What Do They Mean by a "Democratic" Fiji?

Look beneath the surface.
Opinion piece by  Crosbie Walsh

The recently formed United Front for a Democratic Fiji, the subject of my earlier posting, hopes to hold meetings this week to protest the process and content of the Government's draft constitution which they say they totally reject. Many of my friends are likely to be present.

With them, I think some important changes are needed to the draft, but the UFDF makes no call for the public to make its opinions known to the Government through the channels available to them, which include emailing, phoning the PM's 02 number, and talkback programmes in Fiji's three main languages. 

Instead, it has adopted a totally hostile position that is most likely to be totally ineffective in bringing about changes. But this, I suspect, is a major reason for their opposition. The real decision-makers in the UFDF know political capital is to be made if their meetings are cancelled by the police and their calls for change are rejected by Government —and they know this is quite likely to happen given who they are and what they represent.

Many, including this writer, will agree with parts of their published statement but it is important to take one step back to see what they also want for Fiji. 

This is probably best seen in the past actions of the SDL and FLP parties but their hopes for Fiji's future have now been updated and most clearly spelt out out in their submissions to the Yash Ghai Constitutional Commission.

For the most part, few would object to the submission of Pratap Singh's National Federation Party or Mick Beddoes's United People's Party but both are minor players in the UFDF. 

However,  Beddoes has now disbanded the UPP and joined the SDL and is apparently happy to live with its very different values. Another newish  SDL member, of whom we may hear more,  who has also changed his political colours is Dr Tupeni Baba, once FLP and then New Labour before joining the SDL.

Putting aside personalities and possible personal reasons for political shifts and standpoints, we need to examine the submissions of the major players in the UFDF —Chaudhry's FLP and Kubuabola's "new"  SDL—  to the Constitution Commission to see where their hearts really lie.

The FLP submission
A FLP that once claimed to be multi-ethnic and wanted one man one vote, now wants one-third (26) of parliament's 71 seats "reserved" for ethnic voting. This would see the retention of a substantial element of the divisive ethnic voting that has been a major factor in racial discord and unrest in the past. Ingeniously, it would also work to the benefit of Indo-Fijians and Other Races and under-represent iTaukei. Only 12 (46%) of the FLP's proposed 26 seats would be reserved for iTaukei who comprise 57% of Fiji's population, 4 seats (15%) would be reserved for other races who comprise a bare 6% of the population, while Indo-Fijians (38% on both counts and appropriately represented) would be guaranteed a strong presence in Parliament if they were under-represented in the other 45 seats. 

The FLP also wants a 18- member multi-Ethnic (!) Cabinet chosen by the PM from both Houses, Senate and the House of Representatives, despite the fact that the Multi-Party (!) Cabinet proved itself a disaster under Qarase administrations due to the failure of Chaudhry and Qarase to work together and be less ethnic-focussed. Note the proposed change from multi-party to multi-ethnic.

These arrangements (the "reserved seats" and the "multi-ethnic Cabinet) would guarantee Chaudhry (or his look-alike) a return to Parliament and a strong base for him to operate within parliament.

The SDL submission
The SDL submission is even more explicit in its racial bias. The party claims to be multi-ethnic but its most important overall recommendation stresses the "need to strengthen the indigenous position regarding institutions, especially the Great Council of Chiefs, language and the Christian tradition."

Specifically, it wants Fiji to be declared a "sovereign democratic Christian state"; the continuation of the "compact" that gives iTaukei rights to a separate administration and affirmative action" programmes for iTaukei; an Act of Parliament to "enshrine" the Great Council of Chiefs; a 32-member Senate, with 14 members nominated by the GCC; the President to be elected by both Houses from nominees chosen by the GCC and the (outnumbered) Indo-Fijian and Other Races communities; and a Parliament of 71 members with 25 "reserve" seats (14 for iTaukei, 9 for Indo-Fijians and 2 for Other Races).

There is no way the "race card" will not be used if both the FLP and the SDL have their way. To their credit, the NFP and the UPP put no stress on race. Neither wanted racially reserved parliamentary seats and neither wanted the GCC to play any more than an advisory role to government. The United Front is not as united as it may claim.

An about-face on the Ghai recommendations?
What is perhaps most surprising is that in their earlier united front mode, the SDL and the FLP (the FNP was not invited) totally endorsed Yash Ghai's draft constitution, despite the fact that their submissions were very different from what was proposed in the Ghai draft.  For example, The Ghai draft:
  • Made no provision for ethnic "reserved" seats in Parliament
  • Did not allow for a Senate
  • Did not declare Fiji a Christian State
  • Gave no political powers to the Great Council of Chiefs
And, in these respects, the Ghai Commission's draft was in total agreement with the Government's draft constitution that the United Front says it totally rejects.

The rock and the hard place: What to do
 In many ways Fijians are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. What they should do over the next week or so is by no means clear or assured of success.

But a sensible strategy would be to challenge the "rock" by seeking specific changes to Government's process and draft. For example, they could seek some civilian involvement in the final drafting, and suggest specified provisions of the decrees be re-visited by the first or later parliaments.

At the same time, people should also be confronting the "hard place" by asking the UFDF, and most obviously  its FLP and SDL members,  to explain the inconsistencies in their positions; what they can live with in the Government draft (for even they cannot claim it to be all bad); what they really hope to achieve by their present tactics; and —most importantly— 

why their race-laced submissions to the Ghai Commission would not, if adopted, return Fiji to a nation of racial discord and ill-concealed attempts to use the race card to achieve and retain political power. 

People need to know why they backtracked on their submissions and unexpectedly agreed with the Ghai draft. They cannot, in good faith,  hold both positions.

Their obsession with race to the exclusion of any mention of nation-building is a particular cause for alarm.  Being against something is an insufficient claim on leadership. They need to be for something. Ask them what they propose to do that is different from what they did before December 2006, and how will this make for a fairer and better Fiji.

Look below the surface.


Joe said…
The ditching of the CA is justified beyond any doubt whatsoever. The PM is fully aware of what is below the surface, and so are the majority of Fijians. Arent these politicians lucky to be in a place like Fiji. I think the PM might as well go ahead and impliment the new constitution. There are other important things for him to do in the lead up to the election, than to worry about these leeches.
Croz, I think you should refrain from giving these racist parties even a mention. None of them will be re-registered anyway. They are history for sure.
Crosbie Walsh said…
sorry joe, that's not the way it works on my blog. some of the "leeches" are genuine as are many of those who will be at their meetings. I need to talk with them. I also have serious doubts about parts of the govt draft and sincerely believe govt would risk nothing and win further support if it addressed them. most obvious are the essential industries decree and the inability of future govts to amend a number of the "limitations" clauses in other decrees. trust you had a relaxing easter.
Joe said…
Hi Croz, I had a great easter and hope you had a good one too. How can these leeches be genuine when they change their tunes at the drop of a hat and enter into a marriage of convenience? None of these that you call genuine are interested in anything else other than lining their own pockets. The essential industries decree is exactly what the name suggests. We dont want union fat cats being an obstacle in the way forward for Fiji.

Having said all that, what is the alternative? I hope you are not promoting the racist agenda of these outdated politicians. Everything this govt has done, and is doing, is acceptable to the people but not acceptable to these no hoper politicians? Are we expecting to see some sort of a foreign intervention headed by a mis nomer eg Harbhajan Lal?
Anonymous said…
Croz, But they where willing to accept the Ghai draft and this didn't include the racism you paint these parties with. Quite frankly I don't know what you expect these parties to do. Frank has stopped them every step of the way, he has declared he will run and win. He has the power and money and will likely ensure there will no or a very very weak opposition. What do you suggest these parties do ?
Reality said…
I can't remember when the PM was anything but hostile to any real or percieved opposition. he is even hostile to supporters. Is it any wonder the opposition is a little hostile ?
HMS Victory said…
Croz, I think your analysis of the situation and the participants is fair. I also believe that there is room for improvement in the draft Constitution submitted by staff in the Attorney Generals office. If the PM could be a little flexible by approving a few changes and having a small select Constituent Assembly it would resolve matters... But it just will not happen.. So it will only be a matter of time before the next eruption...
Anonymous said…
Great analysis Crozier - I think you have hit the nail on the head. The draft constitution in my opinion is better than the Ghai drft which became a joke as it ceded so much power to the NGOs and non elected elements.
Just another facist fool said…
Are your wife and family proud of your public wanking as a facist fool?

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