Qarase's “Association of People United”

Past Relics in a United Fiji
                                                   By Subhash Appana

I read with increasing interest, and not a little bit of trepidation, the recent release by former PM Laisenia Qarase on his party’s always-multiracial political platform and purported broad-based support. This was in response to Graham Davis’ thought-provoking piece titled “Rumblings of the next eruption in SDL talk” where he questioned whether a race-based party, like the SDL, would be allowed to field a supposedly reformed and race-inclusive Qarase in the next general elections.

What amused me most was Lai’s translation of his party’s name, Soqosoqo ni Duavata ni Lewenivavua as “Association of People United”. In Fijian, my immediate reaction would’ve been: sa va’domobula na va’dewa (translation) qori To’, but I’ll limit my article to an expanded evaluation of the just-purported multiracial philosophy and inclusiveness of Qarase’s SDL and the mistakes of the past.

At the inception of the SDL, amid the race-charged environment churned by the 2000 coup, the word lewenivanua was clearly meant to indicate lewe ni vanua va iTaukei – the people of the land. It was not possible to talk inclusiveness at that time because the bulk of the movers involved with the formation of the SDL were avowed ethno-nationalists who had cocooned and defended Speight during the 56-day siege of Fiji’s parliament.

There were two additional problems with the longer version of the name: it was too long and it lacked a popular ring like SVT for instance. Can you imagine using the Soqosoqo ni Duavata ni  Lewenivanua va iTaukei or SDLT as a party name to spin popular appeal? The party planners obviously knew too well that there was no need to lengthen the name because their supporters well knew exactly what the name meant.

This is borne out to some extent by the results of the recent Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) survey titled, “Scratching the Surface”. Relevant findings indicated that 75% of iTaukei respondents said that only iTaukei are “Fijians”. This could be taken to mean that these 75% felt that all non-iTaukei are vulagi or visitors. Furthermore, 80% of iTaukei respondents said that only those registered in the Vola ni Kawa Bula (VKB) are legal citizens of Fiji.

With that kind of understanding and mindset it is not difficult to see how the Fijian electorate viewed the word lewenivanua and the SDL’s political philosophy. That was exactly what the SDL and Qarase were all about. This was repeatedly played out in Qarase’s parliament quite emphatically. When Welfare Minister, Asenaca Caucau referred to Indo-Fijians as co or grass, her colleagues guffawed and snickered (depending on the level of decorum at play).

When Ted Young insulted Kamlesh Arya by calling him “ponga pundit” it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that Indo-Fijians were silently screaming for Qarase to reprimand him – nothing happened. Caucau was allowed to add insult to injury by attempting to explain rather than apologise later. Ro Teimumu Kepa was allowed to bequeath USP with an outside Vice Chancellor simply because Professor Rajesh Chandra failed the race test. Should she have been held responsible for the ensuing pillage at USP – only time will tell?

That was the SDL and Qarase in power. There was no inclusiveness in the party (apart from Rajesh Singh who was later shafted by his Minister) because the very ideology that propped and drove it was exclusionary. And it was exclusionary for very parochial reasons – this was the biggest problem with Lai and his troupe. This was the root of the type of corruption that brought popular support to the Bainimarama coup of 2006.

Qarase and his gang were using race to gain popular support among the ethnic Fijian electorate while striking deals and contracts left right and centre. A connected group, in which Qarase was a key cog by virtue of being PM, went on the rampage using the ethno-nationalist mantra to ransack the country for personal gain. Many of them are no longer in Fiji – how did they manage to leave and sustain themselves abroad (until they found work if at all) if they didn’t have any stashes to fall back on?

Now Qarase is back and attempting to redefine his party’s creed by saying that lewenivanua meant “people united”. Very interestingly he does not confirm whether lewenivanua was supposed to mean all of the people of Fiji. On the other hand, his nemesis Mahendra Chaudhry is girding up to enter the fray once again. This is the same Chaudhry who failed to span the ethnic divide as PM over a period of 12 months when he had all the resources at his disposal.

When he was invited to that pivotal Naitasiri meeting with the Qaranivalu in early 2000 the die was cast. In his eagerness to prove too many points and bring too many people to heel, he forgot the importance of human relations as the first step to success in politics. In Fiji this has an inevitable ethnic dimension that calls for special caution – Chaudhry chose to overlook this as he went about quick-managing the country in an attempt to show tangible fruits first.

That proved ill-advised and the time-fed marginalized few began to rally the masses using the race card to maximum effect in order to destabilize the country for a forced solution. That forced solution had to come from two sources – the military and/or the Great Council of Chiefs. Shape political opinion by stoking latent fears using the race card, march to mobilize and affect visible effect, destabilize and call for drastic intervention – that has been the blueprint for coups in Fiji.

I have a lot to say about this, but these columns have a word limit. We can talk sensitivities as we embark on yet another attempt to draw up a constitutional framework for Fiji, but maybe it’s time to centralize sensibilities instead.  

Subhash Appana is an academic and political commentator. The opinions contained in this article are entirely his and not necessarily shared by any organizations he may be associated with both in Fiji and abroad. Email:


Anonymous said…
So Rajesh Singh joined the SDL, knowing it was a race-based party and anti-Indian. Such people within the community are more dangerous than the professed racists like Qarase and his SDL Party. Imagine the courage of people like Qarase to openly lie in the public when by definition the SDL Party was not a multiracial party. Chaudhary only helped the racist cause with his arrogance and insensitivity towards others. It will be a tragedy if both make it back to the Parliament. Think of it, would it be worth handing back power to these failed politicians? They should be retired, named and shamed as such. Thanks, Subhas for placing facts so precisely.
Mahen 'Champion of the poor' Chaudhry said…
We need Mahen Chaudhry back in govt and his diplomatic and courteous beta (son) Rajen back as his secretary and Chaudhry's daughter's dear father-in-law back in senate and Chaudhry's Chamcha (hanger on), the intellectually-gifted Lekh Ram Vaishnoi back as information minister.

These people can take care of nepotism and will set an example for decorum, transparency and accountability. Mahen "champion of the poor" Chaudhry can be in charge of catching tax-dodgers, detecting secret overseas bank accounts, and overseas fundraising for the poor farmers. He has proved very adept at this. we can't let talent like that goto waste.

rajen can do the additional job of teaching civil servants humility, good manners, good public relations, and how to politely and rationally argue on behalf of govt in letters to the editor. he did this so well last time and was very popular Fiji-wide. he was also very god at dodging punches in nightclubs.

Vaishnoi I miss the most as he used to amaze us with deep thinking, foresight and intellectual capacity.

We will have the chance to bring these talents back in government so do not miss you chance in 2014.
Anonymous said…
i jointed sdl with george shiu raj .
we had more indian candidate for 2006 election.
what wrong with sdl nothing.Flp/Nfp have fijian/indian support too.
we had multiparty govt just like the late Ratu Mara govt.
Bai govt is more corrupt and i hope Mr Apana knows the deal in air pacific can share some light on this.
fijis problem is the army .
pls Mr Apana can you tell me the ratio of indian in fiji army/police/civil servant.
One-sided article said…
Silly, one-sided article by Subhas heaping all the blame on Qarase, acting as if there is no racism among Indians and Indian parties. Indian parties famous for being racist towards even their own kind, based on region and caste, gujerati or muslim or south-north indian. even more racist towards Fijians. Are you a true academic Subhas? Do you have it in you to be more honest? can you call a spade a spade or are you just capable of one-sided articles from the safety of Auckland?
Anonymous said…
There is wisdom in the saying that some people can save their honor and dignity if they keep quiet. Rajesh is certainly without wisdom and cannot differentiate between the grain and chaff. He certainly did not know what SDL stood for and how it was using people like him to create a facade of being a multiracial party. George Shiu Raj was not there nor Rajesh Singh for their community but only for themselves. Such 'chamchas' do more damage to the community than the professed racists. Take an elementary course in English language Rajesh, if you want to understand Appana's articles and it is evident that you should not have stood for Parliament and you also forget that you did not win your seat on the support of your community and being with SDL you only emboldened them to persecute your own community.
Anonymous said…
One-sided is indeed one-sided but blames the writer for being one-sided. People, races and cultures differ and sometimes differ strongly but when one race claims superiority and subjugates the freedom and rights of others then it is racism at the extreme. One-sided is in denial - SDL was nothing but the champion of ethno-nationalism. Where were you one-sided when the floor of the Parliament was used to demean a race of people with the blessing of the Qarase Government? Appana has called a spade a spade but you won't get it because you hail from the same camp. "From the safety of Auckland" is an implied threat, so typical of the racists, implying that if the writer were in Fiji, his safety could be compromised. One-sided you are a coward and a paper tiger. Your tail is tucked behind your hind legs since the the boys at the QE Barracks turned against you. If you are a champion threaten them and not those whom you always found easy to intimidate and move around with your inflated chests. Get real, one-sided and stop pontificating and threatening. Show your civility and respect for the views of others.
Anonymous said…
Vinaka Appana.

You understand Fiji.

We can communicate a whole story with the lifting off an eyebrow in the isles.

"Only half a story writ or heard, be told, for the best, known untold".

The good sheperd takes care of his flock.

Qarase feeds choice fodder to the Vulagi.
Anonymous said…
Mr, Apanna Please answer the questions below?

SDL may have had 80% Fijian support, but it is also true that FLP and NFP at their peak times enjoyed similar indian support. Does that not make them racist parties also?

Its been six years since illegal government of your leader came into power through treason. How has that changed the racial composition in Civil service, RFMF, Cabinet, Foreign postings, and other areas?

You allege SDL and Qarase were corrupt. How many SDL ministers have been convicted for the corruption? How much money has been found on Qarase just? Is it more than indian leader Chaudhry?

Why is Qarase still a free man if he was so corrupt as you suggest?

You talk about corruption. Why dont you ask your leader to release the Auditor General's Report from 2007 - 2011 so that we can check the record of your leader?

Why are you silent on present ministerial salaries paid through Nur bano Ali?

Do you care to know how much your leaders are being paid?

How about the lack of accountability for government contracts, does that question your morals and academia?

What do you know about the trustee of NFP party who bribed his way into stopping criminal charges against him and his son? ask the DPP office for file DPP/CID/HQ/212//2010? What is your position on indian elite buying out his freedom?

[Rajesh, I deleted your last sentence. It detracted from your argument and from you as a person. Ed.]
Islands in the Stream said…
Subash Appana has read all the runes aright! He has indeed a fair understanding of our long-standing Fiji Dilemma.

He so rightly says of one significant politician:

"He forgot the importance of human relations as the first step to success in politics. In Fiji this has an inevitable ethnic dimension that calls for special caution."

So insightful, so true and so revelatory. Why have so many Fiji politicians with years of experience failed to grasp this? Their hooded, blinkered grasp has been unforgiveable no matter from whence they came. They may assume collective responsibility for twenty years of suffering and economic decline: all of them.

Appana then ends his contribution with this:

"We can talk sensitivities as we embark on yet another attempt to draw up a constitutional framework for Fiji, but maybe it's time to centralize sensibilities instead".

Most acute observation and he is absolutely right. We fail to pay attention at our peril. Posterity waits. Posterity will be unforgiving if we get it wrong again.
Anonymous said…
Islands in the Stream, it's already wrong. This illegal regime had no authority to abrogate the Constitution. It cannot beget a new constitution that wouldn't be legally null and void ab initio.

Whatever the faults of the 1997 Constitution, it remains the constitution and supreme law of the land. Bainimarama may have the might, for now, but it doesn't give him the right.

The consitutional 'dialogue' now beginning already has the earmarks of a cynical fraud. That fraud will only become more evident as we see where the regime -- not to be confused with Fijian people -- eventually take this.

You are certainly right about one thing, though. Posterity will be very unforgiving.

s/ Dakuwaqa

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