AMIDST all the chaos and confusion and allegations and counter-allegations about motives and methods that suffuse the present political discourse in Fiji, there is a window of opportunity to take the country forward.
Despite all their disagreements, the military, Laisenia Qarase and Mahendra Chaudhry seem agreed on one thing.
And that is their dissatisfaction with Fijis race-based electoral system.
Lt-Col Mosese Tikoitoga, speaking for the Military Council, wants it jettisoned forthwith, with the next general elections fought from completely non-racial seats.
Mr Qarase has similarly expressed a willingness to explore the possibility of common roll.
And Mr Chaudhry has long been on record saying that the communal system of representation is an obstacle to the emergence of a true multi-ethnic political culture and the formation of governments consisting of members of all communities.
There may be some divergence of views among the three about the haste with which Fiji should move towards complete non-racial voting system, but on the broad direction, there is no disagreement.
The issue has featured in recent discussions no doubt because of the demographic trends revealed by the recent census which show indigenous Fijians at around 57 per cent of the population and Indo-Fijians around 37 per cent.
This trend could potentially be the harbinger of a major political transformation in Fiji, putting to rest all the fears and phobias which have long bedeviled Fiji politics, divided the nation and crippled its potential.
For far too long, all the people of Fiji have yearned for peace and prosperity which has seemed just within reach and which has yet remained elusive.
Common roll could be just the circuit breaker Fiji needs.
It wont solve all of Fijis accumulated problems, but it will be a good start.
Common roll has a long and troubled history in Fiji.
It first entered the political arena in 1929 when the newly elected Indian members of the Legislative Council moved a motion demanding its immediate introduction.
The motion was defeated, predictably, given the European and Fijian opposition to it, but the point had been made and the battle joined.
For SB Patel, it was the principle of the idea that mattered most, he told his close friend Henry Pollak in London, the principle of equality and non-racialism.
And it needs to be remembered that the motion was put before the Legislative Council when the Indo-Fijians were actually a minority community in Fiji.
The issue lay dormant from the 1930s to the 1950s when it was briefly resurrected by Governor Sir Ronald Garvey who recommended a limited introduction of a multi-racial bench in the Legislative Council.
His proposal was rejected by the Whitehall keen to keep a tight leash on developments in the colony and skeptical of initiative it did not authorise itself.
Common roll came to the forefront of political debates with the return of its most brilliant advocate, AD Patel, to electoral politics in 1963, just when the first moves began to nudge Fiji towards independence.
Common roll became the defining issue for the Federation Party.
One Nation, One People, One Destiny, the partys slogan proclaimed.
Common roll, Patel argued, was the only way to build a truly cohesive nation of diverse peoples.
Communal rolls, on the other hand, stood for divided loyalties.
Political parties should be organised on ideological, not racial lines, so that everyone is compelled to think in terms of their country rather than a particular race, community or religion. Breakdown of representative government may occur because the legislators and executives are prevented by communal loyalties from attacking problems in a common sense fashion.
Elections should be more than just racial censuses.
Fiji should become a republic with an elected Fijian head of state, AD Patel proposed in 1968, and Fijian should become our common name, he had mooted a year earlier: Visions unrealised.
Patels proposals were greeted with complete opposition by Fijian and European leaders.
The latters objections were understandable.
They were grossly over-represented in the Legislative Council, and feared change which, they knew, would diminish their preponderant political influence.
This change they could not countenance, especially from the descendants of people whom they had long dominated and thoroughly despised.
They, after all, were members of the governing race.
Fijian leaders feared being swamped.
Everything seemed to be against them, including absence from the commercial scene and gross under-representation in the professions and in the civil service.
They saw no advantage in independence, and said so well into the late 1960s.
Fijians were new to electoral politics, having gained universal franchise only in 1963 and chiefs, unused to the play of democratic politics via elections, were at the helm.
Common roll, as Fijians of the older generation will clearly remember, was like a red rag to an enraged bull.
Those two words, more than anything else, had the effect of closing off many a Fijian political mind
Future for common roll
I will not use space here to argue whether common roll would necessarily have led to Indian domination.
With the geographical scatter of the population and single member boundaries, it could not have.
But the issue is now moot.
Does common roll have a future?
I certainly think and hope so.
There was a time when people thought that common roll would never be possible in Fiji.
Well, the present 25 open seats are in fact common roll seats by another name, and everyone accepts them as being good and desirable and worth having.
Politicians will adapt to any system in place as long as they see an advantage in it. That is one of the incontestable truths about politics.
We have seen the deleterious effects of the communal system since independence.
It does indeed encourage divided loyalties and hobbles the conduct of government where loyalty to the community that supports it transcends the broader interests of the nation.
It has not fostered a sense of true nationhood nor an overarching sense of national identity.
It breeds suspicion and encourages racial discrimination.
It archives public memory along racial lines.
The list of its harmful effects is endless.
The introduction of common roll will not solve all of Fijis problems, but it will serve to reduce the harmful effects of racial consciousness which has for too long poisoned political discourse in Fiji.
The question has been asked: What will happen to the rights of the minority communities if common roll is introduced.
There is a school of thought which says that minority communities, however defined, cannot trust majority communities to represent their interests fairly.
If this argument is followed to its logical conclusion, then we must accept that the smaller the minority community, the greater its claim to separate representation.
The Rabi islanders, the Solomon islanders, the Chinese, and so on, should all have separate representatives in parliament for that reason.
This course of action is patently ridiculous, leading to complete, hobbling, political fragmentation.
But if we accept that the smallest minority in any human community is the individual, and if we protect the rights of that individual through watertight safeguards in the constitution, the Bill of Rights and through entrenched legislation, then the rights of every citizen is protected.
There will, then, be no need for separate representation.
What about the rights of the Indo-Fijian community, I have often been asked, especially now that they are in a minority.
The question is: What are Indian interests?
How do you define them?
One can be fairly specific about Fijian interests: Land ownership, chiefly titles, and so on.
But Indian interests are generic: Good governance, respect for the rule of law and order, protection of property rights, the right to free speech and association, freedom of religion and conscience.
But these are already protected in the Bill of Rights.
So what rights will separate representatives protect?
It has long been my view that the political security of the Indo-Fijian community lies in political integration with the Fijian community, not in ethnic compartmentalisation or separate racial representation.
Numbers by themselves dont mean anything.
They never have.
They guarantee nothing.
They provide only an illusion of protection.
Our history, hobbled by racial division, has not been encouraging.
We have been trapped in a racialised mindset. We need to break out of it.
How could things proceed from hereon, given the consensus about moving away from a racial voting system?
If the militarys insistence that the next general elections should be held under a completely non-racial system of voting is to be respected, then the three principal stakeholders the military, Mr Qarase and Mr Chaudhry should meet.
They should decide whether they wish to proceed to complete common roll for all the 71 seats in one fell swoop, or accept the Reeves Commissions report for a gradual but decisive shift, to say, 46 seats of the 71 to be contested on common roll.
If a consensus is reached, the President could recall the deposed parliament for the sole purpose of voting on the proposal, which is likely to pass given that Mr Qarase and Mr Chaudhry will be on the same side.
Once the Constitution is amended, new electoral boundaries could be drawn to take account of the changes.
The elections might be delayed by a few months, but given the enormity of the project undertaken, no one is likely to quibble, including Fijis donors.
The delay will have been worth it.
Every cloud has a silver lining.
The adoption of common roll could be Fijis.