawful assembly for their role aiding and abetting the 2000 coup by visiting rebels at the Sukanaivalu Barracks on 4 July that year, and were sentenced to eight months' imprisonment. Lalabalavu subsequently resigned his ministerial portfolio. Both were released on parole after serving just eleven days of their sentences.

Opposition politicians charged that the release of Seniloli, Lalabalavu, and Dimuri was for political reasons, as the six votes of the Conservative Alliance are needed to maintain the government's parliamentary majority.

Also in May 2005, the Qarase government introduced controversial parliamentary legislation to establish a Reconciliation and Unity Commission with powers, subject to presidential approval, to compensate victims and pardon perpetrators of the 2000 coup. The proposal has generated a storm of protests from opposition politicians, many of whom were victims of the coup, as well as from the military. Even Ratu Ovini Bokini, Chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs, expressed concern on 18 May that the Great Council had not been consulted and was "in the dark" about the bill. Ratu Bokini's comments drew an immediate response from Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, who said that he saw no need for prior consultation with anybody. "Any Bill is drafted without consulting any party or stakeholders is because it contains what the Government wants to be included in the Bill," he said. At the annual conference of his United Fiji Party on 27 May, Qarase strongly defended the proposal, saying he believed it was essential for Fiji to bring closure to the agony of the past in order to move on. "We cannot bring the people together and concentrate all our energies on developing the country when the agony of 2000 is continuously haunting us," he said.

On 29 May 2005, former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka accused Qarase of hypocrisy. Rabuka said that a number of groups had split from the Fijian Political Party, which Rabuka had led in the 1990s and which was then the only mainstream Fijian party, and it was this that had given rise to the current political disunity among indigenous Fijians. Qarase's calls for unity now were hypocritical, Rabuka said, as the Prime Minister's own United Fiji Party was one of the factions responsible for the fragmentation of the indigenous vote.

Personal views

Qarase is known as a devout and outspoken Christian. Addressed the Christian Youth Conference in Suva on 15 May 2005, he called on young Christians to put their faith into practice, and not to be intimidated by peers who might consider a strong religious commitment to be unfashionable. He also called on Christian young people to do what they could to stop the spread of AIDS, which he said "poses a terrible threat to the world."


Preceded by:
none (office vacant)
Ratu Tevita Momoedonu
Prime Minister of Fiji
2000 - 2001
2001 -
Succeeded by:
Ratu Tevita Momoedonu
present incumbent

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Template:Wikiquotepargl:Laisenia Qarase

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