Temporary Folly

                                                            By Dr Sudarsan Kant*

The recent series of vignettes on the principal actors in Fiji’s constitutional drama by Dr. Walsh is a noteworthy reminder of how high the stakes are regarding the future of the country we love and deeply care about. We should be grateful for the yeoman work he is doing in helping us untangle some of the strands in the story thus far and hope that in due time, a clearer picture will emerge for the way forward. It is tempting to jettison the national project of building a better constitution because of current disagreements, but that would be a grave mistake and I concur with  him that this is a temporary wrinkle between men of goodwill and ought to be resolved for the sake of the nation.

A distressing feature of politics in Fiji is the notion that politics is always a zero-sum game and therefore pursued via a scorched-earth policy often to the detriment of society. The current standoff involving the Prime Minister, the Chairman of the Constitution Commission and the former Vice President demonstrates how difficult it is to pursue a different political orientation in the face of seemingly intractable disagreements. However dissent over substantial questions regarding the proper ordering of society provides an opportunity for transparent deliberation over issues that will impact so many lives for years to come and disagreements even over deeply held views ought not to become an immutable obstacle towards forging consensus on areas of substantial agreements. Unfortunately as is often the case in Fiji, political leadership out of exiguous self-interest choses to define political disagreements as irreconcilable differences reflecting insoluble interests rather than the divergent worldviews of a pluralistic society whose members nonetheless may share many common goals and aspirations.

When politics is consistently interpreted as referendum on absolute differences, than it is logical to pursue the politics of estrangement with the opposing side of an argument and policy disagreements thus become an existential struggle. Consequently the ensuing political stalemate impedes society from forging ahead socially, economically and culturally as has been the case in Fiji these many years.

If politics on the other hand is understood as a rational mechanism for solving collective problems in a pluralistic society, than differences of worldviews and interests demand negotiation and compromise. One is willing and able to concede legitimacy to the views and aspirations of peoples who may not share your views and values, not because you agree with them but that they have as much a stake in society as you do.

All three of these men are persons of goodwill and each of them represents a legitimate perspective. The Prime Minister has made it abundantly clear that the constitution should be an inclusive document representing all the communities in Fiji. Some of the submissions to the Constitutional Commission have not exactly hewed to the principles of inclusion which is quite disappointing.

The Chairman within the purview of his scholarly expertise has justifiably argued for intellectual freedom in the prosecution of his chartered responsibilities and one can understand the frustration he feels about the exogenous limits that have been imposed in this project.

Finally, the former Vice President as a leader of the itaukei speaks sotto voce of the fears and longings of his people who like the rest of us are trying our best to make sense of this world we live in.

The call of leadership requires prudence, fairness and generosity of spirit and we hope that the current difficulty is a temporary setback and that good sense and wisdom will prevail for all of our sake.

* Assistant Professor of Political Science
Harris-Stowe State University
St. Louis, Missouri


Observer said…

'Assistant professors' like you will be more useful if instead of motherhood statements, generalised comments and wishy washy sentiments they developed balls to take the bull by its horns and held leaders from out own community responsible by doing real research and naming and shaming people like Mahen 'garibi hatao' Chaudhry, Fiji’s most selfish, greedy, manipulative, destructive and self-serving politician, masquerading as champion of poor while feathering his own nest (to use mahen's favourite term in reference to others) and almost single-handedly wrecking the multiparty government and supporting a coup.
Here, read this, you might get some ideas: http://ips.cap.anu.edu.au/ssgm/papers/discussion_papers/09_02_green.pdf

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