The People's Charter is central to understanding the Fiji situation and its future under Commodore Frank Bainimarama. First World Governments try to push this regime back to the ballot box, but the interim head of state is intent on following through on the charter's goals, however long that may take.

If not actually a mandate from the people, the People's Charter is nonetheless a clear statement of Bainimarama's goals, and implicitly offers motivation and justification for his takeover which has suspended civilian government in Fiji for more than two years.

Contrary to widespread thinking and unlike previous coups, the December 2006 Bainimarama-led takeover was not to protect the indigenous heritage from Indo-Fijian-supported, Labour Party-led Governments.

It was motivated by the perceived corruption of Laisenia Qarase's SDL party Government, and against its institutional racism towards Indo-Fijians. (High numbers of Indo-Fijians emigrated from Fiji in the Qarase years, 2002-2006). It was a stand taken by the indigenous military leadership against the indigenous people's Government and for the Indo-Fijian minority.

The charter aims to weed out corruption and have a genuine democracy that can overcome the racism embedded in the state structure and the electoral system in particular. The existing electoral system, promulgated under the authority of Sitiveni Rabuka's unconstitutional military regime during the'90s, guarantees 50 per cent of seats to indigenous voters.

Although having progressive features, this electoral system has failed to overcome the ethnic nature of politics in Fiji. There's also a strong prima facie case, according to the Commission of Inquiry into the 2006 Fiji General Election, to indicate that this election was systematically corrupt and probably denied for the third time in Fiji's recent history the election of a Labour Party-led Government.

The People's Charter expresses strong commitment to a political process that can deliver a genuine democracy transcending ethnic divisions with free and fair elections and a commitment to the principle of universal and equal franchise. The Administration is working to implement 32 recommendations by the commission.

A national census has enabled the Electoral Commission to redraw electoral boundaries, but the nation's electoral roll is still full of errors such as misspelling and geographical misplacement of Indo-Fijian citizens - many of whom were turned away from the ballot boxes in 2006. Many other recommendations are also being addressed.

The report stopped short of recommending change to the electoral system itself, partly because it would mean difficult constitutional change. More significantly, the People's Charter's commitment to universal and equal franchise implies such a commitment.
Changes to the constitutionally embedded electoral system, originally forged by an unconstitutional Government, are now being looked at by the interim regime whose constitutionality is also contested. In a procedural sense, constitutional change is problematic in the present context because it requires Parliament to be sitting, and it requires a 66 per cent parliamentary mandate.

But substantive problems arise because the achievement of a genuine democracy is not simply given by universal franchise.

The developed world often thinks democracy is a straightforward gift to developing nations and that its repeated failure has nothing to do with the complexities of achieving democracy. Despite obvious and less obvious anomalies, election observers from the UN and the developed world are keen to rubber-stamp just about any election.

First World institutions almost always oppose military takeovers of civilian Governments, while playing down underlying flaws in the political process that help explain such interventions, and prescribe a fast path to the ballot box as a remedy.

Also, the First World tends not to recognise that problems often stem from the deep divisions left by their colonial regimes.

Bainimarama is caught in a bind. Ultimately, he would like to be judged by history as a hero of the people's democracy that overcame corruption and racism.

But replacing the present communal block voting system with equal universal franchise will, as an effect of the reduced Indo-Fijian component of Fiji's population, favour the SDL and the return of Qarase.

And there are very personal grievances underpinning Bainimarama's opposition to the SDL. It amalgamated with the extremist party linked with George Speight's 2000 attempted takeover, whose men killed some of the commodore's men.

He feels a strong personal need to right the wrongs created by the SDL Government and ensure Qarase's SDL party never rules again.

* Dr David Neilson is a senior lecturer in the Department of Societies and Cultures at Waikato University.