My Advice to the Opposition Parties
Forgive my presumption but from where I stand the opposition parties are not helping themselves with their constant criticism of government.
They need to be more selective and they need to promote their own policies. Whichever way they look, they see Fiji's cup as half empty and are not taking full advantage of the opportunities they now have — that did not exist a month or so ago.
Putting up straw men and then knocking them down only succeeds when the audience is ignorant or uninformed. And many people in Fiji are neither.
Fiji is not going to have a flawless election and whatever the election outcome the country will not yet be what Pope (now Saint) John Paul II prematurely described as "the way the world should be".
Fiji's undoubted charms and blessings will continue but so will its underlying problems whichever party forms the new government, and however hard that government works improvements will not be immediately obvious. To think otherwise is to be unrealistic. One can only hope its citizens will not pay too much attention to those who seek to undermine the credibility of the elections and exercise their votes wisely.
Fiji's immediate and longer term future is not helped by the ongoing pessimism of the existing political parties. It may make good anti-government propaganda to decry each and every preparation for the election; it may even be a good strategy to keep government on its toes, but it also undermines credibility in the election outcome which, when I think about it, could in itself be a good strategy should the opposition parties not perform well in the polls. If Fiji First forms the new government, they can then claim voting was unfair. Some would say this is their primary purpose because they expect Bainimarama to win.
For the record, this is a list and update of opposition complaints:
- There will be no elections.
- There is not enough time to prepare for the elections.
- The Electional Commission is not independent.
- The Supervisor of Elections is a government crony and was not the most suitable applicant.
- Foreign-funded NGOs should be able to carry out voter education.
- Some information on the registered voter card can be misused by the authorities.
- The political parties should be given a printout of registered voters
- It is not a level playing field.
- Opposition leaders knee-capped. Chaudhry and Qarase convictions politically motiviated.
- Bainimarama is breaking regulations - campaigning before registration, choice of party colour and emblem.
- Unfair media coverage, especially by Fiji Sun and Fiji Broadcasting.
- Media Industry Development Agency not independent and its chairman is unsuitable.
- A-G is in charge of elections and in Fiji First: a conflict of interest.
- Voting will take place in an atmosphere of fear. They will not be free, fair and transparent.
- Voting must be overseen by independent observers. There are too many polling stations for observers to cover them all.
- The Election Decree allows phone tapping.
- Officials at polling stations could influence how people vote.
- Voters will not be allowed to bring voting advice and reminder information into the polling station.
- Voters may be body-searched if officials think they are breaking this requirement.
- Many voters will not be able to remember the three digit number of the person they wish to vote for.
- Voters are expected to vote in no more than two minutes.
- All the decrees and regulations passed by government are invalid because they were not elected.
Some of these criticisms are legitimate and should be publicly raised. But others are hyperbole, untrue or only partly true. They should also acknowledge some of the good that government has done. The Devil is not on one side and God on the other.
The opposition has a choice: continue as it is now and attack all that government does, or be more selective, focus on the more critical issues, and promote their own policies.
A good first step would be to disband the United Front for a Democratic Fiji that has served its purpose. The UFDF has become Mick Beddoes' personal mouthpiece and can never broadly represent the opinions of the opposition parties as they are now constituted.
Alternatively, they could temporarily bury their differences and form one party of national unity, at least for this election. More new faces would also help.
As things stand, the voting public is likely to tire of their constant complaining long before the elections. They are handing Bainimarama the elections on a plate.
A "My Advice to Government and Fiji First" article will follow in the next few days. And don't tell me I'm an outsider and have a nerve. I know that, but as ever I am trying to be helpful in the absence of other reconciliatory voices.