Fear and Lack of Knowledge Driving Grassroots iTaukei Submissions

Opinion by Crosbie Walsh

The opponents of the Bainimarama government  (many of whom also oppose the  Constitution review process) say people are  reluctant to speak to the Constitution Commission because they  fear  reprisals from Government, and low numbers lend some credit to this claim. To date, however, most submissions are by individuals. The more influential submissions by organizations are still to come.  If, however, the relatively low turnout is at least in part due to fear of reprisals, it is surprising that Indo-Fijians, with far less to fear  (because most of them support what the Government is doing) have not made submissions in any number.

It is also surprising that most submissions, 95% as of last Friday, have been  made by  iTaukei.  Fear has not  prevented them from making submissions critical of  Government policies.  But the critics are right.   Fear does lurk in the wings of the Commission consultations. Its shadow is the motivating force behind  many of the submissions: fear and lack of knowledge,  which are sometimes the same thing. I shall argue that this sort of fear is more serious  than fear of the government reprisals.

I doubt  many of those making submissions had any knowledge of  the 1997 Constitution, though many wanted it retained. I doubt  many knew the meaning of a "secular state" or the  "non-negotiable principles" to which they were opposed.  Many also showed  a poor level of understanding about what a constitution can, and cannot, do.

What constiutions cannot do
Constitutions cannot, as some requested,  force children to attend school, establish minimum wages or have proposed wage increases paid before an election, as some wanted. They cannot ensure provisions for proper housing, sanitation and basic health amenities except as a statement of general principle. Governments enact such provisions.

It is also unlikely a constitution will be able to protect mineral resources from overseas investors, limit
population by restricting immigration, or have public servants relocate every five years, as some people wanted. Even less likely, a constitution cannot forbid politicians from having more than one wife!

I will not comment of the media report that one submission opposed Fiji continuing as a "circular" state, and another wished to have the pillars of the People's "Chatter" included in the Constitution other than to advise the writers they words they sought were secular and charter.

Several people wanted to retain the 1997 Constitution. One wanted the Constitution but wished to exclude gay marriages (which is not part of the Constitution). Another wanted the Constitution and the free school buses for the poor provided by the Bainimarama government, which hinted at a torn loyalty, half still going to the SDL.

Looking for deeper reasons behind submissions
Another wanted the President to be a Fijian, appointed by the Great Council of Chiefs, and the Vice-President to be the military commander. Still others wanted the GCC back because they said there was no other way to "safeguard" their land and iTaukei rights. They did not know their rights were protected by the 1997 Constitution, and not the chiefs, and the new constitution  on this issue will almost certainly retain these rights. Others wanted their rights safeguarded but did not mention the GCC.

One person  wanted to prevent  past politicians  standing in the 2014 elections,  Another thought only  new people should stand  for elections. Another  wanted all  candidates to be graduates. And another  to  limit the number of cabinet ministers to 14, half of them women. The Commission is unlikely to endorse any of these ideas but they will be aware that there are  deeper, unstated  reasons behind  the requests. I don't know what will happen to the submissions that are not strictly relevant to constitution-making but I hope they will noted and  referred to Government for its consideration.

The Commissioners must persist in searching for underlying reasons for at least  two important reasons:

First, because the lack of basic knowledge displayed in many of the submissions makes iTaukei prey to  misinformation. Secondly —and I am sure the Commissioners already know this—  preying on the fears of ordinary iTaukei is the norm for reactionary forces in Fiji, and a major cause of disharmony prior to 2006.   A combination of fear and ignorance is not conducive to harmony in any society.

iTaukei need reassurance
Somehow, the Commission, the media,  religious organization and civil society need to allay these fears, and reassure iTaukei that Fiji as a secular state (which it is already) does not threaten their Chistianity; that there never was a threat to iTaukei land; that chiefs can be respected without the umbrella of the GCC; that the Constitution Assembly will be dominated by iTaukei; that it is no longer necessary to insist on an iTaukei President and other means of iTaukei control for the simple reason that iTaukei now comprise nearly two-thirds of the population, and are likely to dominate parliament, whatever way it is constructed.

It is fear that is driving many of these submissions.  And the fear is no less real to poor, grassroots iTaukei because is misplaced,  unnecessary, and plays into the hands of those who are more concerned about their own priviledged wellbeing than that of their fellow citizens, iTaukei and otherwise.

Elections without fear
Much is made of the importance of elections in a democracy. If the Fiji  elections in 2014 are to result in the selection of candidates based on their character and policies, and not on their race and how people are  told to vote, much more civics education is needed.   The same may also be true of other ethnic groups but so far there have been too few submissions to judge.

Submissions to the Constitution Commission are expected to end on October 10, less than two months away.  If I were to make a submission, I would ask the Commissioners to recommend, as an urgent priority, the immediate introduction of a massive  nation-wide civics education programme, such as that run by the Citizen's Constitution Forum, right up until the elections. And even this may not be long enough to remove entrenched fears, particularly when they are continually prodded into life by the twin cancers of religious intolerance and extreme iTaukei nationalism.

This is a useful Wikipedia link to the 1997 Constitution.


Anonymous said…
Are you suggesting that most indi Fijians support the military regime? Are you now speaking on behalf of indo Fijians?
flyhalf said…
Fiji cannot expect its citizens to act on the fundamentals of democracy, promoting the act of citizenry when they're dumb downed with what they're watching or listening.

It would also be prudent on the Fiji media, to come up with interactive content that allays those fears as you raised Croz, analyzes the issues in the form of television shows, radio dramas, talk back shows.

Knowledge and critical thinking skills will be sorely needed, to expose the intolerance and ethno-nationalism ingrained in the partisan politics of Fiji.
Anonymous said…
Always funny to see those encouraging submissions from the public only to rubbish and ridicule them when they do. (Poor ignorant, misguided and easily influenced peasants).Perhaps indians are not as invested in this process as you would have hoped ? Why would they when all is being dictated by the regime?
Croz Walsh said…
Apologies. My comment was too briefly worded for clarity. What I meant was that most Indo-Fijians would agree with the Bainimarama government's aims, in other words, what they say they are trying to do (equal citizenship and treatment, and one-man one vote)which, as you rightly point out, does not necessarily mean they agree on any other issue.
Croz Walsh said…
Totally agree. I do not understand why the media has been so slow off the mark. All it takes is invitations to write articles and appear on TV. But the better educated are remiss also. Why have they not volunteered to help?
flyhalf said…
But the better educated are remiss also. Why have they not volunteered to help?
I would agree, partly. Could it be a culture of silence with the educated or the lack of media persuasion?

Take for instance, some of the educated would rather be in a flash mob as pointed in a blog post by a Peace Corp volunteer; which coincidentally occurred on the 1st day of submissions with the Constitution Commission, which I attended and the sounds of the flash mob dance was heard in the Civic Center auditorium.

What more can be said about the roar of the bewildered herd in democracy?
Anonymous said…
Remember Croz Fiji has had five years of hard military rule where meeting or speaking up was very very dangerous. It made the military feel good about themselves but little else. It will take years to encourage real open debate and Fiji was never that open even before the military control. Many of your readers have made comments on how the real problems begin when the censorship stops (which it has started too). Having seen politicians humiliated, hunted and persecuted then why would ordinary folk stand up and discuss.
Anonymous said…
The real issue is Military intervention (coups) and thats one topic you are not allowed to discuss and past experience says the constitutions can't help with that. They are just thrown out like Frank did. And the they will be thrown out in the futre. Only way to start to stop the cycle is for Rabuka through to Frank face the courts today.
Why bother said…
Why would indo-Fijians want to be beholden to the i-Taukei dominated military for their future and their protection? How is that different from getting 'protection' from the mafia?
Anonymous said…
Croz, i think if you read the guff, people are invited to download about anything they care about.
Ghai also re-affirmed this in his opening speech.

So, that is what is happening.

High society, the elite, in Fiji, dont need democracy. It has made no difference to them these past 40years. Elections for them is simply people who cant get employed in the private sector doing a scrumage for political posts.

The elite walk into ministers offices without a howdy-do to political parties. They have no need to spend their time or money on an enterprise that is below them. Those that do, do not do so out of any compulsion to serve, other than themsleves.
Promises, Promises, Promises. said…
My opinion is that some people may have considered it redundant to submit their own since others may already have included them in theirs. For example, if I were an SDL supporter, I wouldn't have bothered if the SDL submission had already included my items.

Others just plain don't bother because they don't like to get involved in anything political, like some who don't bother to vote.

Others because they anticipate anothers coup after Bainimarama, just like serving the next round of grog.

Others because they've been so marginalized and hurt so badly that they've given up hope that any constitution, however nicely written, will work. When they see that the supreme constitution of the man in the sky being defied, when they see people spitting on Christ's face while professing his love for one another, they know that no Fiji constitution will stands a chance, whatever it's promises.

Still others because they're plain lazy to get off their butt or those that hope someone else will do it for them. eg., FLP supporters will expect Mahen to submit theirs.

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