Keep Cool! This is a Time for Clear Thinking
The road from December 2006 to the promised elections in 2014 was never going to be an easy one. The potholes and patch-overs have proved to be far worse than those on Fiji roads. And, as with the roads where cyclones, floods and poor workmanship, have often undone the good work, so also in the political scene. Promising steps forward have too often been followed by too many steps back.
The annoying thing is that the causes, as with the cyclones and floods, can be easily identified but no one seems able or willing to do anything about them. First one or another of those capable of finding solutions, whether it be Government, opposition to Government, an NGO or a foreign government, manages to put their foot in it, which in turn produces actions and reactions from the other parties involved, with an escalation of emotions, finger pointing, the intemperate use of words — and an escalation of the problem that needs resolution. No one says "Stop", and moderate, calming voices are silent.
And so it is now, in Fiji. The Constitution Commission came up with what I think Dr Wadan Narsey called a "compromise" draft constitution. It was intended to be "inclusive" of the old political parties while offering Government and the military, in exchange, a guarantee of immunity. A network of commissions was recommended to ensure inputs from civil society but they also excluded inputs from the present government and the military.
The old political parties applauded. And why not? They were back in business. They had lost the communal seats but retained their 71 seats. They did not need to reform their racially particularist aims or membership so long as their MPs swore a generalist oath of allegiance. The proposed National People's Assembly could be stacked, made inert or, like the old Senate, be made extensions of their influence in Parliament. They could also effectively ignore the People's Charter.
Ninety —even ninety-five— percent of the draft constitution is fair, balanced and should be acceptable to all (lower case) parties The commissioners should be congratulated on what for the most part is a thorough piece of work that in these details lay a sound basis for a fair and democratically sustainable Fiji. It is the other five-ten percent that Government finds unacceptable. How on earth could the commissioners have got this so wrong!
So, where is Fiji now? The old political parties and their supporting blogs are having a hey day. We can hear them saying, We told you so. The "illegal junta" was never genuine about its Roadmap, its Constitution Commission, or its Constituent Assembly leading up to elections in 2014. It never intended to hold elections. The only holding intended was to hold on to power, perks and salaries.
I think not. There is far more to the credit of a government that launched the People's Charter that won the support of two-thirds of the adult population, despite opposition from these self-same critics and others in the old political establishment. I cannot believe that a government that has placed so much emphasis on racial equality, a shared Fijian identity, national unity, and has done so much towards improving the country's physical and institutional infrastructure, not to mention its efforts to assist rural communities and the poor, is merely in power for self-serving purposes.
But then again, Government's actions have not been flawless. Its PR has been appalling. Its has failed to deal firmly with some of those guilty of human rights abuses. It has not been forthcoming about salaries and payouts, leaving itself open to charges of corruption. It has demanded one hundred percent agreement before accepting anyone as its friends. Less than that, and you are are a potential enemy. It has not listened to the concerns of civil society organizations. It has not sought to win over and include those who in 2006 supported it, and many have become progressively alienated and disillusioned. It has sought to intimidate its opposition and has at times resorted to threats, personal abuse and insults. In short, it has shown its military base and lack of political or diplomatic skills. These are serious shortcomings of approach and method, but they are not shortcomings of intent or sincerity. And we should remind ourselves, those opposed to Government are similarly flawed.
Then there are the old political parties and the anti-government blogs. I recall little to no approval or encouragement for anything government has attempted.. It has always been criticism, criticism, criticism. Why have they never put forward any ideas on how to solve Fiji's problems other than to unpick what Government was fashioning and return themselves to power?
Finally, there are the foreign governments and the regional and international organizations they influence. This blog has pointed to their many acts that further isolated Fiji, making its economic recovery, and fuller civilian participation in government, difficult. And this is before we include the foreign media, foreign law societies, Amnesty International and the foreign trade unions, and the hysteria they have helped produce. Few knew, and ever fewer had visited, Fiji but that did not stop them taking up arms in defence of the very imperfect democracy that Fiji once had, closing their eyes to what the Bainimarama Government was trying to do to make it better.
Where does this leave Fiji? My advice, for what it is worth, is that all parties, including Government, should refrain from personal attacks, imputed motives, and vindictive and retaliatory actions. All (lower case) parties should re-visit their old positions, reconsider present realities, and concentrate on what can, and not on what cannot, be done in the face of these realities.
If those who oppose government think my remarks frivolous, they need to know how relatively lucky they are in this essentially benevolent dictatorship. They have relative freedoms of speech, assembly and movement. The media is relatively free. Things could be much, much worse.
Further, ordinary men and women are not unduly concerned about this or that "democracy" but they do want a stable government that will help them with the other human rights: the rights to work and fair wages, to food, security, shelter, good health care, and education.
"Keep cool" in the forthcoming weeks. Call a truce. This is a time for clear thinking.
Notice. Readers may be interested in Graham Davis's explanation on Why the Ghai draft is to be modified.