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.

Comments

Fiji Hold-em said…
Interesting reading. Perhaps Frank will go down in Fijian history as the man who united Fiji. United in hatred and loathing is unity no less.

Thank you for dispelling the Gates/ Madigan rumour. Watch this space as it may eventuate to be substantiated. They know that this ride would not last forever.

Acting President Gates will know when to fold. He was born for poker.
Anonymous said…
It is indeed hardly conceivable that the EU sees the re-instatement of the GCC as a condition precedent to the flow of aid under the 11th European Development Fund. However, a considerable risk remains that EU grants will not be forthcoming if the elections are not seen as credible and a return to democratic governance is not achieved. The Cotonou agreement is clear in this regard and the newly elected European Parliament will have a very close look at the reality on the ground in Fiji before signing off on new engagements and before re-opening the aid taps. Independence of judiciary, freedom of speech and a free press will be considered together with governance during the election process and thereafter. Word is out that a Parliament that is dominated by the regime's party through electioneering, fraud and voter intimidation will hardly pass the EU's test for aid eligibility. And the pernicious arrogance that the PM and the AG have constantly shown towards the diplomatic community in Suva won't help to bring the EU to a positive result in their assessment.
Crosbie Walsh said…
@ Anonymous .. "election fraud and voter intimidation"? I am not persuaded this will be possible with all the checks in place, even assuming it is necessary to result in a Fiji First government. Indications are that they have all the support they need to form a government. But I'd be pleased to learn how it can/will be done. Please elaborate.
Anonymous said…
I understand that New Zealand has an election this year too. How about your government telling you that you commit a crime when you discuss your vote for Mr Key over the phone with a mate? I guess even most Kiwi blokes would feel mildly intimidated by this kind of thing. In order to enforce all the provisions of the electoral decree, there is a need for a considerable police and possibly army presence around the ballot stations. This could be deemed intimidating not only by the faint hearted. At this stage we do not really know for sure how these elections will go down, but even a Bainimarama supporter like you would have to admit that there has been a bit heavy handedness towards critics in the past. Take the student's terminated scholarship that you report about. He may feel a bit intimidated too and so would the gent who has been fired from TV. The Rear Admiral has ominously stated that he wants to win all seats in parliament citing the chance of facing obstructionist opposition he does not want to tolerate. Forgive me my speculation but many voters in Fiji could hear an ...or else...after that statement. Election fraud has been a standard practice for a great many dictators around the world. Nobody knows how the electronic system managed by the election minister works. The election minister being the most prominent (and most controversial) figure of the current regime may not be disturbing for you, but it certainly rings some bells and raises some eye brows in diplomatic circles in Suva. Have a look at your ballot paper where you will vote for Mr Key in the upcoming elections. Notice any difference from what is proposed in Fiji? I don't want to sound alarmist but one thing is for sure: The EU won't take their clues from your blog, the Sun's reporting or the Minfo press releases when they make up their minds if the elections had been free and fair.
Dictators belong in ditches said…
The entire process is a corrupted sham. From RNZI
"An observer of Fiji politics says the Prime Minister's proposed political party is being tripped up by his regime's own decrees and it may have trouble justifying its actions.
The Elections Office has confirmed it has received six objections to the registration of Rear Admiral Frank Bainimarama's proposed Fiji First Party.
The party has 20 days to respond to those objections while police are separately investigating.
The breaches could see all the party members jailed and collectively fined more than 200 million US dollars.

Auckland University's Dr Steven Ratuva says Fiji First is facing some serious allegations, and it seems the regime's electoral and political parties decrees are proving unworkable.
"That's one of the ironies of the situation, because they're the ones who created that rule in hoping that it might regulate the behaviour of the various political parties, but little did they realise that they were going to be caught in that themselves, so they're probably telling themselves 'why did we do this in the first place?' Because now they have to be subjected the rules which they themselves created."

Steven Ratuva says Fiji First is probably trying to rely on favourable support from officials to get through the registration process" IN OTHER WORDS A TOTAL SHAM!

The outcome of this will be an indictator of just how much of a yes man the new regime police commissioner is and how corrupted the junta judges are.


Lawn mower said…
Vjas Deo Sharma is a political novice and a chaudhry lackey who used to mow the lawn at the great leader's nasese property. he has been rewarded with a ticket for blind and undying loyalty to Chaudhry khnadan (clan). He does not have any other qualifications.
Crosbie Walsh said…
@ Anonymous election fraud, I presume this is your reply to my question. I don't dispute the student heavy-handedness but this is now not at election time and, time-wise, cannot support your allegation of election fraud and voter intimidation.

The restrictions on cellphones at the time of the elections is intended to prevent pressure on voters and differs little from the NZ practice of stopping political parties from advertising on election day. Not that that was ever the case in Fiji. Remember the sheds" where political parties dispensed free yaqona (and advice) that were erected close to polling stations?

It is true we don't know how the electronics will work on September 17th but the expected army of foreign,and local independent observers, and party scrutineers, should be able to detect irregularities. Remember the missing box of unused voting papers and the electorate that returned more votes than it had voters at the last election? And the foreign team that found numerous voting irregularities.

And that';s not to mention the voting system that left some provinces and urban Fijians under-represented, and some provinces (Namosi was the worst example) and ethnic"Others" vastly over-represented, a party-sharing government that finished up with Mke Beddoes as the only member of the Opposition and a senate stacked with SDL and chiefly nominees. Or a system of voting that resulted in between 10 and 20% of the votes being declared invalid.

Neither of us know how the September 17th election will turn out. We can only speculate, according to our "feelings". But both of us know —or should know—that previous elections were far from, perfect. And that's a "fact". .
Anonymous said…
Interesting, your comparison between NZ rules (parties need to stop advertising before election day) and the threat of being imprisoned as a voter and citizen because of a phone call to a friend. I guess you will spin everything in such a way that makes the regime look good. But let me ask you another question. A week or so ago, you provided some advise to the regime and Fiji First on how they should behave in order to level the playing field. I fully support these suggestions and as far as I can see not a single one of them has been addressed or will be addressed. Isn't it a bit difficult to swallow this and still claiming that everything is ok, or at least better that it used to be under the old parties? I fully agree that the Qarase government was quite a sham and the elections were anything but free and fair back then. But what I see in Fiji right before me is that a major opportunity to make progress towards a more modern, more liberal and more lawful society is just being blown by a new self serving elite who has very quickly learnt how to take advantage of their positions of power. Sure, we will never agree on such things, but perhaps we can agree that it is time now that Fiji First complies with they decrees their leaders have written for the other parties.
Anonymous said…
"Indications are that they have all the support they need to form a government".

What indications are you referring to Croz?. The SUN poll?

An indication will be the election itself. You do not understand the fear that people have on the street. When they are asked of their voting intention they respond in the way they think they should respond. That is why we have secret ballot voting.

Good journalists rely on credible sources. If the SUN poll is the basis for your claim of an "indication" I would suggest that it is no indication at all. OR do you know the outcome of the election already? Khaiyum probably does. Quite simply, what this illegal, incompetent regime has done makes the "necessity" argument pale into insignificance.

Let me guess. You will continue to maintain your position that the Court of Appeal had pre-written their judgment. Now that is libellous. Those men had no vested interest. If you have proof to the contrary then let's hear it.

The erosion of basic rights and the disenfranchising of the people of Fiji under this regime makes the unity bill look good in comparison.
Anonymous said…
How dare you question the SUN and its highly reliable poll. Everybody knows that the Rear Admiral has the support of 99% of the electorate. He is the first truly democratic and self-less leader Fiji has had since independence. Remember when he claimed his leave pay-out from Chaudhry and gave the 200,000 to the poor? The people admire him for such a generosity. And they appreciate all the work that he has done in 24 hour working days, taking on more responsibilities than any other human being could shoulder! People believe that his salary is far too modest for all the good work he is doing. The right thing to do is cancel elections based on the SUN polls and appoint him as the Life Prime Minister. We need strong, benevolent leaders who can perform the work of 15 ordinary ministers and we should pay them accordingly!
Anonymous said…
I am just waiting for Croz or the SUN to suggest that Fiji First has 101% support from the electorate.

The laws do not apply to Fiji First. That includes the laws of mathematics and physics.

Khaiyum should give Croz a public award for services to the regime.


Crosbie Walsh said…
See the Fiji Times-Tebbutt Research poll.
Anonymous said…
Lets calculate an average between C4.5 and Sun. This will probably be as accurate as a poll can be in the land where liumuri is part of the culture.

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