Political Round Up for the End of May
There is a lot to report this week.
Earlier we had independent candidate Roshika Deo protesting about the cancellation of a scholarship for one of her supporters; Mick Beddoes provided insights into the PM's "real" character; all opposition parties jumped onto the "disgraceful" conditions revealed by Biman Prasad after his visit to Nadi hospital; some parallels were drawn between the Thai and Fiji coups, and the new Fiji-Times Tebbutt Research poll showed the PM and Fiji First had the support of about two-thirds of those questioned — but nearly one-fifth had either not make their minds up or refused to answer.
More recent news sees an unusual statement from the FLP, a predictable one from SODELPA; a difference of opinion between chiefs; a chorus of objections by Opposition parties about Fiji First's registration; a plea from Mahendra Chaudhry that he's being got at; news from SODELPA and the NFP on levying their candidates to fund their election campaigns, support for Roshika's student from PDP's Felix Anthony, a possible loss of $22 million to the sugar industry in which Anthony is probably implicated; and a mixed ABC report on support for Bainimarama and Fiji First. The best rumour for the week is that two prominent lawyers are fleeing the sinking ship.
For weekend reading I'd recommend two thoughtfully provocative items, the first from Satendra Nandan on The enigma of being Indian; the second on Thai coups in which the author argues they are influenced by US policy in SE Asia.
Here are the main items published in the second half of the week:
YOU ARE ILL-ADVISED TO FEED THOSE WHO BITE YOU. If items for this weekend's meeting in Lautoka are any indication, the Fiji Labour Party seems likely to contest the elections on unemployment and the inadequacies of the present government, normal practices for opposition parties; the high cost of living, a perennial of Labour parties world-wide, and, at first glance, the surprising praise for the Great Council of Chiefs and the statement that it would probably restore the GCC in the unlikely event it forms the next government.
In its quest for Taukei votes —surely the only reason to mention the GCC— the FLP seems to have forgotten the role the GGC played in the two coups, in 1987 and 2000, that removed two elected FLP-led governments from power, replacing them on both occasions with parties that it supported: the SVT after the first coup and the SDL after the second. The GCC even made the instigator of the 1987 coup, Sitiveni Rabuka, a life member!
The GCC has been a major (arguably the) major power broker in Fiji politics since Independence. With the collapse of Alliance and the victory of the Bavadra-led FLP, they supported the 1987 coup, the SVT Government and the 1990 Constitution that made Fiji a Christian state and embedded Taukei (read GCC) paramountcy.
The SVT lost support due to its accommodation with the predominantly Indo-Fijian NFP, an accommodation which led to the slightly more democratic 1987 constitution.
Cross-voting in the 1989 election resulted in Chaudhry's FLP forming government, but this lasted barely a year before the 2000 frontsman George Speight mounted the 2000 Coup, again supported by prominent members of the GCC. Witness the number of chiefs, including Ro Teimumu Kepa, who arrived at the Parliament compound where George Speight held FLP and other government MPs hostage.
This is the institution FLP potential candidate Vjas Deo Sharma. is now applauding and referring to as:
"a much beloved institution in our country [that was] unceremoniously wiped off the books … The chiefly system of the iTaukei had endeared for generations, right through from the Deed of Cession until it's removal by decree.We value the chiefs' contribution in guiding Fiji and in particular the bulwark it provides for unforeseen social disintegration,"
But he confuses "chiefs" with the Great Council of Chiefs. One can respect the chiefly system ands individual chiefs but be opposed to the GCC interfering in national politics. And one can support a GCC whose role is limited to Taukei affairs.
Vyas also seems to have missed the fact that many Taukei, including many chiefs, now have serious reservations about the interference of the GCC in politics. Advisers to Government on Taukei title successions, land issues, culture and custom, yes; but political interference, no.
REFORMING CHIEFS. The Roko Tui Ba has urged chiefs at this week's Ba Provincial Council meeting to re-visit title processes and chiefly roles and responsibilities at all levels, from the mataqali and tokatoka to the yavusa and vanua, so that all Taukei will be motivated by their example to "move forward."
A CHORUS OF OBJECTIONS. The Fiji Elections Office says it has received six objections from political parties complaining about procedures relating to the registration of the proposed FijiFirst party. FF applied for registration on May 5 and the process normally takes about 28 days. Time is nearly up before a decision will be made to uphold or reject the objections. UFDF's Mick Beddoes has also lodged a police complaint, saying Bainimarama was canvassing before his party was registered.
SODELPA leader and paramount chief Ro Teimumu Kepa continues to visit provinces asking permission to launch the party campaign.
She was apparently not campaigning when she told the Serua Provincial Council this week that, if elected, SODELPA will -
restore the Great Council of chiefs, remove the reference to Fiji being a secular state and bring God back into the Constitution, return all native land to the Native Land Trust Board that previously took 25% of rental money for administration (the Government has now removed this); restore Taukei-directed scholarships; and — continue the Government policy of providing free education from kindergarten up.
The Tui Serua supports SODELPA but says his people are free to choose the party they support.
DECREE TAILOR-MADE FOR CHAUDHRY. FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry says he will defy the Elections Decree regulation that prevent a person standing for elections who has been convicted of a crime within the past eight years that is subject to imprisonment for 12 months or more. He says he'll stand in the elections: "This decree has been design to keep me out. Everyone can see that."
SODELPA RAISING MONEY. SODELPA will help finance its election campaign with a $3000 refundable levy from those who have applied to be candidates.Applicants that are not be nominated will have their levy refunded. Ro Teimumu reports the levies are coming in very slowly. The party will contest all 50 seats in the election.
NFP LEADER Dr Biman Prasad says the party is still to decide how much to levy candidates and whether it will contest all 50 seats. Much will depend on fundraising. In a further media release on policy the party says that if elected it will review the salaries of doctors, nurses and health workers and implement a new salary structure within six months of being in government.
Recent polls show the NFP has between 1% and 5% support among those polled. At best, it is likely to be a junior partner of the government elected. To implement any of its policies, it should be thinking hard on which party is most likely to win the elections. Biman also said “fear still remains in Fiji’s societies today and this is preventing people from coming out of their comfort zones to campaign for the September election.”
NFP SAY COMMERCE COMMISSION POLITICAL. NFP General Secretary Kamal Iyer has accused Commerce Commission Chairman Mahendra Reddy of being political for correcting what he said were misleading statements made by opposition parties on the cost of living.
But if the facts are wrong, one would have though it Reddy's job to correct them. Iyer needs to show Reddy has got his facts wrong before accusing him of being political.
PFP SUPPORTS ROSHIKA'S PLEA. PDP leader Felix Anthony has called the cancelation of a Deo supporter's scholarship an "outright ... denial of political freedom and rights to students who wish to participate in the political process of the country. This Government has denied a large section of our community from actively participating in the political process including Unions, NGO’s and public servants. This is plain denial of fundamental rights and must be condemned."
He continued: "Where is the sense in this policy? Our young people must be encouraged to participate in the political life of our country. The PDP has a policy and rule that 20% of all its office bearers must be youth. It will also have youth candidates in its election line up." He called on the Chairman of the Tertiary Scholarship Board to explain why the scholarship has been cancelled and said the scholarship must be reinstated. He also called for more media freedom.
PDP ANTHONY IMPLICATED IN SUGAR LOSSES. The International Trade Union Confederation is lobbying stakeholders to stop a $22 million grant to the Fiji sugar industry, and Felix Anthony and the FTUC are at least indirectly implicated. Read The Fiji Times article.
EU ASSISTANCE NOT CONDITIONAL ON GCC. The restoration of European Union assistance to Fiji does not hinge on the return or not of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC), but rather a credible election and the return of Fiji to democracy, according to Deputy Head of the EU Delegation for the Pacific Johnny Engell-Hansen. Read the FijiLive report.
VOTER EDUCATION. Electoral Commission chairman Chen Bunn Young has been stresing the importance of voter education for some time now and is on record as saying he would welcome contributions from NGOs. The response from NGOs that must submit their educational material to the Elections Office for approval, has been slow and only one unnamed NGO has applied to the Elections Office for registration so far. Read more.
JUDGES NOT LEAVING. A rumour circulating the anti-Government blogs at present is that Chief Justice Anthony Gates and High Court judge Paul Madigan are jumping ship, presumably because they fear the election outcome. Such unfounded rumours are not new and when found wrong, they are never retracted. . I assume their purpose is to create uncertainty and cheer their followers.
FINALLY, THIS FROM ABC. From Suva, ABC's Liam Fox reports "support growing for Frank Bainimarama's Fiji First party ahead of election" —and some opposition. Listen to him here.