IT was Monday morning and all the little girls in the dormitory were whispering that today was the day we were going to be holding the badging ceremony. Everyone was wondering who was going to be the head girl and who were the prefects that were going to help her run the school.
I remembered this so vividly as if it was yesterday as that was my first introduction as well as my recollections of the democratic process of election.
A month before, a list of names of all eligible senior students was compiled and circulated to all classes so students from Form Two to Form Six elected the 30 or so prefects as well as the head prefects who were to run the school.
Now on a Monday assembly, we were going to be told who was going to lead us. In addition to leading the school population, the prefects elect were going to deliberate on issues on behalf of the students and somewhere there was a room called the Prefects Common Room where the head girl and her team would hang out and it was here that we heard stories where they cooked up discipline measures and other ominous things to hang mischievous little girls like me with.
It was also whispered that it was here that new rules were made up and they would discuss this with the teachers on duty and members of the teaching cadre.
Thinking back to the days of school meetings and punishment parades made me realise that the process in Fiji of preparing for the constitution and the election is a way of practising the concept of democracy.
The prefects were chosen by each student who thought the prefects had qualities that made them leaders to represent them in their dormitories as well as leaders in specific areas such as sports, in the dining room or school building apart from general leadership duties.
The Constitutional Assembly is supposed to be a selection or election of people to be a representative of the Fijian population.
The members of the Assembly are supposed to participate in the process without any distinction based on race, gender, religion, age, occupation, residence, learning or disability.
They are expected to have respect for human dignity, human rights, people's participation and practise openness.
They will also base their decisions upon the purposes and guiding principles of the constitution.
Just as the school prefects were elected according to school guidelines, the members of the Constituent Assembly will also be elected according to certain criteria.
The criteria for election requires that they be citizens of Fiji, persons of experience in public affairs or distinguished in their profession or sphere of life and be honest people who would have integrity.
In the same token, a person could not be elected if he or she were of an unsound mind, was convicted of an offence whether it be for six months or more or had been removed from a public offence for misconduct of any kind.
People elected to the Assembly would be based on the following distinctions.
They would be representatives from government, political parties, faith-based organisations, representatives of employers, members of the business communities, trade unions, farmers and members of rural communities, Fiji Military Forces, members of national organisations, women, people living with HIV and AIDS, people living with disabilities, youth, pensioners and members of other civil society groups.
The chair of the Assembly would be appointed by the Prime Minister and the members of the Assembly would start meeting in the second week of January 2013 after the Constitution Commission presents the draft constitution to the President in the first week of January 2013.
They would have to be committed to the best interests of the nation and people of Fiji as a whole. Members would have to be open with the Assembly and the people of Fiji and avoid conflicts between their personal interests and their duties as members.
A member was to attend all meetings and was bound by the decisions of the people and would not express dissent publically or privately other than in a meeting or Assembly.
A member would not accept any bribe or favours including hospitality from a person who would stand to gain in the decision the Assembly might make.
The Assembly would be open in all its deliberations to local people and in some instances, some foreign media could be present in reasonable numbers at its deliberations.
The Assembly and its secretariat would supply the media with regular and accurate information about the work of the Assembly and endeavour to assist the media to understand the issues in order to enhance members of the public to better understand the constitutional process. The financial records of the Assembly could also be accessed by the public should they be required to do so.
The role and purpose of the Constitutional Assembly, is to be more representative of the Fiji society and to ensure that the dreams, hopes and even the fears of the people in Fiji are represented in the constitution.
As the role of the Assembly is crucial in the process of nation-building, we as citizens of Fiji should start deliberating over who our representatives should be and if our community or section of society is not represented, we must ensure that we are fully represented.
Just as students in my school were excited at the prospect of electing their leaders and with it the fear or maybe silent applause that their favourite leader was in to articulate their interests or be their voice in all matters, both internally in school and outside with other schools, we as members of certain sectors of society must start our process of democratically getting our representatives into the Assembly to articulate as well as represent us.
We must articulate the need to have our representatives into the Constitutional Assembly chosen by us and not imposed on us. We are on our way to democratic elections and to do this effectively and sincerely shouldn't we start by electing our representatives in the Constitutional Assembly to articulate our issues and concerns?
Shouldn't we be allowed to have representatives of Fiji society be involved in this very crucial process?
Shouldn't we truly practice democracy through our actions and not just verbalise it?
Shouldn't we be transparent in all our processes and show that we are truly democratic and open in all the appointment processes we follow?
Shouldn't we show the world that we are making changes and truly working and walking together to build a Fiji that is encompassing of all sectors of society by electing our representatives into this August body, which will determine the finer print of our constitution?
Would you prefer your representative to be selected or elected? What's your take on the matter as we embark on the constitution-making process?
* Fay Volatabu is the general secretary for the National Council of Women Fiji. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org