Fiji's Mad Hatter's Tea Party*
I think that sub-consciously each of us weighs what is said or done against what what we assume to be its intended effect. Often we do this without any prompting or assistance but sometimes our friends, colleagues, fellow bloggers and the media give our sub-conscious a nudge towards the "correct" interpretation.
Thus, in considering recent Fiji events, each of the following linked announcements (and their media coverage) had its own purpose and intended effect: the Ghai draft constitution, the Government's draft, the Citizen's Constitution Forum's analysis of both, the "total rejection" of the Government draft by Attar Singh and the newly-formed United Front for a Democratic Fiji (whose other leaders, Ratu Jone Kubuabola, Mick Beddoes, Mahendra Chaudhry and Ram Pratap Singh, represent the old political parties) and PM Bainimara's reaction that Attar would obey the constitution or risk imprisonment.
The PM's intention was clearly to display strength and intimidate, and he should have known better. Many people are already wary of his strength and Attar is not one to be intimidated. He should either not have replied or said he was sad that Attar had adopted this uncompromising position, before adding some vacuous inclusive: "We are all Fijians and we should be working together to build a fairer Fiji." But this is not the PM's style, nor was it his intention. He has completely written off the possibility of working with the old leaders.
If I am correct in this interpretation, the PM's style and intentions must also have been well known to the old leaders. And knowing this, why then did they make their joint statement of 28 March? And why its tone and wording:
The United Front for a Democratic Fiji (UFDF) rejects the Fiji regime’s new draft constitution and the restricted and limited process for people’s input. This draft cannot be pushed as the people’s document simply because it isn’t so. As expected, the constitution seeks to perpetuate a dictatorship by entrenching the many restrictions and prohibitions imposed on the people since the 2006 coup.
These include the restrictions on group rights such as trade unions and continued limitations on the judiciary. The limited time offered to people to obtain a copy, read it and respond on its various draconian provisions confirms the regime’s intention to simply force its will on the people.
What was the intended effect of this statement? It was not a diplomatically-worded petition intent on persuading the PM to address their concerns. One does not use phrases like "this draft cannot be pushed" and "the constitution seeks to perpetuate a dictatorship" in a petition. Nor is the calling of public meetings (see below), running parallel to Government's meetings with the public, that given their purpose, could well be cancelled by the police. It seems more likely the intention is but the latest phase in efforts to undermine Government and return Fiji to how it essentially was before 2006.
The concerns expressed by the UFDF are real. That is their appeal. There are sound reasons to be concerned about the Bill of Rights restrictions in the Government draft; in the entrenchment of the decrees; the supposed restrictions on an independent judiciary, blanket immunities, and, possibly the absence of a caretaker government prior to elections, though I would read less into the lack of mention of land and tenancy rights, and recognition of women and minority communities, for these are addressed elsewhere, and are easily included in the draft before its final adoption.
There are also sound reasons why Government has included these restrictions, and topping the list of reasons is that they are aimed at people such as those in the old political parties, now represented by the UFDF, who have spent the last six to eight years putting negative connotations on each and every act by government, and opposing its every actions. One wonders what the situation would be now had they acted differently.
UFDF members have their own reasons for opposing Government, some for whatever it does. Chaudhry was Minister of Finance until he fell out with Bainimarama, and the lack of democracy within the FLP led first to Tupeni Baba, then Krishna Datt and finally FTUC unionists breaking away to form their own party. Attar Singh's position seems more principled. He was initially sympathetic to the Bainimarama government but his staunch left-wing trade unionism brought him into inevitable conflict with the Government's approach to labour-employer relations. He heads the other umbrella union grouping, the FICTU, that competes with the FTUC. Ratu Jone Kubuabola's motives are less clear. A long time supporter of the SDL (which included strong elements of the extremist CAMV party of whom his nephew, the Tui Cakau, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, was a member), he is also a brother to Bainimarama's Foreign Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola. Some say both brothers are merely protecting their backs. Ram Pratap Singh National Federation Party had no seats in the last Parliament. It was the biggest victim, along with urban iTaukei, of the political system enshrined in the 1997 Constitution. Perhaps for this reason, his submission to the Constitutional Commission was the most reasonable of the political parties, and for this reason also he was omitted from the first "United Front." How long he and Chaudhry could remain united, even in the best and most transparent of causes, is anybody's guess. This leave Mick Beddoes, the leader of the smallest party in previous parliaments, representing Fiji's minorities, the General Voters, and, thanks to the way the 1997 Constitution was used by Chaundhry and Qarase, a Leader of the Opposition with only one other MP, with whom he subsequently fell out. Earlier this year he dissolved the UPP and joined the SDL, revealing where his sympathies lie. His opposition to the Bainimarama government has been constant, and his membership of the UFDF and his Easter Message to the nation leaves no doubt about where he stands. In the Easter Message he calls on all those in or associated with the Bainimarama Government
"search deep into their hearts and try and feel the pain & suffering of our people because of their individual support for the ongoing acts of ‘oppression’, ‘treats’ and denial of basic human rights and liberties of fellow citizens being perpetrated by their paymaster without the mandate of the people."
Charles G Kick in an shared email sums it up:
"It does not inspire confidence to see political opponents who were once at each others throats suddenly bed fellows because the only thing that has forced them together is primarily opposition to Frank, and not a deeply rooted sense of democratic principles."
This group will be united until they start to compete for power. And then Fiji will be back to the confrontational politics that has torn it apart, and prevented the emergence of a sense of a common Fiji identity, since Independence.
I urge readers to make full use of the opportunities to communicate their opinions on the draft constitution to Government. And to attend the UFDF meetings.
In doing so, I ask them to reflect on the record of those who would influence their opinions.
Make a list of what the Bainimarama Government has done or tried to do with which you agree and disagree? Rank the order of their importance to you. Is this the order you would expect from "ordinary" Fijians?
Make another list, note what the SDL (especially the SDL) and the FLP did that helped to build a united Fiji, and how their actions have helped, or not helped, "move Fiji forward" since December 2006. Rank the order of their importance to you, and to "ordinary" Fijians.
And then think about the worst and the best way you can make a difference.
Meetings called by UFDF.
Wednesday 3 April 2013,5pm, FTA Hall, Knollys St., Suva
Friday 5 April 2013, 5pm, TokaToka Resort, Nadi
Further meetings will be advised in due course.
* Mad Hatter's Tea Party
Alice in Wonderland
Chapter 7 – A Mad Tea-Party: Alice becomes a guest at a "mad" tea party along with the
MarchHare, the Hatter, and a very tired Dormouse who falls asleep frequently, only to be violently woken up moments later by the March Hare and the Hatter. The characters give Alice many riddles and stories, including the famous 'Why is a raven like a writing desk?' to which they had no answer. The Hatter reveals that they have tea all day because Time has punished him by eternally standing still at 6 pm (tea time). Alice becomes insulted and tired of being bombarded with riddles and she leaves claiming that it was the stupidest tea party that she had ever been to. -- Based on Wikipedia.