Political Round Up: First Week in April
By Crosbie Walsh24 Weeks to the 17 September Election
It's been a week when Bainimarama's opponents engaged in nitpicking, seeking advantage by tales of abuse, but otherwise doing little to advance their own positions.
Mike Beddoes claimed Bainimarama's Fiji First Party had stolen the Fiji coat of arms for its emblem, them withdrew to having it steal only a part ("but the intention is clear); someone else said they'd stolen Fiji's light blue flag colour: and someone else said they'd stolen the name Fiji First. Fiji Leaks claims the long defunct Fiji First party "claims IP rights to the name and threatens legal action."
Strangely, no one previously accused the SDL of stealing the Christian dove, the VLV the Christian fish, the CAMV the star of David, or the NVTLP the tabua.
The complaint, according to the blog Fiji Today, is that "Frank ... is expecting to pick up votes by having a recognizable symbol and color in the polling booths on election day." How devious of him.
|Bainimarama and the Fiji First Bus|
BEDDOES TAKES ON PM. Then there have been the complaints that the PM has started to campaign without first registering his party. Months back the PM said he'd delay forming his political party until he'd dealt with pressing government business. If my memory serves me right, this included dealing with a major flood. The old political parties have campaigned now for several weeks and have a clear headstart on the PM who has now announced his party and will travel around the country to collect the signatures need to register the party. The UFDF wants the police to investigate whether he's in breach of the Political Parties Decree for "campaigning and appointing candidates before his party has been registered, in contravention of the decree." Spokesman Mick Beddoes thinks the media organisations which have been covering the PM's campaign are also breaching the decree. Umm! Reported by Radio NZ, of course.
I'm unsure whether Beddoes is correct. You could argue the PM is an independent candidate and obviously someone has to be PM up to the elections, But if he is correct and has a point, the UFDF would be well advised to tackle more important issues with more relevance to ordinary Fijians. They can't campaign simply on what the PM has allegedly done wrong.
NFP's PRASAD CHALLENGES PM. NFP's new leader Professor Biman Prasad has challenged the PM to a debate in the lead up to the 2014 Election, saying this would indicate the PM's commitment to "a fair and transparent election process, one that would allow Fijian voters to make the right decision when the country head to the polls....Mr Bainimarama, if you indeed are ready to stand on your record, join me in a public debate on your record.”
DORSAMI NAIDU ON INDEPENDENT CANDIDATES. Longstanding Government critic, Law Society president Dorsami Naidu, says the Electoral Decree is not about participatory democracy because it is difficult for independent candidates to register. Their application needs the support of a 1,000 registered voter and a deposit of US$540 (F$1,000).
He says these conditions will deter people from getting involved. "It's not a participatory democracy. It doesn't give people the right to air their views. It just makes it so much harder for anyone really to get involved in the electoral process and get involved in the government we may have." Sounds reasonable, but is it?
Some 200-odd seats were contested in Fiji's last three elections and only seven independent candidates have been successful, six in the "special" small electorates of Rotuma and General Voters.
It's been no easier for small parties. The Fiji Communal and Fiji Urban electorates voted for SDL, Indo-Fijian for FLP, and the open seats were either SDL or Labour. The last small party to win a seat in the Fiji parliament was PANU in 1999. The last independent MP in NZ was elected in 1943.
Finally, the major purpose behind having one big electorate this elections is to get voters to think beyond ethnic and localised loyalties that perpetuated division, and think, instead, of Fiji.
Dorsami has also criticised the Electoral Decree provision that prohibits communicating political messages by telephone, internet, email, social media or other electronic means 48 hours before polls open.
Similar prohibitions exist in other countries but Dorsami say this could could allow phone monitoring, is open to abuse, and is trying to to control the Fiji public. "Though we won't be privy to what our own secret surveillance people do, or what the government does, it's open to abuse. Political parties and individuals can be targeted in the name of this decree, and that may affect the elections."
ONLY CHAUDHRY PROTESTED ELECTION DATE. "The leaders of the four registered political parties generally welcomed the early announcement of the date, although Fiji Labour Party (FLP) leader Mahendra Chaudry apparently complained that there is insufficient time to prepare. Mr Chaudry has more pressing concerns, with the commencement of his trial on charges of breaching the Exchange Control Act. If he is found guilty, he will be ineligible to stand in the elections. This is a fate that has already befallen another veteran of Fiji politics, Laisenia Qarase." - Lowry Institute.
ELECTION SUPERVISOR A "PLANT". Opponents of the Government queried the appointment of Md Saneem as Elections superivor, pointing to his youth and relative inexperience, and hinting that he was a "plant." PNG Edge, however, say that he was the second choice. First choice Australian Laurie McGrath was unavailable, and the most of the 13 applicants (10 foreigners and 3 Fijians) did not meet the set criteiia.
RO TEIMUMU. The Lowy Institute's Interpreter had this to say about her recent speech: "Meanwhile, recent statements by Ro Teimumu Kepa, the new leader of the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), have a definite 'back to the future' ring to them, as they include resurrecting both the 1997 constitution and the Great Council of Chiefs. This rhetoric is not surprising; it formed the basis of SODELPA's submission to the Ghai constitutional commission in 2012. There is no doubt it appeals to a certain significant constituency, predominantly Christian indigenous Fijians and an older demographic. But it is debatable whether that will be enough to get them across the line come September."
SODELPA youth candidate Pita Waqanovonovo is on the Fiji Economic Forum discussion blog for reasons he would prefer not to talk about.
NATIONAL YOUTH PARTY. The interim leader of the proposed National Youth Party, Nayagodamu Korovou, has confirmed a departure from the earlier position that this faction would join the party to be led by Bainimarama.
OVERSEAS VOTERS. Fijians living overseas will have further opportunities to register as voters and some 1,200 living in Australia and NZ have already done so. Overeas Fijians can register an interest in voter registration on line www. electionsfiji.gov.fj Voting will be by post.
CONSTITUTION NOW IN BRAILLE. Previous constitutions were printed in English only. The 2013 Constitution is published in English, Taukei, Hindi, and now braille has been added to the list.
THE RATU TIMOCI VESIKULA FRACAS. I've not been able to read or listen to Ratu Timoci's talanoa with the PM at the Tailevu Provincial Council meeting, so I do not know exactly what he said (something about Taukei and Indo-Fijians, and not being able to mix water and kerosene, and how the Indo-Fijians were buttering up Bainimarama) but his views were aired on Fiji TV, labelled a "hate speech" and a breach of the media code by Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA), and seen as a further breach of media fredoom by Fairfax reporter Michael Field.
The MIDA chairman Ashwin Raj said Ratu Timoci's views had serious implications for racial tolerance. "The unfettered prominence given to Ratu Timoci Vesikula’s intervention at the Tailevu Provincial Council meeting, aired on Fiji Televisions's Fiji One News segment on April 4 is an indictment of this retrogression." “Enough is enough – I’ve been on this job for six or seven months. I’ve tried to appeal to everybody. Now it’s time to lay down the law. We’re not friends with government, we’re not friends with political parties, we’re not friends with respective journalists and media outlets, we’re not friends with the members of the public.”
The media watch dog is advising members of the public to be cautious when making public speeches. “Freedom of speech, expression and thought, opinion and publication does not [allow] advocacy of hatred that one is based on any prohibited ground of discrimination."
FijiLeaks thinks the PM is the "real culprit in not stopping Vesikula from making the so-called 'Hate Speech'? COME ON, charge Bainimarama (and Vesikula) but LEAVE FIJI TV alone! Thanks to Fiji TV MIDA's Ashwin Raj knows what Vesikula said to Bainimarama and about the Indo-Fijians in Fiji! Welcome to new Fiji and OLD TAILEVU, Bainimarama!"
I like FijiLeaks summation. The choice really is between old and new.