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Ratu Sukuna’s Three-Legged Stool Concept – Its Value For The 21st Century

During the Ratu Sukuna Me­morial Celebrations at the University of Fiji last week, Vice Chancellor Shaista Shameem expressed deep respect for Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, considering him a man of immense talent, accom­plishments, and a true role model for young leaders, regardless of gender.

During the Ratu Sukuna Me­morial Celebrations at the University of Fiji last week, Vice Chancellor Shaista Shameem expressed deep respect for Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, considering him a man of immense talent, accom­plishments, and a true role model for young leaders, regardless of gender.

She recalled her first teaching job at Ratu Sukuna Memorial School, where she taught History and So­cial Studies.

Ms Shameem highlighted the sig­nificance of studying Ratu Sukuna as a “Man for All Seasons.”

This reference draws inspiration from Sir Thomas Moore, an En­glish lawyer, judge, social philos­opher, author, and statesman who served as Lord High Chancellor un­der Henry VIII. Moore’s renowned work, ‘Utopia,’ described an imagi­nary political system on an island.

“Being ‘A Man for all Seasons’ de­scribes what can only be referred to as a Renaissance Man. Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna was definitely that- a Renaissance Man,” she said.

“What he did for Fiji introduced an unprecedented era of develop­ment. He was a man who was ready to cope with any contingency and whose behaviour was always appro­priate to every occasion.”

Below is the part 2 of Jioji Kotobala­vu’s speech during the celebration at the University. Mr Kotobalavu lectures in public law and in international rela­tions and Diplomacy at the University of Fiji’s JDP School of Law


The continuation of ethnic com­munity-based representation in the House of Representative under the 1997 Constitution is of particu­lar interest. This Constitution, out of all of Fiji’s Constitutions, was the outcome of extensive Fiji-wide consultations with the people by an independent Constitution Review Commission.

The Commission comprised Sir Paul Reeves, a former Gover­nor-General of New Zealand, To­masi Vakatora, a iTaukei with ex­tensive public service experience as a former senior civil servant and senior Minister in Cabinet, and Professor Brij Lal, an outstanding scholar with unmatched knowledge of Fiji’s history and constitutional development.

The Commission’s report and rec­ommendations were considered and deliberated upon in the House of Representatives by an all-party Joint Select Committee.

The Committee included the three party leaders: Prime Minister Siti­veni Rabuka for the SVT, Opposition leader Jai Ram Ready for the NFP, and leader of the FLP, Mahendra Chaudhry.

The draft Constitution prepared by this Joint Select Committee was then tabled in the full House of Rep­resentatives. The House of Repre­sentatives unanimously approved it and so did the Senate.

The 1997 Constitution provided for representation in the House of Representatives through a system of open seats and ethnic community based seats.

In a House of Representatives of 71 members, all members were to be elected from single member constit­uencies.

Twenty-five were to be open seat members. All were to be elected by voters from all communities, regis­tered in an open electoral roll. This was significant because it was rec­ognition that Fiji needed to move towards a non-ethnic based system of electing its parliamentary repre­sentatives.

But 46 seats were to be allocated to four ethnic communities, elected by voters in four separate commu­nal-based electoral rolls.

The 46 seats were to be allocated as follows:




General Electors-3

The significance of these commu­nal seats was not only that the allo­cation was based on a community’s share of Fiji’s total population. But in addition, and most importantly, it guaranteed for each community a minimum number of seats in the House of Representatives

In retrospect, the mistake in the system of representation under the 1997 Constitution was the use of the preferential system of voting known as the alternative vote. Its applica­tion in the general elections in 1999 resulted in the defeat of the two principal authors of the 1997 Con­stitution: Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka and Leader of Opposition, Jai Ram Reddy. The other parties deliberately used their exchange of preferences to target their removal from Parliament.


The 2013 Constitution, prepared and promulgated by the Military regime of Bainimarama, fundamen­tally changed Fiji’s system of gov­ernment, including the way the peo­ple are to elect their representatives in Parliament.

Fiji is to be governed as a liberal de­mocracy. All vestiges of communal democracy were removed.

All communal based allocation of seats in the people’s House of Rep­resentatives have been totally abol­ished. Instead, all seats are allocated on a political party basis after a gen­eral election. Ethnic-based parties are prohibited. A party that wins at least five per cent of the valid votes cast is entitled to be allocated seats. The number of seats allocated to an eligible party will be in direct pro­portion to the total number of valid votes received by that party.

Under the 2013 Constitution, all eli­gible voters are registered in a single common roll. And voting is by the open universal franchise system of one-person, one-vote, and with all votes being of equal value.

All representatives are to be elected not from single member constituen­cies, but from a single multi-member constituency. The whole of Fiji is the constituency.

As a political community, Fiji is to be wholly considered as a polity of individual persons with equal fun­damental rights and freedoms. The foundation of our national unity is our common citizenship of Fiji and our common identity as Fijians.

Liberal democracy was the system of Government envisioned and ad­vocated by A D Patel from the early 1930s. And it was championed by the National Federation Party he estab­lished in 1968.QUO VADIS FIJI

Where to from here?

The question for us to deliberate on is: what is the best system of ensur­ing the just, fair and inclusive repre­sentation of the people of Fiji in the House of Representatives.

The House of Representatives is the representative body of the peo­ple in a parliamentary democracy.

The 2013 Constitution, in its Pream­ble, defines “WE, THE PEOPLE OF FIJI” as comprising the iTaukei and Rotumans as Fiji’s indigenous com­munities, and in addition to them, the descendants of those who came to Fiji as indentured labourers, set­tlers and immigrants.

We can discard the “three-legged stool” approach in the form it was adopted and applied by the British colonial Government because of its unequal, unfair and discriminatory treatment of the three communities. The colonial Government used the concept as an instrument to discrim­inate.

But what about the system of par­liamentary representation under the 1997 Constitution and the 2013 Constitution?

Which of the two is better for Fiji?


As I have explained, the 2013 Con­stitution provides for the election of members of the House of Repre­sentatives through a single common roll and the universal franchise of one-person, one-vote with each vote of equal value.

This was touted as the best system for Fiji because it removed all forms of ethnic or race-based representa­tion.

Liberal democracy, as a system of Government, is founded on the principle of the equal fundamental rights of every individual person re­gardless of race or ethnicity.

On the representation of the peo­ple in their Parliament, the primary consideration in a liberal democra­cy is on ensuring the equal right of eligible individual voters to choose their representatives.

This is different from a communal democracy where the focus is on the representation of the various ethnic communities.

Three general elections have been held under the 2013 Constitution. These were in 2014, 2018 and 2022.

The following are the important out­comes and consequences we can see from the results:

Representation in the House of Representatives by the ethnic minority communities of Rotu­mans, Europeans, Part Europeans, Chinese and others has been totally eliminated.

The number of Indo-Fijian members has remained at between 16 and 18.

The biggest gainers are the iTaukei. Their numbers in the House of Representatives have increased from 34 in 2014 to 36 in 2022 and are expected to continue to increase.

There are two explanations for this projected continuing increase in the number of iTaukei MPs.

The first is the continuing increase in their population. They now com­prise 62 per cent of Fiji’s population. This is projected to increase further reflecting their high birth-rate.

The Indo-Fijians are now about 32 per cent. This is a decline from 38 per cent in 2007. It is projected to fall further because of the low birth-rate among Indo-Fijians.

The second explanation for the projected continuing increase in iTaukei members in the House of Representatives is the iTaukeis’ very deep sense of common identity and common interests. They derive this from their collective and common ownership of their customary land.

Every iTaukei has a deeply in­grained dual sense of identity.

The primary identity is as iTaukei. They draw their deep sense of secu­rity from registration in the iVola Ni Kawa Bula [VKB] as a customary landowner through a Mataqali. The VKB is like a Charter.

For an iTaukei, identity as a Fiji citizen or Fijian, is secondary. It ap­plies mainly when cheering on the Fiji Sevens or 15s rugby team, or when seeking a passport to travel overseas. Nevertheless, being a Fiji citizen is very important in terms of one’s rights under the laws of Fiji.

It is this iTaukeis’ fundamental sense of common identity and in­terests that iTaukei political

candi­dates in general election campaigns appeal to, and exploit.

When an iTaukei voter enters the voting booth, the greatest influence at work in his or her mind is not much the political ideologies of a Democrat, a Republican, a Conser­vative, Liberal or Labour. It is his or her interests as an iTaukei. So, when you hear of the iTaukei talk about the primacy of their interests, this is what they mean.

This would explain the more than 80 per cent of iTaukei voters who voted for Mr Laisenia Qarase and his SDL party in the general elections in 2006. It also explains the big iTaukei support for Mr Rabuka in the gener­al elections of 2018 and 2022.

The decline in voter support for Mr Bainimarama and his political par­ty, the FIJIFIRST party, from 59 per cent in 2014 to under 47 per cent in 2022, can be explained by two phe­nomena: the decline in Indo-Fijian voter support, and iTaukei voters moving to support Mr Rabuka.

In future elections, we will see the “scissors effect” of the continuing growth in the iTaukei population and the continuing decline in the In­do-Fijian population.

This trend for the Indo-Fijian pop­ulation underlines the critical im­portance to them of the approach adopted in the 1997 Constitution of guaranteeing a stipulated minimum number of seats for each of the four ethnic-based communities.


After all this analysis, I have come to the following conclusions.

First, as I have said, the “three-legged stool” approach by the Brit­ish colonial Government in the representation of the people in the Legislature has absolutely no value for us in Fiji today.

This is because it was used nega­tively to treat the three communi­ties differently and unequally. It was used to favour one particular com­munity; the Europeans. The worst treatment was accorded to the In­do-Fijians. It was government by un­equal treatment and discrimination.

Second, in theory, the system of electing the peoples’ representatives in the House of Representatives under the 2013 Constitution would appear to be the best. There is no al­location of seats based on ethnicity. All voters, as individual persons, are treated equally. And voting is by the universal franchise of one person, one vote, and every vote is given equal value.

In reality, however, as we have seen from the results of three general elections held under the 2013 Consti­tution, Fiji’s minority communities of Rotumans, Europeans, Part-Eu­ropeans and Chinese today have no representatives in Parliament.

Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, from his “three-legged stool” perspective, would have been concerned about this.

If the present system of electing the peoples’ representatives in Par­liament under the 2013 Constitution is maintained, the iTaukei’s dom­inance in Parliament and Govern­ment will be further entrenched.

Is this good for our country? Will the minority communities still have confidence about their security and future if they have no direct voice in Parliament and Cabinet?

Ratu Sukuna’s “three-legged stool” concept remains relevant today in that it serves to remind us that even general elections under liberal de­mocracy cannot be considered to be just and fair if they result in the exclusion of minority ethnic com­munities from representation in Parliament.

The system of elections under the 2013 Constitution has to be funda­mentally changed if representa­tion of all communities is to be en­hanced.

The single multi-member na­tion-wide constituency has to be replaced by single member constit­uences. This will also obviate the need for the five per cent vote thresh­old for eligibility for an alloction of seats. This will be fairer to Indepen­dents and small parties.

General elections will no longer be a popularity contest among the lead­ers of the competing parties. Mem­bers of Parliament will win their seats only through the votes they receive, and no longer with the help of votes amassed by their party lead­er. And most importantly, people will know who their representatives are.

What we have seen from the im­plementation of the current system of representation and voting under the 2013 Constitution should be a re­minder to us all that there is no per­fect Constitution.

A country must always be prepared to review its Constitution in light of changed circumstances, to better serve the needs of its people to be governed through a just, fair and in­clusive approach.

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