2. What Bainimarama May Be Prepared to Do

Opinion: Crosbie Walsh

One way of answering the question of what the Bainimarama Government may be prepared to do in response to Forum requests for "progress" on democracy is to start by asking what the Government would definitely NOT be prepared to do. Photo: Bainimarama and Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, mid-2006. newcom.au

To which the most straightforward answer is no major change will be made to the three Roadmap "stages" leading to elections in 2014, and the main pillars or constructs of the People's Charter are non-negotiable.

The first stage, until 2012, will continue to focus on administrative reforms and improvements to physical infrastructure.  The former involves public sector reform, land and sugar industry reform, and anti-corruption and abuse of office measures; the latter involves roads, to a lesser extent airports and seaports, and greater agricultural productivity, in sugar, vegetables, import substitution and food security. All these  measures are aimed at growing the economy in difficult times.  Government action to de-politize this phase, which has resulted in the censorship of the media and restrictions on rights of assembly, is because, at this stage, they think the  divisive influences of politics will put their immediate aims out of focus. The constant calls for national unity and nation-building is about as political as it is likely to be.

The second stage starts in earnest in 2012 when the focus will be on Constitutional and Electoral reform to be completed by 2013, when the third stage will allow the country a clear 12 months to prepare for the September 2014 Elections.

The three stages are more statements of intent and focus than absolute boundaries, and some issues that might be expected later are already receiving attention. Many deal with  issues that  Australia and New Zealand  should applaud  because they concern material human rights at a personal level. Most can be grouped under the heading of social justice: the introduction of minimum wages, a number of actions action against poverty, non-discriminatory scholarships, educational assistance for poorer families, the protection of women and children, work on HIV/Aids, homosexuality, prison reform and prisoner rehabilitation, and making government services more accessible to the public.  The only direct "political" actions have been two representative, but not totally inclusive, Dialogue consultations, and taking the People's Charter, a foundation document for Constitutional and Electoral reform, for explanation and discussion to people in the provinces.

What Bainimara is prepared to do will, I think, be influenced by what those currently opposed to him, in Fiji and overseas, are prepared to do in exchange.  I will deal in more detail with this issue in the next and final article in this series, but for now one thing should be made clear: he is far more likely to respond positively if he is not attacked and insulted and if some credit is given for what he is has achieved and is attempting.

So, given these constraints and presumptions, what might Bainimarama be prepared to do during stage one, between now and 2012?  Most suggestions relate to different types and levels of civilian participation.

With tactful pressure from Fiji civil society he may be prepared to increase civilian direct and indirect participation in government and, if efficiency can be assured, reduce military participation. To some extent this is already happening with the Dialogue process, but these people are not dealing with the day-to-day issues of government.

A greater number of "credible" people could be invited to be advisers to Government. By credible,  I mean well-known and appropriately qualified people who are not currently government supporters.  It may be too much to expect former Vice-President and lawyer Ratu Joni Madrawiwi to be either invited or to accept, but it may take people of his mana to persuade Australia and New Zealand that "progress" really is being made.

The Dialogue process could be accelerated with more forward-looking issues dealt with earlier. Here we might have more details, discussion and even possibly debate on what Government wants in the Constitutional and Electoral reforms, and what it intends the military role to be after 2014.  I have tried to start discussion on some of these "which path forward" questions in the Na Sala Cava features on my blog.  With increasing goodwill and sensible monitoring, it would be good to see matters such as the future possible roles and composition of Senate and the Great Council of Chiefs, an elected President, and the pros and cons of fewer electorates, discussed in the media. It would also be good for Government, not just to hear public feedback but because more public involvement would lead to more support for Government. More people would think it is "their" government. Why wait until 2012 to take the doubters on board?

The Dialogue process, and further work on the People's Charter, could become much more inclusive, involving people from widely different backgrounds, and meetings could be held on a regular basis at different localities. Government could be willing to accept participation from all former politicians (with the possible exception of Laisenia Qarase and his cabinet) who are prepared to accept the People's Charter.

The Media Decree could be quickly finalised, with most matters questioned in the Draft attended to, and the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) lifted. Independent observers could monitor the implementation of the Decree to ensure a free but responsible media. The lifting of PER will hopefully lead to more open but responsible political discussion and freedom of assembly.  This could also  include lifting the ban on annual meetings and lesser assemblies of the Methodist Church-- if the Church is first de-politicized.

It is too early for reconciliation along the lines of South Africa or the Solomons, but conciliatory moves taken now will make reconciliation easier later.

The changes we might reasonably expect from Bainimarama are not earth-shattering. Considered separately they may appear piecemeaal and incremental, but once change starts in the right direction the momentum should be sufficient to persuade Australia and New Zealand to make major changes to their current approach to Fiji.  In the next and final article, to be published on Monday, I shall consider what those changes might be.


Anonymous said…
How about bring forward the work on the constituion and electoral reform ? Why wait until 2012. Getting in all done and dusted in just one year seems a tall order given the very slow track record on change (how long has it taken to find a chair for simple discussions?) and if it takes longer than a year and pushes elections out past 2012 all credibility will be out the window again. This government needs to learn to do more than one thing at a time and expect hits from the side like cyclones and world events. There will always be excuses. Win the world over by getting started now. Over-delivering for a change would be great.....
Another failed coup said…
Respectively, why would someone like Ratu Jone Madrawiwi, a man of principle and intellect, and a man highly regarded internationally, want to align himself with a military junta comprised of perpetrators and supporters at the other end of the spectrum?
Once the regime is removed (and it will be) then people like Ratu Jone and others who support democracy and the rule of law will hopefully come together and help Fiji recover from the rapidly deteriorating situation it finds itself in under yet another destructive coup.
One Man in a Boat said…

I’m not sure if you posted your article before or after reading today’s Fiji Sun. Regardless, I think you might draw a few inferences from Bainimarama’s comment that he is being asked to defer the 2014 elections.

It appears that the decision to go ahead with the elections will shortly no longer be his to make. He’ll be overwhelmed by the weight of public opinion that his government doesn’t need to go to the polls and so he’ll be forced to defer the election once again.

One can only admire the stoicism with which he bears this heavy cross of responsibility to the public.

You write about ‘tactful pressure’ from civil society, ‘accelerating the dialogue process’, discussions and debates. To what end? Are you trying to swim against the torrent of support that he has so obviously garnered throughout the 14 corners of our fair isles? Do let us know.

You’ve certainly got one thing right - ‘The changes we might reasonably expect from Bainimarama are not earth-shattering.’

Now, where's my passport?
Adulation complex said…
Frank has told everyone willing to listen till now that he'll be going to the polls in 2014. If that's changed, he should say so. And if he does, there's going to be hell to pay with some of his supporters, who joined him on the solemn promise that he'd stick to his word. I'm afraid the guy is showing signs of allowing the traditional Fijian suck-up to go to his head. I hope this story is wrong. If it's not, Fiji is in big trouble.
Cicero said…
It can surely not be too difficult to imagine or to hypothesize as to how quickly and effectively change in Fiji might come about were Qarase or any member of his 2006 Cabinet of 36 impossible-to- maintain and impossibly under- qualified elected politicians to come back? If things are challenging now, how much more challenging would that outcome be? No one in their right mind would contemplate, sanely such a possibility?.....Would they? Unless they were determined to 'gut Fiji for good' and mount a takeover from afar. Is that what is contemplated? Because if it is, then a Non-Aligned Status with Security Council members watching Fiji's back IS the way to go. It is also the way to go for other South Pacific small island countries whose best interests have most certainly not been fostered by either Australia or New Zealand: that is clearly demonstrable now.
Cicero said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
No hope for re-engagement said…
The Aussies and Kiwis made it pretty plain after their Auckland meeting that they expect to have consultations with all parties in Fiji. That presumably includes Qarase and the SDL. And isn't the implication that they still see the SDL as a legitimate political force that needs to take part in any election, whenever that's held? Ergo, can't we assume that when Frank says Qarase will return only over his dead body, that this whole engagement process is doomed to failure? The Aussies and Kiwis can't dump Qarase because everyone will wonder what the whole bloody fuss was about. So anyone hoping for "re-engagement" better not hold their breath.
Why Ratu Jone? said…
Croz, I don't understand why you think getting Ratu Jone Madraiwiwi ( you forgot an "i" in his name ) involved will make any difference at all. Frank has no respect for him and humiliated him totally by dismissing him as Vice President and ordering him out of his official residence in double quick time. In any event, why would Ratu Jone want to get involved anyway, unless Frank agrees on an immediate return to democracy? It would run counter to everything that Ratu Jone has stood for. Frankly, I can't understand your enthusiasm for a man not prepared to fight his corner beyond giving iconoclastic speeches on such matters as the state of the collective Fijian mind. He's made himself irrelevant by choosing a quiet life on the sidelines over getting his hands dirty and leading from the front. Little more than a cuddly metaphor, I think, for everything that's wrong with our current crop of Fijian chiefs.
sara'ssista said…
apparently everyone including former vice-presidents, judges, public servants,politicians aus, nz, us, eu are all supposed to have short memories, a forgiving nature and give ground, but the same is never demonstrated by this self appointed military regime. minor changes from fiji but major changes from everyone else!!??....so whats changed then...perhaps the illegal PM then presents them with bill i suppose being the magnanimous host that he is known to be.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Croz Walsh said…
@ Anonymous write to Why Ratu Jone (he spells his name Joni) "You clearly do not understand who and what Ratu Jone is & does - qualities are - within iTaukei culture.

Don't confuse Ratu Jone role - functions or methods with that of a Vunivalu?"

Anon. I've deleted your comment as a reminder than anonymous comments are not accepted but copied it here because I think you should elaborate for those of us not steeping in Fijian culture.
Wilting chief said…
Croz, no one is saying Ratu Joni ought to be behaving like a Vunivalu but many people are disappointed that he hasn't been as pro-active as he might have been. Not only does he refrain from political comment on practically everything in a wider context, he seems to regard himself as a social commentator on the Vanua rather than a leader with a duty to influence events. I think this is fair criticism despite your adulation for the man.

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