Election Round Up for the Week
By Croz Walsh
He has spoken several times recently to the military on the issue of loyalty and completing the job it started in 2006. There has been no announcement of his successor but the anti-government blog Coup 4.5 says there will also be a new police commissioner in a bid to strengthen Bainimarama's protective power base.
Unionists and the Political Parties Decree
Meanwhile, Government seems likely to tighten the Political Parties Decree which in section 14 states trade unionists cannot show support for, or be part of, or engage in party politics. They must be see to be neutral. The action is a response to unionists being present (they said only in advisory capacities) at meetings of two political parties.
Legal expert Nazhat Shameem says they run the risk of deregistration which is no doubt correct, but one must ask why unionists should be excluded from politics in Fiji. Most Labour and left-leaning parties, in the UK, Australia, NZ, continental Europe and indeed Fiji, owe their origin to trade unions. There is a natural progression from concerns about workers' rights at work to parliamentary action to improve worker conditions. Dr Alumita Duratalo makes the same point in an interview with the Fiji Sun that is reported below.
This is no different from right-wing parties whose power bases lie in farmers' unions and chambers of commerce. The Fiji government has good reason to distrust the intentions of unionists such as Felix Anthony but that, in my opinion, is an insufficient reason to ban union leaders from party political activities. It is also bad politics because it risks losing the possible support of many ordinary union members and other citizens who may otherwise have voted for the Bainimarama party.
It is ironic, as the more moderate anti-government blog Fiji Today points out, that the PM is tarred with the same brush. While still in office, he is using every opportunity to urge people to vote for the party he will form over the next few weeks. His latest appeal was at the opening of an extension to the Vatuwaqa Primary School, of all unlikely places.
There is also an outside chance that some political parties could be deregistered. The Registrar of Political Parties says some party officials have not declared all their assets as they are required to do in law. One hopes that Labour's Mahendra Chaudhry is not holding back on more than the $3.8 million (sic!) he has declared.
Sparks continue to fly between Bainimarama and the older political parties, with claims, counter-claims, and generalized accusations. Bainimarama is urging people not to vote for the old political parties, claiming they want to re-empower the same people who "brought Fiji to its knees." He says Chaudhry's claim of "best economic performance" under his leadership in 1999 is all lies, and the A-G says the claimed percent increase was due to a low base in 1998. The NFP's Raman Pratap Singh wants Bainimarama to name the people he is accusing, saying his generalised accusations are not helpful. There was no response from the SODELPA to Fiji Village's questions on this issue when it went to press.
SODELPA: when new is old
SODELPA had not appointed its president when we went to press but a likely front runner is Ro Teimumu Kepa, paramount chief of the Burebasaga confederacy, former Qarase Cabinet Minister, and a stauch Government critic.
The party held a workshop during the week. Several election-related topics were raised but most concerned the Great Council of Chiefs and itaukei rights. For a party needing to show itself as a multi-racial party, the invitation of Indo-Fijian Waden Narsey to speak on the economy was hardly enough.
Its further claims of Bainimarama's "systematic disenfranchisement of the indigenous Fijian youth [by] dismantling Fijian institutions [resulting in] exploiting Fijian resources" is unlikely to appeal to the non-itaukei electorate, and possibly not to many itaukei, elders or youths, who benefited little from the work of these institutions under the Qarase and earlier governments.
Forum Group in Fiji
The Pacific Islands Forum Ministerial Contact Group paid a two days visit to Fiji during the week. They were there to review Fiji's progress to what is termed a "return" to democracy. They met with government and opposition parties and no doubt left Fiji as enlightened as they were when they arrived. Both McCully and Bishop want a return to normal relations but more needs to be done to lift the travel bans. Without this there can be no return to normal relations.
Unless the Forum countries do something positive soon, they may well find themselves marginalised and overshadowed by the Melanesian Spearhead Goup. But that is only if Bainimarama wins the elections. If he loses and one or more of the old political parties become government, it will, of course, be back to more of the same: a very unequal partnership of Australia and NZ and the Island countries.
One final word before handing over to political academic, Dr Alumita Duratalo who is currently teaching in the School of Maori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies at the University of Otago.
By and large, the Fiji media, which included government-owned Fiji Broadcasting and the government-leaning Fiji Sun, have been fairly reporting statements from all political parties, but the Fiji Times for months now, has largely side-stepped all political issues, focusing instead of the everyday and less consequential. I'm left wondering whether it's a case of once bitten twice shy or are they making a political point?
In an interview with the Fiji Sun http://www.fijisun.com.fj/?p=203545
Dr Alumita Durutalo sheds some light on what the PM’s party can expect.
What can the PM expect?
She said: “Under representative democracy, party formation is done by people or voters with similar interests who believe that they can contest and win elections, form government and stay in power for as long as they possibly can.
“So a political party harnesses the many different interests of its supporters and attempt to present these to the voters in a unified and a cohesive manner through a party manifesto.”
She said a party would also have qualified and able office bearers as well as qualified and able candidates who would be supported by party members and voters in general.
“Normally political parties have political power bases from within which parties are launched.”
Dr Durutalo gave the example of Labour parties around the world are often launched through trade unions or trade union movements.
“A party needs a political power base for its long-term foundation and entrenchment.
“A power base also facilitates and enables the coming together of like-minded supporters who may be influenced by certain ideologies or philosophies,” she said.
To maximise voter support?
“To be able to win votes any party manifesto should be able to appeal to as many voters as possible. This is quite a challenge in multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies like Fiji.”
Will the removal of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) prove costly for Commodore Bainimarama?
Dr Durutalo said it depends on a number of factors including ethnicity, demography and the electoral provisions in the new constitution.
“If we assume that all iTaukei voters think alike and support the GCC wholeheartedly and the electoral provision allows people to vote for their own ethnicitythen perhaps, this may influence election results.
“On the other hand, if we look back into Fiji’s political history, two GCC supported iTaukei political parties, the Alliance (1987) and the SVT (1999) have lost elections already.
“In the globalised world that we live in now, the party that delivers to the people in terms of enhancing socio-political and economic development for all will win.”
“I would argue that a leader that is already in power has the upper hand if he or she has been delivering on his promises to the people.”
Dr Durutalo said those from the outside trying to enter the political arena have to work twice as hard to win voters confidence unless voters preferred a leadership change.
She added that elections are about choosing outstanding leaders and voters choices can either bring forth desirable or undesirable leaders.
“Voters need to do their own research and ask a lot of questions regarding the different party manifestos and the competency of candidates in their constituencies before ticking a name on the ballot paper.
“Use your voting power to choose the best.”