Graham Davis on Political Parties and the Political Parties Decree

Posted: 18 Jan 2013 12:33 AM PST

Blood on the carpet (
On February 14th 1929, the notorious American gangster, Al Capone, sent four of his henchmen into a Chicago garage with guns blazing. Seven members of an opposing gang were murdered in what became known as the St Valentine’s Day Massacre. That same day in Fiji 84 years later – which is normally dedicated to a celebration of romance – may also spell the demise of a string of local political leaders. Because as things stand, they won’t just be tormented by the usual pressure to buy flowers or cards for their spouses or partners. February 14th is the deadline for them to meet undoubtedly the strictest condition the Bainimarama Government has set for parties wanting to contest the 2014 election.

By the end of Valentine’s Day, the sixteen existing political parties in Fiji have to come up with five thousand registered members, plus their five party executives, and the princely sum of $5005 – a dollar for each person – or they’ll be struck off the current party register. Even if they can raise the numbers, there’s an extra hurdle in the requirement for their party membership to be spread across the nation – 2000 in the Central Division, 1750 in the Western Division, 1,000 in the Northern Division and 250 members from the Eastern Division. The parties have a 28 day deadline to achieve all of this starting Friday. The clock is ticking away. And as the enormity of the challenge dawns on them, their leaders are aghast and screaming “stitch-up” in the local and overseas media.

Yes it’s tough. As the critics have it, unreasonably so. Yet amidst all the gnashing of teeth, one important consideration has been ignored; that there is nothing to stop the leaders of these parties from winding up their existing structures on Valentine’s Day and starting all over again. They can simply allow themselves to be deregistered and regroup down the track without having to be bound by the 28-day rule.

Why would they be remotely interested in doing this? Because all of these parties are personality based. They revolve around a brace of national figures who are well known – some might say too well known – and whose faces are arguably far more important than their organisations. In any event, those party organisations are in a state of flux after six years of being excluded from the process and in some cases, are in crisis. So why not start again with a clean slate? Why be bound by the 28-day rule? Why not let the deadline pass, dissolve, regroup and then rebuild either singly or in coalition with others? Form new parties and meet the required membership rules in a much more leisurely and considered fashion. As they wage war on the Political Parties Decree, it’s worth examining the challenges each of the existing organisations now face.

SDL: Soqosoqo Dua Vata Ni Lewenivanua: The SDL is gutted by the provisions of this decree. For a start, its name has been declared illegal because every party henceforth must have an English language appellation. Under normal circumstances, the SDL might have had a real chance of getting the 5000 members required to register by February 14th because of all the existing parties, it alone arguably has a truly national geographical spread. Yet it faces several added burdens. The SDL founder and leader, deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, is serving a year-long jail term for corruption. So he’s automatically excluded from standing next year by the Decree’s provision banning anyone convicted in the past five years of an offence carrying a jail sentence of six months or more.
The SDL now claims to be a multiracial party but as its name suggests, it is almost exclusively i’Taukei. In its current form, can it meet the test of being non discriminatory and respond to the needs of all Fijians, as the law now requires? Probably not – at least in the public mind – given the discriminatory policies it pursued in government that contributed directly to Voreqe Bainimarama removing it in 2006. Now that we know that Laisenia Qarase is barred by law from making a comeback, who could lead the SDL into the election, or at least the party that is now required by law to be re-named and represent the interests of all Fijians?

Two names seem to be at the fore at the present time -Ratu Jone Kubuabola – the brother of the Foreign Minister – and Dr Tupeni Baba, the academic and former Labour Party politician who’s astonished the country with his political transformation over the years. Dr Baba was a member of the Bavadra Government that was removed by Sitiveni Rabuka in the coup of 1987. Back then – with his Labour colleagues – he was committed to a multiracial agenda for Fiji. But after falling out with Dr Bavadra’s ultimate successor, Mahendra Chaudhry, Baba did a complete about face. He’s embraced the nationalist cause and – to the dismay of many former colleagues and supporters – now sits at the apex of indigenous politics. The less charitable view is that Baba is an opportunist who turned to the SDL after Chaudhry froze him out. The more charitable view is that Chaudhry’s unlovely personality and uncompromising control of Labour drove Baba into the arms of the nationalists in the SDL.

The problem for the SDL is that Baba is hardly charismatic and those around him are virtual unknowns. Yet at the apex of the party as its patron is someone who is both charismatic and at the apex of the vanua – the Roko Tui Dreketi , Ro Teimumu Kepa. Ro Teimumu is head of the Burebasaga confederacy – one of the three main indigenous groupings – and was a minister in Laisenia Qarase’s cabinet. So she is high born, well connected and politically experienced. At the present time, she is arguably the most potent opposition in the vanua to the Bainimarama Government. At the head of a reborn, renamed, ostensibly multiracial party, she could be a formidable force if she can overcome her less attractive political attributes. She horrified many Fijians last year with her warning of “racial calamity” if the chiefs were ignored. And she has been strongly identified with the nationalist cause- which will deter many non-indigenous people from supporting her – as well as the unsuccessful campaign to declare Fiji a Christian state. But someone definitely to watch.

The Fiji Labour Party: Of all the existing opposition parties, Labour is most identified with one person, the wily Mahendra Chaudhry, who was Fiji’s first Indo-Fijian prime minister until he was removed in the George Speight coup of 2000. As Labour’s General Secretary, Chaudhry rules the party with an iron fist and broaches no dissent. The style is old-fashioned socialism, authoritarian and unyielding, and there are a string of political figures who’ve exited Labour for daring to question Chaudhry’s authority. They include not only the aforementioned Dr Baba  but also traditional Labour figures of the stature of Krishna Datt and most bitter of all, the recent falling out between Chaudhry and Felix Anthony, the head of the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC).

Both men now loathe each other and trade insults at every turn, Anthony accusing his former close associate of being a dictator and Chaudhry accusing the feisty union leader of being a traitor to the workers’ cause. Chaudhry’s abrasive son, Rajendra, has fought some of this battle by proxy, amusing television viewer last year with his description of Felix Anthony as a “Chihuahua” and a “howling banshee”. Yet the underlying problem of this momentous falling out is that the labour movement – not to mention the entire left faction in Fijian politics – has suffered a momentous and highly damaging split. Anthony and his union colleagues at the FTUC have broken away to form what they’ve dubbed the Worker’s Party. But where do ordinary workers now go to safeguard their interests, faced with this slanging match between once close allies?  What happened to the old song “Solidarity for Ever”? The classic political maximum is that disunity is death. So the longer this schism on the left continues the less likely these titans are to get anywhere in 2014, irrespective of the hurdles they now face.

For Chaudhry – with his main powerbase among sugar cane growers in the west – the Political Parties Decree is a disaster. Not only does he have to gain substantial members all over the country in the next 28 days but his opponents are convinced that he will also have great difficulty meeting certain other provisions of the decree. The most glaring of these is the requirement that any political officer bearer or candidate must make a declaration of all income and assets – both in Fiji and abroad – on behalf of themselves, their spouses and their children.

Chaudhry has already been exposed for having large sums in personal bank accounts in Australia that allegedly came from Indian donors for the Labour cause. He’s currently facing charges in the courts of violating Fijian currency laws. Will he really be keen to declare his assets in Australia plus the land holdings he is said to have acquired in India through his family connections there? If funding for Labour has come from India or any other foreign source, that will also have to be declared and the arrangement halted. Because another provision of the decree is that no party funding can come from foreign governments or NGOs. And the limit that any individual can donate – foreign or Fijian – is pegged at $10,000.

Felix Anthony is also in a bind. His new Worker’s Party was launched in a blaze of publicity in Nadi last weekend, where he appeared on stage with Sharan Burrows, the former Australian union supremo who’s now strutting the global union stage. Was the global brotherhood planning to support Fiji’s Worker’s Party financially? Because it clearly won’t be doing so now.

Before the Decree was unveiled, Felix Anthony clearly saw himself as standing in 2014 as an MP. But the Decree stipulates that no elected or appointed official of a trade union can be a party member and hold office. Felix Anthony screamed loudly about this but then announced that while the Worker’s Party would press on, he would not be standing for parliament. He’s evidently far too financially comfortable where he is to resign as FTUC leader and risk standing for parliament next year and losing. Yet if Labour and the Worker’s Party are to have any viable future at all, the split between them has to be mended. They too should consider dissolving altogether and regrouping rather than pursuing a vendetta against each other based on personal animosity. Because leaving aside the decree, the way they are going they are toast.

The National Federation Party (NFP):  This once great party – of the likes of A.D Patel and S.M Koya – is a pathetic shadow of its former self. What on earth is the point of its existence? It was once the principal opposition party in Fiji, the Indo-Fijian counterweight to the “Fijians” and “others” in Ratu Mara’s successive governments. Yet what is its raison d’etre now?  Pramod Rae is fighting a losing battle against total irrelevance. The great quest of the old NFP was one, man, one vote. Yet now that it’s finally got it -thanks to Voreqe Bainimarama – Pramod Rae thunders on. He too has no hope of meeting the stipulation of being a national party representing the whole country. It’s high time for the NFP to dissolve and its existing members to seek political solace elsewhere. Times have changed but the NFP hasn’t.

The United People’s Party: Mick Beddoes seems a lovely bloke and given the pasting Grubsheet has given him, we were impressed when he warmly shook our hand when we recently ran into each other. Yet his mouth is infinitely bigger than his electoral base and he needs to realise it and give up. The UPP is Mick, a small rump of old “general voters” and people who also think Mick is a lovely bloke. Given that he has no hope of meeting the provisions of the Political Parties Decree, he should forge new alliances if he has any thought of staying in politics, which he must do otherwise he would shut up.

The “Perfectly Frank Party” aka the Great Unknown: And so to arguably the biggest unknown of all, just what will happen if Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama does what many expect him to do and morph into a civilian politician. Will he or won’t he?  The whole nation is asking the question and we haven’t got a formal answer yet. But whatever the Government’s opponents say about the Political Parties Decree, they can’t say it is selective and doesn’t apply to everyone. Apart, of course. from the obvious fact that if Voreqe Bainimarama forms a political party and stands, he’s obviously not bound by the 28 day limit to register. That’s because he’s yet to declare his hand and says he won’t do so until after the new constitution is finalised. On every other provision of the Decree, the Prime Minister would have to live by the same rules as everyone else.

As the Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, made clear this week, any member of the RFMF who wants to stand as a candidate next year will have to resign their commission. This means that if Bainimarama runs, it will be as a civilian. He will leave the military and contest the election with a list of candidates who are all civilians and have to live or die politically at the hands of the Fijian people under the same rules as everyone else. None of them can hold any public office, they must declare all their assets and those of their families, take no money from companies, take no more than $10-thousand from any individual, no money from foreign governments or NGOs, no “freebies” or kickbacks, their personal finances laid bare. Yes, all those alleged millions in Chinese bank accounts included.

No-one can accuse the Prime Minister or his Attorney-General  - the architect of this decree – of double standards. What’s good for the geese in the old parties is also good for the ducks who’ve worked hard over the past six years to produce the Bainimarama Revolution – to smash the racial paradigm of the past and introduce the first genuine parliamentary democracy in Fiji of one person, one vote, one value. The old parties can’t see it yet and neither can their overly excitable fans in Fiji and abroad. But come the election next year, every candidate – including Voreqe Bainimarama if he so chooses – will be presenting themselves for the nation to make its decision on the same footing – transparently, fairly and with precisely the same opportunity to win. Now that we have a level playing field at last, Fijian voters may not know precisely right now who is going to make up the competing teams. But get set for one hell of a game.


Okay. Let's get one or two things straight: "It matters not how straight the Gate" ...(Invictus - William E. Benley). This is no game: not craps, not Black Jack, not Vingt-et-Un or even Russian Roulette. This is the survival of a country and its people. There has been quite sufficient blood on the carpet already. We know that many people in many places have contributed to this. They have failed us grievously and allowed in the despoilers and predators of Organised Crime'. Cocaine has come in and changed the stakes for everyone. See Mali? See Algeria? See the three Guineas of West Africa? This is a 'ballgame' on another level entirely. With the highest stakes imaginable. Who benefits? Follow the money. All despots require a way out eventually. We have witnessed one or two recently. Not nice. The Hollywood Exit is one of them. Film director/producer Oliver Stone is well-versed in such matters. A former Vietnam Veteran and a former user of cocaine himself (he is alleged to be currently 'clean' we are told). A dedicated proponent of the Left - President Hugo Chavez and his like-minded associates in Bolivia, Ecuador and other places "South of the Border": title of his controversial documentary film about South American Strong Men. His movie 'Midnight Express' showed the harsh brutality of Turkish prisons and more besides. He has met with the FARC in Colombia alongside Hugo Chavez (though that did not turn out well). He is a long term ideological supporter of Fidel Castro of Cuba. Our political leaders should have been up-to-speed on all of this. Never heard a word from any of them about Serious Organised Crime. But if we fail to address the matter in our midst and allow perjured evidence to continue (to suit our own pockets and our own self-interests) there will be no exits for anyone. Just a Road Map for the Slippery Slope to Hell.
Fijiwala said…

Your theory explains Khaiyum's evasive and hypocritical reaction to the Fiji Democratic Front's calls for honesty from the regime. The Front was wasting its time - it will be easier to draw water from stone.

Khaiyum says asking him and PM Bainimarama to disclose their asets is a 'personal attack'. Rubbish: it is just asking for accountability because you are paid by tax payers. This is basic honesty, no use putting a spin to it.
Khaiyum questions if political are really transparent: is the regime transparent with no audited accounts in years and no idea how much PM, AG and others are collecting?
Khaiyum questions if parties have 'widespread' support. First answer if regime has widespread support, let alone legitimacy?
He claims none of the politicians are telling the real story about why they are objecting to the decree. You Aiyaz are not telling the real story about why you are so eager to force this degree. But we know; we can see right through it.
Aiyaz describes the political parties as "so-called democratic" front. Maybe they are 'so-called' democratic, but the regime is an autocratic-dictatorship beyond any doubt. We prefer the so-called democratic anyday.
This one takes the cake:
(Parties) must, in keeping with their oft-repeated calls for transparency and accountability, declare their assets to the nation...
This from a regime, which more than anyone else, has been shouting from the roofstops about transparency.
But when asked to reveal assets, they run for cover or make excuses.

Aiyaz, how can you. with a straight and moral indignation to book?
Let it be known to you that response was as vacuous as it was morally corrupt, evasive and dishonest.

ANNON said…

I don't always agree with GD. I do on this one here's why.

Croz, we both live in democratic nations that have evolved into two party powers.

When the Australian parliament commenced, after federation, it was designed to have independent members from all over the country. They would then select the most appropriate and skilful member to be PM. This person was voted for by the house based on merit and skill, not on the basis of return favours.

Now, we have the choice of cat crap (ALP) or dog crap (Lib).

The PM and House could then select ministers from within. A skilful accountant could be treasurer and a skilful lawyer could be the attorney general. A skilful social worker could be minister of social services and a skilful medical professional could be minister for health.

Instead in Aus for example, we have an AG who never practised law. Why, because her party placed her in that position and not the parliament itself. Fiji too,has an AG lacking in legal competence.

It has been rightly observed in recent times that Australian politics is at its lowest point since federation. I wish WE could start over.

I have criticised articles on this site in the past. As for the proposed political decree, discussed above, I see method in the madness.

The time for vested interests are at an end. MC (FLP) and ASK are birds of a feather and I look forward to the day when these power tripping clowns are out of public sight. They have clearly shown that their interests are in self not nation.

And SDL have to confront historical and current reality. The truth hurts. Their day in the sun is over, too. As for the other smaller parties, wait and see. Are the leaders of such parties genuinely interested in advancing Fiji or are they after power for powers sake? Do they feel they have some inherent right based on their families or their own distorted perception of self-importance? Let the people decide.

The current regime will not last forever. Some of their refoms hopefully will.

My sincere hope is that this new beginning will encourage intelligent, right minded people to stand as independents - true leaders and not persons who hide in the safety of numbers with sycophants awaiting a reward like salivating dogs.

It will take bravery for those outside and within Fiji to stand up. I hope that the true leaders will now rear their heads. Their bravery will not go unnoticed.
SDL and FLP sealed their own fates. The last thing Fiji needs is another Mahen who says one thing and does another. Fiji needs leaders with vision and not men of straw who bend with the breeze.

Some of the reforms under Frank’s portfolios have been brilliant. The repression under part of the AG’s portfolio of all things legal has been devastating. It is easy to see the weak link in the current chain.

I still maintain that the displacement of the rule of law in Fiji did not have to be so profound. Measures could have been taken to partially restore it . This is the major reform component that has been ignored. Self interest of Fiji's so called "legal minds" have undermined the PM.

VB wanted to unite Fiji. That is now happening. What is the common-ground? A hatred of ASK. If VB could learn to concede occasionally he could still win the people over. Perhaps a peace offering. The AG’s head on a platter, with a side dish of his compromised lackeys, would be a nice gesture of good will. Once this happens the floodgates will open for the restoration of basic justice.

Remember Croz, not all who criticise have a vested interest. There is a lot to dislike about this current regime just as there is a lot to dislike about the FLP and SDL.

Well may we say God Save Frank, but nothing will save the Attorney General, FLP and SDL.
Anonymous said…
god, this is long boring crap. is it possible for this washington dc employee to give us a, say, 100 word summary?
Anonymous said…
No, anon, he is a lousy writer, that is why he was hired.
Anonymous said…
Croz, given the above, you seem to be fully satisfied in bed with Frank!
Invictus said…
@ reposted ANNON

Politics is the art of the possible. No more, no less. So where would the term 'brilliant' fit in? Even a mere mention suggests that you are 'lost at sea'. It is a very imperfect science as Otto von Bismarck himself said in a speech in the Prussian Chamber on 18 December 1863:

'Politics is no exact science'.

It does not get much better than that!
Head on a platter said…
Agree. The achilles heel for the military regime is khaiyum. His head on a platter would make Frank an absolute hero.
Anonymous said…
If it's long boring crap, why read it? Because far from being a lousy writer, Graham Davis is pretty spot on in his observations about Fiji. How many people even know of AD Patel, let alone place the NFP in the historical context that he does. It's pretty obvious that he's a polemicist but what's wrong with that? His stuff is labelled as opinion and he declares his associations. However what journalism he does nowadays is very valuable. Dr Marc Edge is gone from USP and its journalism program has been freed of his psychotic malevolence. For that alone, Davis deserves to be thanked. Take a look at the miserable Fiji Today. Edge has taken to barking like a dog. This fellow really is mad.
Invictus said…
Well, Anonymous at 11.56pm, many people know of the late Honourable A.D. Patel and of the vital role he played in Fiji politics before Independence. Of his distinguished advocacy and how he has been followed by his daughter, Vasantika, who practices law with distinction still in Fiji. Indeed, just two months ago, one was overlooking his old Offices in Government Buildings, Suva and considering his efforts in that place. He must be turning in his grave at what passes now for advocacy and the spite and venom of personal attack in lieu of pursuing arguments.
Anonymous said…
Graham Davis has a strong, engaging style. He is well versed in Fiji';s history. He is well read also. He agues his points coherently and clearly. It is always a pleasure to read his articles, whether one agrees with his views or not.
Anonymous said…
i look forward to the asset deceleration from MC
Anonymous said…
One little difference Graham has conveniently overlooked: The impossible deadline and conditions are set with one objective: To strip the old parties of their assets.
Anonymous said…
Seriously, what assets do these guys still have? They haven't been functioning for six years. Am I missing something? Buildings, cars, offices? Or is just hundreds of thousands of undeclared dollars in Australian bank accounts?
Anonymous said…
Sick of Graham Davis being vilified for expressing a frigging opinion. We need more of this bloke. If you don't like it, start writing you own stuff!
Joe said…
Wouldnt it be easier to dissolve all political parties effective immediately and start fresh. After all we will have a new constitution soon, why entertain these racial parties. Have they done anything for the people when they had the opportunity? LQ lined his pocket with shares that were meant to be for the poor villagers. MC made his millions at the expense of the poor farmers. Beddoes is an "io saka" man, should retire gracefully, age is catching up. NFP does not even deserve a mention, cant win a single seat in parliament, keeps coming back for more humiliation. The bottom line is, all these parties are communal, and should be struck out as they are not suited for the "New Fiji".

I am surprised that the govt is making provisions for a re-registration of these racist parties.
Graham Davis said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
transparency said…
Strip them of assets, or ask them to declare their assets? If they have no assets, why be ashamed to say so? If they have assets, ditto? Why be afraid of transparency?
wati s said…
clearly graham wote the above as no reasonable person or journalist would the see the article as anything other than an apologist piece on behalf of military regime that lacks any credibility and you would habve to ask if this is what Qorvis is paying for?
Anonymous said…
Graham is up there celebrating fiji's new democracy where it is one rule for the military and their cronies and one rule for everyone else. He explains away all the appalling double standards as if targetting the old parties is sone sort of progress to wards a fairer and more representative fiji and yet he has NO IDEA what the military have in in mind..clearly he doesn't hold himself to any standards either so his self-serving pro regime report is not surprising.We can only imagine the reaction fromthe regime if he had writtena critical piece, where her would have been attacked as an 'interfering foreigner' . But he is all fine with his BFF's and 'staying on message'. $$$$$$$$$!!!!
desmond said…
'no-one can accuse the PM of AG of double standards!!??... oh Graham.. we are not talking about 2014, what about the last 6 being told how they have spent our money and how much they give themselves too much for me to cope with ?? Any halfwit can make up rule for the next bunch , the REAL CHALLENGE is applying them to yourself and your cronies!!! Who the hell are these people to lecture me on accountability!!
Anonymous said…
You gotta laugh at Lord Haw Haw...'Apart, of course. from the obvious fact that if Voreqe Bainimarama forms a political party and stands, he’s obviously not bound by the 28 day limit to register' so it's all fair then...
%$#@! said…
apparently the SDL is almost 'exclusively i-taukei'(BAD) according to Davis,but the goons and thugs in the military are also almost exclusively i-taukei (GOOD), luv da logic. He has the same moral flexibility when it comes to trading away my rights in Fiji for his delusionalview of what MY fiji should look like under this junta and reporting what his paymasters want to see and hear form their little white messenger.
Double standard for dictators said…
It's called facism.
Anonymous said…
not in Fiji.. it called the new democracy at the end of the just can't see it for all the hypocrasy. lol

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