Parties to adapt to change: Naidu

Professor Vijay Naidu's views on the electoral provisions of the Constitution, republished from the Fiji Sun

The changes made in the new constitution regarding Fiji’s electoral system means that political parties will need to reinvent themselves to appeal to voters at the national level.
Professor Vijay Naidu, a longtime academic and head of the School of Government, Development and International Affairs at the University of the South Pacific said much will depend on how people vote next year.
He said while the previous orientation towards ethnic electorates and ethnic based appeals are not likely to disappear, political parties and independent candidates will need to cast their nets more widely if they wish to obtain seats in the new parliament in sufficient numbers to form government.

50-member parliament
“The increase from 45 to 50 is welcomed as this may mean less onerous demands on individual elected members, and a greater choice of representatives for voters.
“Working on the back of an envelope and assuming a rounded figure of 600,000 voters, then each MP will be representing 12,000 voters,” Professor Vijay said.
“The Electoral Commission is empowered to keep the proportionality between voters and number of seats in parliament following the 2014 general election. This means that overtime the number of seats in parliament is likely to increase.”

Proportional representation
“Proportional representation, the equal value of individual votes and the 18 year and above voting age are positive changes, and are in line with the a majority of submissions made to the Constitution  Commission.
“These are progressive provisions that are likely to increase the number of women and younger people in parliament. They break the mold that we have been used to this far,” he said.

Single constituency
“The single ‘Fiji as a whole’ constituency is a significant move away from local, provincial and regional constituencies.
Professor Naidu said this change eliminates issues around  the considerable variations in the number of voters that used to exist between constituencies.
“This had contributed to inequality of voters’ votes as well as the great ‘wastage’ of votes.
“This change is likely to generate much greater national consciousness, national identity, and the awareness of a common destiny of all of Fiji’s citizenry.”
The downside
“On the downside a significant issue will arise over who is ‘your representative’ if all the MPs are elected on a country-wide basis.
“Who will voters in particular locality turn to as their representative in the national parliament when they have some issues arising in their area?  How will voters connect with their MPs and vice versa?” he said.

Another concern
Professor Naidu said a point of concern is that a Fiji-wide constituency may not work very well for minorities including those living in maritime provinces.
“To address this concern, political parties would need to be inclusive in their selection of candidates. “Inclusivity would mean the likelihood of rural, religious, ethnic, disable and sexual minorities being selected by political parties among their candidates, and also obtaining the votes of such minorities in the numbers that are likely to impact on the total votes cast in favour of the more inclusive political parties.”

A factor
“An element in the elections and electoral outcomes will be whether the United Front for Democratic Fiji (UFDF) will continue as a cohesive group or the political parties involved choose to fight the elections separately, and therefore in competition with each other,” Professor Naidu said.

Professor Vijay Naidu’s likely scenarios of how the government may turn out after the final count next year:
Scenario one
  • “The government following the next election could be a single party. Much depends on how people vote.
“Ethnic appeals by politicians and political party are likely to continue in more subtle form. This is likely to result in voters casting their votes along ethnic and even religious lines.”
Scenario two
  •  “It is very likely that given Fiji’s demography, an ethnic Fijian political party will emerge as the winner of the largest number of seats, and it will take up the governing of the country.”
Scenario three
  • “It is also possible that proportional electoral system may produce some interesting surprises, more youth, women and minority elected leaders, and no political party emerging with absolute majority then a coalition government may be formed.”


Forensics for political parties said…
Professor Naidu is no doubt correct in his statement that the political parties will be obliged to make significant change to their modus operandi and to their thinking generally as a consequence of the proposed significant changes to a One Constituency for All. In itself, this is no bad thing: the Big Picture must be addressed. But the difficulties therein may prove severe. Mindsets do not change overnight. Ideas must be creative and innovative. Have the post-abrogation, five draconian years permitted or facilitated this? There is a certain schizoid veneer to what has been endured by an entire population 'sauf les beneficiares'? Remember, French is a language of the Pacific as well as a language of diplomacy. Had we recalled this more earnestly, then we might have taught an element of French History in our schools. The French and the American Revolutions were roughly contemporaneous. How much benefit might we have derived from studying them comparatively? And then the English revolution (small 'r')which preceded them both, in which a King lost his head? All political parties inclusive of those yet to come, should study closely the operation of SWG9 - the Justice, Law & Order Planning Committee until December 2006. Take note of those who sat; take note of the 'comings and goings'; take note of the consultants who came in with an aid package of AU$10m over three years; take close note of who was paid what and when. Why? Because our recent history may be specifically tracked there. Were the interests of Justice, Law & Order served for all Fijians? Why was the SWG9 the last of nine Planning Committees and is this not our sorry, if not tragic fate that we refuse to learn the lessons of even our own history?

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