(o) Some Thoughts on Democracy: The Polling Booth, Imposed Guided Choices and Grassroots Participation



In the Western democracies we rely -- sometimes too heavily -- on the power of the ballot box to keep our politicians honest and intent on improving the lot of all citizens. In Fiji, the Bainimarama government, with limited consultation, is setting up structures it hopes will produce a fairer Fiji for all its citizens, but in seeking to do so it is largely excluding the people whose lot it says it seeks to improve, although a small group of leading citizens are being asked their opinions.

Put nicely, government sees itself as a benevolent dictatorship that knows best what is needed. Less generously, it is imposing its ideas, excluding those with contrary or moderating views, and doing too little to harness or mobilize grassroots opinion in support of its cause. 

The hope is that this approach will bring about permanent beneficial changes for Fiji. I fear it could be mistaken. The four years to elections is too short a time to change ethnically-moulded mindsets unless ordinary people, the so-called grassroots, are actively engaged in the transformation. One way of doing this -– long known and advocated by some NGOs and development thinkers –- is by participatory democracy. Engaging vocal or otherwise prominent representatives of the people is not the same as directly engaging the grassroots. 


Before disguarding the idea as too idealistic, think how useful mataqali (and not NTLB) discussion could be on land use, and joint local Fijian and Indo-Fijian discusions on leases and land rents. Think how the problems of the sugar industry could be lessened or resolved if the ordinary people affected had a say.  Think how useful it would be for local communities to voice and have some control over their own development priorities. Think what could happen if women and young people, and if Kai-Solomoni and other marginalized groups, were fully involved in local discussions. Think how beneficial it could be if ordinary citizens were encouraged, through their local committees, to carefully think through race relations and the sort of Fiji they want for their children. And think what could happen if they asked their children.

In the Pacific, the work of the Solomon Islands Development Trust provides an early example of this approach, and ECREA's squatter empowerment work a later Fiji model. The Pacific can also learn from others' experience.


Two old friends emailed me this example from Brazil. The Brazil situation did not last forever, and it need not in Fiji, but the idea of neighbourhood democracies, also practised in Singapore, intent on addressing local issues and seeing how best to locally implement the People's Charter, could, with adaptation, be "a way to go" in Fiji.  


Promoting Participatory Local Democracies: Brazil

One means of building people’s power and confidence in social change is supplied by the system of participatory democracy in the city of Porto Alegre in southern Brazil. In her book  “Inventing Local Democracy” Rebecca Abers reports on her two years of studying this system.

Abers’ study of grassroots politics in Porto Alegre under the Workers Party [Partido Trabalhadores or PT] traces the growth of participatory budgets and their effect upon the social and political lives of “the excluded . PT was formed in 1980 and was influenced by Paulo Freire’s ideas about educating and mobilising the oppressed. Freire was a foundation member.

In 1988 a PT mayor was elected and almost immediately his party began on a “participatory budget" policy, in which the grassroots initiated and decided what they wanted in their areas of the city and negotiated with the local government for this. The outcome was a beginning of people’s power over an important part of their lives and was a new concept to those used to being ignored, oppressed and living as they could.

Abers tells us: “ One of several reasons that the PT was politically successful in Porto Alegre was that, through participatory policy it fostered the organization and development of a large number of neighbourhood-based groups in the city.”

People set up groups or joined existing groups in neighbourhoods. There the needs of the neighbourhood were discussed and priorities decided. Delegates from neighbourhoods then debated in regional groups what should be done first in the region. If a neighbourhood was not active or could not find a full delegation to the regional meeting, there was a likelihood that its requests would be turned down. Active participation became the key.

Initially only a small minority of people in neighbourhoods took part, but those who did so knew local problems and could turn to the task of formulating solutions. This action was self-selecting. Anybody was welcome to take part. The more who did so in a neighbourhood the more regional delegates it was entitled to.

While the elected City Council maintained its constitutional rights to decide on policy, in practice a great deal of the initiative came from and remained in the hands of the people in neighbourhood groups. Conflicts with official views and city hall priorities certainly occurred. In many cases the result was a compromise acceptable to the residents, or the change was gained but deferred till the Council could do it.

In this complex city society, encompassing grinding poverty as well as relative comfort, it was inevitable that claims affected by class differences or bureaucratic practices of local government, or even the unreasonable expectations of the poor would lead to controversy. But this, however, did not result in the participatory system being abandoned; rather there occurred increasing activity within it. Conflict with authority and its power was thus put into a form of action.

The following excerpts from Abers   “Conclusions”  summarise her findings.

Today dozens of regular forums and councils discuss nearly every aspect of local decision making. Seminars, conferences and community meetings, in which state officials and citizens discuss and decide together on issues ranging from street lighting to economic development policy are an everyday occurrence.

In sum the political strategy of the administration led it to encourage rather than fear the organization of civic groups that were capable of resisting co-optation.....”
... the fact that the government’s legitimacy stood on its democratic reputation actually helped participants pressure administration officials to change the policies when questioned. Certainly the government always sought to convince participants that its positions were correct. But controlling the details of policy-making was less important than maintaining a strong grassroots support base and an image that it was responsive to citizen demands. ....”


This state of affairs ended with the loss of power of the PT in 1992. The new PT national president Lula da Silva decided to repay World Bank loans instead of helping the poor of Brazil. His party imploded and the Porto Alegre mayoralty was lost. Some party members said they were torn by leaving the party but could not remain as sellouts. Lula had gone from a peasants smock to a dark suit. The ideology of the suits had changed him radically.
-- Flip flop Photo: themoderatevoice.com


Comments

Are dreaming Croz or what? Try defining mindset in a Fijian sense. Fijians will always be Fijians, Indians will always be Indians, & likewise for Banabans & Rotumans etc in Fiji.

Western society can help but not bulldoze as per your current thinking.

Just leave the Fijians alone. Period.

Quoting Croz W,
"The four years to elections is too short a time to change ethnically-moulded mindsets unless ordinary people, the so-called grassroots, are actively engaged in the transformation." Unquote.
Time to grow up said…
Sa dina, ko iko e dua na luvei Viti. But isn't it time to grow up?. "Just leave the Fijians alone"? Baleta na cava? So they can continue to wallow in their sense of separateness and isolation from the real world? Fiji is a multiracial, multicultural country whether you like it or not. And it will only move forward as a viable, vibrant nation when every race resolves to set its differences aside and work together. If ordinary people need to be taught this, so be it. Leaving them alone is no longer an option.

Croz has already posted what Fiji ought to emulate - the Singapore pledge:

"We, the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society based on justice and equality so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation."

By embracing this ideal, and instilling it in every child, the majority race in Singapore - the Chinese - have embraced Malays, Indians and others to build a nation that's now the envy of the whole world.The Fijians would do well to consider the wisdom of following the same course. It doesn't threaten any of your own rights. Indeed it enhances them by making Viti stronger and a country fit for well adjusted grown ups, not children demanding to be left alone.
Ni vasoti au said…
Sorry, that should read "luvena ni Viti" as in child of Fiji. ie. singular.
Ratu Sai said…
Luvei Viti.

It goes without saying Fiji is dire need of a complete mental attitude overhaul.

"Isnt three generations of imbeciles enough?"

Oliver Wendal Holmes Jr.
hahaha...you sure wanting to post as Sai Croz..we have already sussed out yr style of writing. Gotcha yah!!

You obviously sound like the misguided Ragg in the hey days, 'a windy & misguided radical' that does sound like the whole lot of you posting comments in this article!

The comments posted above by ttgu & nva & yrs s are replica [s] of what Ragg had written in those days, ' a disappointing document devoid of any constructive proposals.'
"Parturiunt montes noscitur ridiculus mus' & agreed by Sir JS of CO.
Que? said…
Luvena Ni Viti, what are you smoking?

Are you talking about Sir Hugh Ragg or some other Ragg and under what circumstances?

Please explain. Or perhaps your leave pass from St Giles has expired and you're back tied to the bed.
Feeling left out,Que? Huh?? One you don't even know what you are phrasing in yr comment 'luvenani Viti' ..do you know, this can only be said by someone who does not know the correct & accurate Fijian language. [Vakamaduataki keimami na kawa i Taukei se lewe ni vanua mai Viti!!]

2ndly, 'fend for yourself mate' if you cannot suss out which Ragg we're referring here. Try reading some Fijian history which will bring you up to speed.

As for your other low level comments..perhaps you are speaking for your yourself i.e that you are ready to go to 'bakava house' in Suva & smoking 'weed'eh!

Plse do not wastte my valuable time as will not be responding to any more comments on this link.
Luvei Viti Dina.
Anonymous said…
@luvei viti, move on please, Fiji is now a multi racial society! we are all fijians! "kua ni kauta mai na bula ni gauna i noa"....macawa!!!
@anon
E vaka cava edua na ka e mosi vei iko? Na leqa gona niko sega ni kila na duidui ni Gone i Taukei Dina [Fijian], Gone ni Idia [Indian} goone ni Rotuma se gone ni Banaban se mani gone sara ni valagi [European].

Eda na duidui tu ga. Na leqa vei iko e rairai o sega ni kila na nomu katuba ka ko sa tukituki lamulamu taki tu vaka edua na kuro kari waki vata tu kei na vei mataqali kakana tale eso!! Sa dri yani. Sa tini eke baleta ni sega ni dua na betena na vei volavolai ena tikina oqo. Na vuna levu ga e toqai yani kina na i sau ni vola oqo baleta nio vola mai vaka Viti ka au gone ni Viti ka Taukei bototo se kena vaka vavalagi [Authentic & Pure Breed Fijian]

quoting @Anon..move on please, Fiji is now a multi racial society! we are all fijians! "kua ni kauta mai na bula ni gauna i noa"....macawa!!!
Mar 23, 2010 3:46:00 PM" unquote.
Croz Walsh said…
Sorry Luvei Viti, Comments must be in English. See tab on Comment Rules at the top of the main page. Please re-write. I want to know what "authentic and pure breed" anyone is, given the extent of migration and miscegenation over the centuries, let alone what an authentic Fijian is. Why the fixation on race? Culture-wise, are you as authentic as your great-grandparents?

The discussion is important but unless you re-write in English, I'll have to delete your comment in 24 hours.
To remove or delete the comments written in Fijian is your prerogative, Croz Walsh. That I cannot help if you decide to follow through with your comments.

By the same token, we will not be coerced or forced to translate just because you dictate. You have allowed some Fijian language postings that contains 'low level gutter-talks & mud-slinging' to take place in your forum and perhaps it is to be expected as your blog is trully one that supports the current situation in Fiji. We cannot say too much on that as you are entitled to your views & opinions.

We will not translate from Fijian language to English. Period.

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