Whistling in the Wind: "Brave But Futile Attempts"

For months now this blog has urged those opposed to the Bainimarama government to be realistic. This is not because I approve of everything government has done —far from it— or because I am in the pay of the military junta or the PR company Qorvis as some have claimed I am, but because it should be evident to anyone with any knowledge of Fiji, the RFMF or, indeed, human behaviour, that this government does not respond well to threats. Whatever the obstacles, it will not abandon its stated goals.

Responses to Government's intended redrafting of the "Ghai" draft constitution are also human. No one likes to be pushed around and abandon their stated goals. All but two published reactions reflect this mentality. 

 The exceptions come from former commissioner Peni Moore who expressed disappointment that the draft was not put to the Constituent Assembly for them to change if they thought fit, and from the Citizen's Constitution Forum that limited itself to asking Government to review its position. (Australian Jenny Hayward-Jones also adopts a moderate position. See immediately preceding post). 

The opposition reaction

Others are less circumspect. The FLP website calls upon the media to "do its duty without fear," saying the government action is "a ruse to prolong the rule of those in power." Ratu Tevita Mara says the same. Fiji Live reports former Labour Government Deputy PM and now SDL member Tupeni Baba as saying the Government decision is unacceptable and a "slap in the face of all right thinking people...and an affront to our intelligence. The FTUC is appealing to the international community to put pressure on the Bainimarama government. NFP's Pramod Rae says he has "lost faith in the process." NZ has expressed disappointment. Col. Tikoitoga says Fiji will ignore NZ. And so it goes on.

Persuading Government they are not the enemy

If civil society or an overseas government wish to make any impression —and have any positive influence on events— they must first persuade government they are not its enemy. This, of course, is easier said than done for Government has shown itself to be incredibly inept in distinguishing between critical support and critical opposition.

The same might be said of some Government opponents. They persist in repeating the same accusations, deepening the rift between them and government, as if to make absolutely sure that even their sound advice goes unheeded. 

More often, they offer no advice and make no realistic demands. Their words are not addressed to government but to their supporters to maintain their support and fan the flames of mistrust. 

They fight their battle, not up front around a table, but through scathing printed and verbal releases to the Fiji media, the overseas media, and the numerous anti-Bainimarama blogs. Self-interest is only too apparent. There are exceptions, of course, people and organizations who are genuine democrats who have been forced into the camp of the devious though government's failure to distinguish between friends and enemies.

The whole sorry saga of how government and its opponents have handled what has become known as the  Ghai  draft constitution demonstrates the one thing they have in common: their shared inability to use unfolding situations to their own advantage.

Government needs to persuade, too

If Government wishes to maintain and increase its support among Fiji's thinking population, it must do more to take them into its confidence and involve them more in decision-making. Appointments to the Constituent Assembly is an obvious starting point, but it could start earlier than this. It could even initiate  closed doors face-to-face meetings with its opponents and the undecided, starting with the more reasonable.  

Opponents need to re-think their tactics

If Government opponents wish to influence outcomes, they need to re-think their tactics. Forming a coalition of political parties will have no impact until the 2014 elections. Many people are disillusioned with the old political parties, and it is questionable how long such a coalition would last. 

Their best path is though the Constituent Assembly. They are unlikely to be able to bring about a major constitutional shifts but they could get a number of draft provisions modified. The second-to-last thing they should be doing is to further discredit the Assembly, and the last is hoping or working for its collapse.

For the moment, they should be considering what the Solicitor-General's office is likely to change in the YG draft. The A-G's press releases give some hints. He talks of a constitution that is "simple" and uncomplicated; that will not result in endless debate in the Assembly; that does not contradict reforms made by the Government for "the way forward ... next year's elections and ...a true democracy."

When the A-G talks about simplicity, uncomplicated and endless debate he may, as opponents will claim, be talking about parts of the draft that were unacceptable to government for "political" reasons. This is highly likely but we should not assume this to be the only reason" parts may also not be acceptable for "legal" reasons.

Parts of the draft lack "internal coherence," one part contradicts or minimises another. Independent institutions, for example, like the police and Director of Public Prosecutions office, should be kept independent, and not made dependent on the Public Service Commission. Another lack of internal coherence in the draft is the influence of a large and unelected National People's Assembly over the elected Parliament. And yet another, the failure to deal appropriately with the President's emergency powers. The latter has been the subject of expensive litigation after each coup. There is now an opportunity to get it right in a way that gives the President the necessary powers but in a way that upholds democracy.

Part of the trouble here is that "internal coherence" involves complex legal issues that are not really suitable for debate by lay people. They should have been resolved by the Commission. How this will be resolved, with a lay chairperson, is difficult to see.

It was hoped that most issues could be resolved by consensus in the Constituent Assembly. This was always going to be difficult (Think Great Council of Chiefs, the appointment of the President and members of the several recommended commissions, and the question of immunity) but it will now be much more difficult with the reopening of wounds.

Constituent Assembly holds the key
It is expected that work on the revised draft will be complete by the end of the month ready for discussion by the yet-to-be appointed Assembly next month.

 Meanwhile, it is hoped that those opposing Government do not project themselves so far out on the limb that they risk losing contact with events, and throw away opportunities to influence outcomes. 

Their present position seems to be to dismiss the Constituent Assembly. It seems likely they will try to dissuade people from joining the Assembly and heap personal inventive on those who do. My guess is that they will find unacceptable whoever is appointed as Chairperson. This is what we can expect from their track record.

I suggest they hold back at least some of their fire until they have seen the new amended draft. They should then compare it with the Ghai draft, try to understand Government's reasons for the changes, and then, outside and inside the Constituent Assembly they should work on what can be changed. 

Over the next few months they should not be beating drums to win votes in 2014. That can come later. For now they need to work on what can be achieved for Fiji.

Note: I hope to publish an analysis of the Ghai draft over the next few days.  


Anonymous said…
In thoery the idea of getting on board and putting your hand up for the assembley sounds sensible. In practice political parties see it very much as a trap. Especially now that they know it will have very little power (if the assembly modifies/adds/deletes somthing the military does not like it will be simply changed). So if they join then get a constition they completely dissaprove of (for example with a President appointed by military and military with oversight role) Government will be saying "you had your chance". Remember to join the assembly is to support and accept the final outcome.
lets not pretend anymore said…
What is intersting is that government never made a submission to the commission. The military made a late submission (albeit late and not publicly). We have been told that we have a proper functioning government so why didn't it make a submission ?

So having not made a submission we have government via the PM and President saying government is not happy with the draft and will change it. or is it the military saying that ? Or (shock horror) are government and the military the one and same ?
Anonymous said…
What really irks me is neither the PM or President have made it clear what exactly about the draft constitution they don't like. In fact having worked hard to stop anyone seeing it they now won't even say what was wrong with it. The whole process does look like a charade to an outsider. Wide public consultation, an international expert then we just jump back to the AG drafting it as if it will be just another decree. The AG has even said his new decree this week will align with the new constitution...so he knows exactly what the new constitution will have does he ?
Dreaming said…
Mr Walsh,

If you think the military is going to suddenly sit down and discuss anything in a calm and sensible manner with anyone then it is you who is whistling in the wind. Have you seem any such diplomatic moves by them in he past ?

What I have seen is constant attacks, persecution, sometimes violence and often chaing by FICAC of anyone seen to not be whistling the military governments tune.

Mr Walsh - you are dreaming.

Anonymous said…
Don't worry about the FLP or SDL. I have it from good sources that the new political decree will bury them for good. That is why Thusdays anouncement has been linked to the new constitution.
Desperate junta said…
Your pleading on behalf of the illegal military junta is becoming increasingly patheticly sad. Is this how you end your academic career and dismal existence? Supporting a dictatorship which (like all dictatorships) is desperate for recognition? Bainimarama and his junta will never get the recognition or respect they so desperately crave. He (like all dictators) will be supported by groupthink leeches and a few old facists, and be continually looking over his shoulder.
Anonymous said…
It is bizarre but predictable that you expect opponents of the fijian military regime to be reasonable and flexbile in their expectations but at the end of the day when the regime will do neither, we are told we have to lump it.One side is netiely dictating the outcome and other is expressing views, but you seem to think it can work as part of a negotiation???
wati s said…
When you have the SDL, FLP, NGO's, Unions and mick beddoes party all against? there doesn't appear to leave a large constituency left for the regime does it?? I don't think the young would be too assured for the regime as they are just as annoyed by censorships and attempts to moderate what they blog, as anyone else.I-taukei have the chiefs and churches in their ear, indians have their traditional FLP allegiences and i am not sure ANYONE has done any work to see whether there has been any significant shift in these allegiences, irrespective of what peope say in public.
Of cowardly media and crooked politicians said…
If journalists are cowards, than mahen chaudry is crooked, based on his non-disclosure of $AUS2million in Australia thought to been raised in the name of poor but shamelessly pocketed by the man himself.

The FLP's asha lakhan who wrote the offensive press release should know journalists are not there to serve FLP and the political agenda of its leader mahen.

After all, mahen is a turncoat. he supported the coup and was interim finance minister. Now he is coup critic. This flip-flopping indicates the nature of the man who is motivated by vested interests.

As PM he was strongly anti-media. And his minions have the nerve to describe journalists as cowards. How self-serving and hypocritical. That's typical fiji labour party for you.
Bill Carson said…
Former Commissioner Peni Moore's view that the Draft Constitution should have been put to the Constituent Assembly for them to change if they thought fit, has considerable merit in my view.
Anonymous said…
Change or not to change.. Only those in power can do the change. Everyone else must wait your turn. Contribute to a revision or just shut up and accept the changes that will be implemented. At least the gov is very clear on what they intend to do. Regardless of all the talking. The ones in power will do the amendments.
%$#@! said…
so will this be the rule for the next government/regime, 'we're in power so we will do what we want' ...? Isn't this what the military moaned about with former governments??
Anonymous said…
Going back through the opposition blogs, one cannot fail to notice that the many believed the entire process would be a charade ending with a piece of legislation written by Khaiyum and focussed on protecting the regimes interests. Unfortunately, the thrashing of the Ghai draft under remarkable circumstances fits this theory. Handpicking the assembly by Bainimarama does the same. Are we all expected to continue to believe that everything will be all right, that the benevolence of the dictator will shine through at the end? I make another prediction here: There will be no free and fair elections next year and the regime and its supporters will claim that this is due to external meddling with the sovereign affairs of Fiji.
watis s said…
precisely. Croz would have us all wait endlessly for the mirage of democracy, while rubbishing anything and anyone that came before the coup as deficient but when confronted with regime abuses/tactics, expects everyone to have patience,good faith and aforgiving nature!!
Dictatorships are evil said…
What do you think would happen to this illegal AG if he did not have his military thug protectors? This dictatroship is destroying Fiji. The road to recovery from these treasonous thugs will be long and hard.
Anonymous said…
Although i support democracy and hope that we find an acceptable outcome for the new constitution i am intrigued by how many anti-military people have previously supported the military in 1987 and 2000. Are these people true supporters of democracy or just when it suits them? The Methodist Church is just one example of the hypocritical fighters for democracy...
Anonymous said…
And Indians are never hypocritical?
Indian scapegoat said…
To Anonymous 3:14:00

Only Indians are hypocritical, materialistic, hungry for political power and want to take over Fiji; other races in Fiji are traditional, and religious; unmaterialistic, sharing and caring, not hungry for power or wealth, just like christ, it is the Indians who are bad.

Yes, blame the Indian, Fiji's favourite pass time. They make easy targets.
desmond said…
The RFMF or military government don't repond well to threats, well Boo Hoo to them, how do they think the rest of us feel whenever thereis even the mildest of criticism!!
Anonymous said…
Thnaks Croz, yes we must all be sensitive and caring to the thugs because they are easily upset and horribly paranoid about anyone who isn't their bitch.
Be nice to the thugs said…
Oh dear, the poor little puppies. Now all you naughty people saying nasty things to the junta thugs - please listen to uncle croz and only say nice things to them - don't hurt their sensitive little feelings. They are suffering enough with guilt from bashing unarmed defenceless people.
thug le said…
I think everyone is a thug until they do their thuggery to further my interests. Then they are just patriotic freedom fighters.
democracy? said…
Get into the Constituent Assembly, and use the opportunity to work positively towards the elections. After all if you're standing in the 2014 elections, we need to recognise your faces and hear what you have to say before we will give you our vote. Warning: if you utter one racist, gay bashing, women demeaning or religiously perverted word you will expose your selves to the whole of Fiji on camera. Maybe don't take the risk eh?
Anonymous said…
That's right just don't say it ...imply, imply, imply...just like the regime when it talks about and blames 'foreigners'. Perhaps we can all follow the fijian military's fine expample and say one thing and do another!!
democracy? said…
None of them can face the people after fooling us all for so long. If past governments could have declared us all Fijians, got rid of racist voting, and gay bashing laws, passed domestic violence laws like this government has done so quickly, why didn't our old leaders do it before? They said, too sensitive, worry about the church, don't insult our cultures, blah blah, when all they meant was - we don't want you to be equal to us and we are superior to you.And for the record- yes I am gay.
Indian scapegoat said…
Well said. Thuggery reigns in Fiji.
jonas said…
Perhaps you would like to join the fijian military or police and declare your sexuality... i am sure they are all for it. For the record I am bi.
Anonymous said…
All the regime has done is lead by the nose or the gun and it will all unravel as the hearts and minds have not changed at all. They have no moral authority to decide for me.

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