Elections Only First Step to Democracy
In an article published on Friday, Lowy Institute's Jennifer Hayward-Jones, after noting Fiji's critical importance to Australia's regional security, assumes a Bainimarama election victory on Wednesday and spells out what she thinks Australia should do to help "restore" democracy after the election.
She lists strengthened inter-parliamentary links so that Fijian MPs can learn from their Australian counterparts; strengthening Fiji NGOs and civil society so that they can hold government to account, an independent judiciary with new judges appointed from Commonwealth countries, and a free media for which she does not mention any Australian assistance.
Ms Hayward-Jones is writing for an Australian audience. I doubt she would be so outwardly patronising if her intended audience were Fijian. But it has clearly never crossed her mind that Australians could learn something from Fijians about the various meanings of democracy. Or that perhaps her white liberal definition of democracy is inappropriate and too narrow to fit non-Australian situations.
She writes about restoring a "democracy" where the value of votes were grossly uneven, where grassroots "civil society" was deliberately kept in ignorance; where racial paramountcy benefiting a selected few and not democracy was the election issue; and where the media not infrequently felt free to inflame racial tensions and do nothing to educate people to live in a multi-racial society.
She is right in saying the elections are only a first step to democracy, but wrong in her narrow definition of democracy.
The underlying principles of a democracy relate to creating and maintaining a society where its leaders are primarily concerned with the well-being of the people. It is about upholding their basic rights to shelter, nourishment, respect, fair employment, education, health services, assistance in old age and help with disabilities, and with unleashing their individual and collective creative potentials. This is what justice is about in a democratic society,
It is about a media, a judiciary and an education system that reinforce these aims.
It is about what, over two hundred years ago, President Lincoln was talking about in his Gettysburg address:
"That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Government of, by and FOR the people? The Qarase government was found wanting on all three accounts, and SODELPA promises no better.
The Bainimarama government was not "of" or "by". It was a dictatorship. But it did more than previous governments "for" the people. And in a parliamentary environment it can do much more.
Vote for a Bainimarama government on Wednesday, and when the elections are over do everything you can, as a constructive member of civil society, to keep the Government honest.