Counting Down: Ratuva on Progress and Parties

Sixteen months to the elections. What does one of our distinguished political sociologists think of developments? Dr Steven Ratuva is now a senior lecturer in Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland. His current research includes military-civil relations and regime change and Governance and electoral systems. Here’s excerpts from his views in an interview with the Fiji Sun:

On Fiji’s progress towards September 2014 and Government’s role in this process:
The government says that the required technical processes seem to be in place except for the constitution. Beyond that, I suppose the critical questions have to do with allaying people’ concerns about whether the elections will be free and fair and the other concern, given Fiji’s election history since 1987, is the guarantee that the results of the elections will accepted by whoever loses. At the end of the day these will determine people’s confidence in the electoral process.

On using the proportional representation system in next year’s election:

There are different types of PR electoral systems and Fiji, like about 80% of other countries using the PR system will be using party listing, a type of PR system. Under the PR system, suggested both by the Ghai and government constitutional drafts, the number of seats a party wins is proportional to the percentage of the votes won by that party. For instance if a party wins 20% of the votes, it will be allocated 20% of the seats in parliament. This system provides for equity in seat distribution and also gives the chance for small parties to win seats. Because of this, there will be no outright winner and thus in the end there would have to be a coalition. The process involves political parties providing either an “open” or “closed” list. While the Ghai draft proposed a closed system where parties determine their own list, the government draft proposes an open list which involves voters determining the list. There are four different ways to determine the open list but the government draft does not specify how their proposed open list will be determined. While the PR party list system (used in many countries around the world such as Brazil, South Africa, Norway, South Korea, Netherlands, etc,) is one of the fairest, it is also criticized for giving too much power to political parties and undermines the voters’ real intent in choosing people they want in parliament. NZ has tried to solve this problem by having both the First Past the Post (FPP) to elect individuals and the PR system to choose parties, so voters have two votes each. The PR system has allowed for minority parties like the NZ Greens to win seats.

On how effective this voting system is compared to the last two that Fiji had used – first past the post and alternative voting system:

The PR system is vastly different from the 1990 constitution’s FPP system and the 1997 constitution’s Alternative Voting (AV) system where there was often wide discrepancy between the number of votes and the number of seats won. The PR system ensures that seat distribution in parliament is directly proportional to the votes won. Both the Ghai and government drafts do not suggest any threshold for parties to win a seat. For instance what is the minimum percentage of the votes a party should win in order to be eligible for a seat? In most countries which use PR, there’s a threshold, for instance in NZ it is 5% and in Israel it is 2%. But the other alternative is to have an informal or “practical” minimum—but again this is not specified in the government draft.

Of these three systems of voting, which is best suited for Fiji?

The PR system is much fairer than the FPP and AV systems and is one of the most popular voting systems in the world. The FPP tended to exacerbate ethnic competition for power in Fiji while the AV system led to a large number of informal votes. The PR not only distributes seats fairly, it also ensures power-sharing between parties. No party will have a total monopoly as in the FPP system and we will end up with three or more parties sharing power. The smaller parties and even independent candidates will make a lot of different in terms of holding the balance of power. Given Fiji’s population distribution and assuming that there will be a general distribution of ethnic votes (although there are no ethnic seats), parties with greater chances of winning are those which would attract the youth voters. Remember that about 50% of Fiji’s population is below 25 years.

On whether Fiji has the structures in place for a free and fair election:
This is the major concern by political parties, voters and international observers of Fiji politics. Fiji’s post-coup political climate had not been easy for political parties opposed to the government to operate in. Government has firm control over the constitutional process and the running of the election. For people to have confidence in the process the government needs to provide not only open guarantee for minimal intervention in the electoral process, they also must be seen to be openly and actively doing it. Also, the constitutional review process and the election are mere “state building” processes to address the issue of state governance. We also need a deeper process of “nation building” through national dialogue and reconciliation between political parties, civil society and diverse representatives of society to address the social fractures, pain, anger, anguish and grievance of people after the 2006 coup. This is important for the long-term stability of the country and failure to do this will continue to haunt us in the future. ON how political parties can contribute towards the election:

This election will be anticipated after a long time because it is a way of getting Fiji out of the political quagmire as well as provide the exit strategy for the coup makers who of course are actively trying to return to power through the electoral process. The role of the political parties would be crucial in ensuring a peaceful transition and stability. The old ethnic-based political parties will need to reinvent themselves and all face massive challenges of reimaging, organisational reconfiguration and developing their mobilisation capacity. For instance, the National Federation Party will need to shed its old ethnic image, look for a strong leader and make explicit a new political position which would make it different from other parties. The SODELPA will need to extend its multi-ethnic appeal under the new team and devise new strategies to appeal to the young and women because that’s where the winning votes are. The Labour Party will need to try and reclaim its support lost after the split, shed its ethnic image and reinvent a new ideology. The proposed People’s Democratic Party needs to have a strong and vibrant leader and work extra hard to keep its urban workers support as well as use its new image to appeal to the young. While the proposed party by the government may be happy with its rural support, it will struggle to win the support of the urban middle class who felt victimised by the coup. At the moment it has the logistical and resource advantage because of its links with the current government. Parties will be horse-trading with each other for the formation of a post-election government and I’m not surprised if those opposed to each other now will eventually make up and go to bed together without any qualms whatsoever. It has happened before and may happen again. After all, in politics, politicians don’t often do what is right but what best serves their interests.

May 23, 2013 | Filed under: Fiji News | Posted by: newsroom


Could only be written by an academic said…
This rambling rhetoric clearly indicates that this guy is an 'academic'. Waffle, meaningless and convoluted.
Expert analysis said…
This is the same rambling academic who ended up with egg on his face when he famously predicted there would be no coup in 2006, even though the evidence was staring at everyone in the face, and the even the market sellers were predicting a coup. In 2006 you were better off putting your money on the illiterate market sellers rather than an academic like Steven Ratuva.

Our expert analyst Dr Ratuva put down coup predictions to rumour mongering by the media, which was the easy, convenient, and simplistic, if dumb thing to do on his part. This same academic has shown a very patronising, arrogant and dismissive attitude towards the media. Well Dr Ratuva, the media was far more accurate and reliable than you were when it came to the 2006 coup, and made you eat humble pie, and left us wondering how much of your writing can really be trusted, and how much of an exert you really are.
Anonymous said…
Dr. Steven Ratuva is a highly respected academic who has researched and taught over 2 decades in universities both local and foreign. He is the current holder of the Marsden Award, a top-class funding for top-class research in NZ. Only very distinguished and capable researchers get this award and I'm proud that Dr. Ratuva, a Fijian, is the current recipient. Those of us who have worked and interacted with him, know that his reseach is top-class and not like those conducted by some of our overly ambitious politics-focused academics. I'd like readers to follow very closely what Steve is saying in the piece above - there's much to be learnt from it.
Bring back the rule of law said…
@ anonymous

Like what?
Ivory tower effect said…
Some academics have a tendency to become self-absorbed, develop a false and inflated sense of their intelligence, and lose touch with what's happening on the ground because they are so high up in the clouds, they become dizzy and light-headed.

This is known as the ivory tower effect.
Anonymous said…
what has he said that has you taking shots at him - he has stated some facts and well reasoned opinions...
Anonymous said…
@ anonymous
Agree. We should give this 'academic' the benefit of the doubt. After all he is publishing in the Fiji Sun and Croz Walsh's blog. Both renowned for their non biased slurping and their high standard of academic discourse?
Anonymous said…
Cases of academic elitism and condescension need to be challenged to keep people grounded.
Anonymous said…
Anonymous at 4:36:PM:

True, there's too many lazy academics strutting around who rely on their reputation, giving useless speeches and media interviews. This Ratuva chap is better than political animals like Biman Prasad and Wasdan Naresy. At least he is reading and telling us new things. Biman and wadan are not doing any real academic work, just vomiting out the same stuff they have for years. They should resign from USP and take up politics full time. They are closer to being politicians than academics. They have brought down standards at USP. There has been very few new ideas or research developed by these so-called leading USP professors. At least I have not heard of anything groundbreaking, which one woud expect from professors. The vice-chancellor should go after them with a stick because they not earning they hefty salaries.
Anonymous said…
Oh yes. And if he was publishing in the Fiji Times, we could accept his neutrality? I don't think so. Isn't media bias one of Fiji's problems - on both ends of politics?
Anonymous said…
Agreed. Both Narsey and Prasad talk about the Fiji economy with no reference to the global recession and its effect on Fiji. Why? Because it might suggest that the 2006 coup had less to do with the negative parts of the economy than the world global recession. And we can't have that can we? Everything was caused by 2006, we know that because Narsey and Prasad tell us so.
Anonymous said…
These USP academics are male chauvinist pigs and smug to boot. If someone disagrees with them they take it personally. Some even take to drink!
Dud professors said…
USP is full of dud professors who mask their incompetence through political posturing and grandstanding. Biman Prasad and Wadan Narsey two rotton examples. Academics are expected to comment on politics in a measured, non-partisan manner. But the level of partisan politics at USP is staggering. It is the work of a few like Biman and Wadan, who are so loud and obnoxious, they give all indian academics a bad name and impression of Indian cane belt mafia operating at USP.

Hiding under the banner of academic freedom, Biman and Wadan are using USP as a launchpad to push their own agendas, political and financial. They collect fat USP salaries with one eye on their political careers, using USP time and resources more for politics rather than research, as evidenced by their sub-standard and sparse research.

Bottom line: you can't be both, a full time academic and fill time poltician. But these people do not have the decency or moral fibre to resign their jobs and go full time into politics - wadan had to be kicked pushed out, kicking, screaming and crying pathetically. They are a greedy pair and want the best of both worlds. They prefer to be safely ensconced at USP and make money while they further their political career, often to the detriment of USP and the students.

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