Fiji’s Opposition leader and former Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, has been suspended from parliament for three years, effective immediately.
After a long day of parliamentary debate, 27 MPs voted in favor of the motion to suspend Bainimarama, 24 opposed it, and four MPs did not vote at all.
The Parliamentary Privileges Committee had earlier in the day recommended the suspension (in a split vote), over comments Bainimarama made about the President and the military when he spoke in parliament earlier this week.
In that speech, Bainimarama accused the President of failing to protect the Constitution, saying, “The President of the Republic of Fiji as Head of State in whom rests the executive authority of the State and who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, failed to acknowledge the fact that the very Constitution which he is supposed to uphold is being stripped away almost on a daily basis. As the commander-in-chief he has failed to provide proper guidance to the RFMF.”
Home Affairs Minister, Pio Tikotikodua subsequently lodged a complaint with the Speaker of Parliament, claiming that Bainimarama denigrated the President as Head of State and had made a “seditious and disrespectful” appeal to the military in his speech, breaching parliamentary standing orders.
The Speaker found there was a prima facie breach of privilege, and referred the matter to the privileges committee.
During the course of tonight’s debate, Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka suggested the term of the recommended suspension could be halved, if Bainimarama apologised to the President.
“I wish the committee had put a proviso that if he had elected to apologise, that there would be a reduction in the severity of the award,” Rabuka told the house.
After this intervention and speeches from the Opposition, an amendment to the motion was then moved, halving the recommended suspension period to 18 months.
However after more speeches against the motion from the Opposition benches, the original motion was reinstated by Leader of Government in the House, Lynda Tabuya, and a vote was taken.
Under the terms of the suspension, Bainimarama is instructed to issue a written apology to President Ratu Wiliame Katonivere, and issue an apology to the public. He is also barred from entering the parliament precinct during the term of his suspension.
The former Prime Minister was not in the House for this evening’s session.
Bainimarama’s successor as Leader of Opposition has not been named.