Preparing for Democracy I

Preparing for Democracy I:
Minimal Democracy
and the Coup Culture
By Croz Walsh

It is too simple to claim there's either democracy or no democracy. There are many degrees of democracy and it comes in many forms, varying according to historical and other circumstances. There is no perfect or one-size-fits-all democracy but there are minimal and fuller democracies.

A minimal democracy is being able to vote every few years. Fuller democracies require a shared national ethic and an informed, aware and involved citizenry. The nationally accepted ethic, or sense of ultimate common purpose and identity, tolerates opposition, respects diversity and accepts responsibility for all members of the society.

This ethic, so hard to achieve, is especially important in a multicultural society such as Fiji where history and geography have resulted in racial, cultural and religion divisions that have detracted from a national unity of purpose, and where sharp inequalities exist between social classes, resulting in vastly different levels of education, economic status and influence — and opportunities to use, and abuse, political power.

These are the divisions, used by many Fiji leaders and their misled supporters, that have produced the racial political agendas and a “coup culture” which will continue into the future unless there is greater public awareness and wholesome involvement in political processes. And this is why the “immediate” elections demanded by local and overseas opponents of the Bainimarama Government would merely have resulted in more of the same: a minimal democracy with minimal checks on abuses of power.

Government has taken a number of steps to break this tradition. It has removed or tempered the influence of the old constructs of power — the SDL politicians, the upper levels of civil service and quasi-government boards, the Great Council of Chiefs and the Methodist Church hierarchy— with the intention of separating those who used the minimal democracy for their own purposes from their rank-and-file supporters.

It hopes its Roadmap which focusses on improvements in physical and institutional infrastructure will, among other things, grow the economy in rural areas presently peripheral to the main economy, and so increase the independence of rural people.

It has reduced the powers of the Fiji Law Society whose most prominent members were opposing its actions, and for a time its Public Emergency Regulations censored the media whose past record had done little to unite the nation. It is progressively introducing civics education and multi-lingualism in schools. Dialogue on constitutional and electoral reforms will commence soon, and an election education programme will precede the 2014 elections.

These efforts are to be commended, or at least understood in their context, but two critical issue are yet to be resolved: First, how much participation will Government allow in the forthcoming dialogues, and how well will participants respond? Token non-inclusive participation would be little better than the token “minimal democracy” that previously prevailed; and confrontational, obstructionist participation will not take the country forward. Participation in these dialogues will involve the urban elite, the national leaders, the most educated and potentially the most powerful members of society, the tip of the demographic pyramid. They will not involve “ordinary” Fijians.

Which brings us to the second critical, and imponderable, issue: what degree of participation will there be in the future of Fiji by its ordinary citizens? How prepared are they to exercise their rights as citizens? How able are they to look at issues on their merit, and not be overly influenced by supposed racial or religious loyalties? How likely are they to resist the calls of the racial and religious demagogues who in 1987 and 2000 created the political instability that has plagued Fiji ever since? For without the support of ordinary citizens the “coup culture” will never be laid to rest.

I have said this issue is imponderable because there is as yet no clear evidence of how ordinary people may feel and act. Some two-thirds of those sampled appeared to support the People's Charter which was a good response, given the opposition of the Fiji “establishment”. But that was in the past and we do not know how “deep down” that response was.

It is in this context that the survey recently released by the Citizens' Constitutional Forum provides a window into what ordinary Fijians are thinking, and what yet needs to be done if, to use Bainimarama's most popular phrase, there is to be a “change in mindset.”

Part II of Preparing for Democracy will be published tomorrow.


Anonymous said…
Yes Croz but at the same time it has boosted the power and influence of one of Fiji's most destructive institutions - The RFMF. never in history have they had so much power, money or control and there are no signs it plans to give it up. Self interest first, democracy second.

Why no efforts to reform the RFMF ? Why no commitment that they will step away from power and accept a new government. Why no commitment that the current PM will keep his promise and not run as PM ?
Democracy under the gun said…
By supporting the military junta you appear to be supporting some form of democracy under the gun? Personally I would prefer democracy by the ballot rather than the bullet. The evidence to date is that Fiji's dictator will not tolerate any opposition? that is not a form of democracy that appeals to many people. If the imposed constitution is done by the same method as the imposed so called 'people's charter' I would suggest to you that Fiji is only in for more trouble in the future?
And your lack of any discussion on the future role of the military is very concerning indeed.
Anonymous said…
Again you do not address at all, the legitimacy of a military regime enforcing change on a population without any mandate. It is the military that felt the need for change, used the methods it did and it was not prompted by any popular support. Why do you think they have any a moral authority to enforce change, even it if (IF) intentions are good. (That is still subject to debate given the methods that have been employed)You presume and accept that this was the ONLY way and we should all just live with it. Well, mate , you don't live with it and I do.
Anonymous said…
and we can expect the next military thug feeling threatened or merely ambitious to scrap this constitution too when it suits coz ther aint' no consequence and certainly ample precedent!!!

you see , the next guy will give himself immunity too, kiss babies and on it goes...

I imagine people think that all this just all goes away with time and a new constitution?
Anonymous said…
so no mention and no one gets a say or choice in the role of this military? Doesn't that make a constitution making process a bit pointless? They have made no commitment to reform themselves!!
Anonymous said…
Themilitary that is now being despised was the darling of the Fijian nationalists and the chiefs but now it has turned its horns against those who used it to promote their racist agenda. The voices of the critics clearly show the injury of those that have used these columns to criticize your piece, Croz. These are wolves in sheeps clothing and their views merely echo their anger and frustration. They never thought that one of their own - the Fijian army would turn against them.
True Fijian said…
I once followed a link to the coup 4.5 and my.....these people with their gutter language are not seeking democracy but handouts as most if not all were beneficairies of prevoius governments. Free loaders who have nothing left but to cry for whatever they have been missing out on. This all under the guise of democracy. What a shame.
Where Democracy Ends and Common Sense Begins said…
Thank you, Croz, for explaining that democracy comes in many forms. Some regime supporters argue that because Fiji did not have one man, one vote before Bainimarama, Fiji therefore did not have a democracy. It was a form of democracy, albeit one flawed, in my opinion, by communal politics and racism. Looking at other democracies around the world, Fiji was hardly alone in this regard.

Your man Bainimarama promises one man, one vote, but in practice so far, he has seemed to interpret that as meaning that he is the only man entitled to the only vote.

I find it passing strange that you can so easily excuse the man's actions, especially in view of the damning BOI findings he tried to suppress. Or do you dismiss the findings' relevance?

I respect your willingness to lay out your views publically and to defend them. Sometimes I find I agree with them, but many times I do not, as they seem to hinge on an undeservedly optimistic view of Bainimarama and his motives. However negative your view of Fiji's political culture, don't let it delude you regarding the nature of this regime.

For example, you mention a survey showing two-thirds of Fijians support the People's Charter as though that were fact, when it flies in the face of common sense. Had that sort of support really been there for the Charter, the regime would long since have held a plebiscite to prove it and to gain the legitimacy it so greatly lacks.

I don't understand why such a bright fellow as yourself can't see that.
Fiji Law Society Farce said…
Thank you, this is a good piece Croz. I wish to add about the Fiji Law Society, a useless and incompetent organisation; a toothless tiger that could not handle complaints on time and through its slackness encouraged malpractice within its ranks.

Lawyer Richard Naidu noted that 80 substantial complaints were made to the Society with only two were dealt in time. This is an organisation that has not been able to get its own house in order for many years yet it sees fit to pontificate about the regime.

Graham Leung as a former president was a complete failure. He should gave spent less time prancing and preening overseas and more time cleaning up the mess that was the Fiji Law Society.

Dorsami Naidu made fatuous claims that AG was twisting things in claiming that complaints were not investigated fairly. Naidu gave a long, rambling statement to RZNI but not a single data to back his claim. It would have been easy enough to state number of complaints lodged against numbers dealt with by the society, provide dates, etc.

But it seems law society pleaded the "Fifth" and refused to answer question fully because response could form self-incriminating evidence.

Fiji Law Society is a farce and a joke, and has been for many years. Graham and Naidu really have no credibility.

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