WEEKEND READING. • Allen Lockington Column • Nazhaat Shameem on Proper Police Procedures • Fr Kevin Barr on Rural-Urban Drift • How is Life in Fiji Today?
Opinion by Crosbie Walsh
|With Alice in Alice in the Looking Glass|
They wish to be heard by the Constitution Commission — but deny its legality and credibility. They now see no reason for anything more than tinkering with the 1997 Constitution — but this was not always so. They object to the military being involved in the massive logistical exercise of voter registration — even though officers from the Electoral Office and overseas vote registration experts will be present.
Qarase has called for an "independent body" to handle the task and Chaudhry says military involvement is "absurd" and the registration "does not have the confidence of the people" — though how he would know this is unclear. The military are organizing the logisitics; the Electoral Office and experts the registration.
With the need to register sixty hundred thousand people in over a thousand centres and more than a hundred islands, how do they think the exercise should be carried out with the maximum efficiency and the minimum cost? Which independent body can handle this? The Boy Scouts? Or 6,000 paid teachers during a school vacation?
It is not the first time, of course, that the two have raised objections. They put obstacles in the way of discussions and dialogue leading into the People's Charter and for the past five years they have seldom missed an opportunity to snipe at government, and they have done this without putting forward a single helpful suggestion on how Fiji is to move forward, other than their self-serving and totally unrealistic demand for immediate elections.
Elections? Let's glance back. Many in Fiji will remember how they performed when they last held political power. Chaudhry's abrasive manner and cultural insensitivity fuelled the Taukei ethno-nationalists who overthrew his government in the "Speight" coup of 2000. Qarase refused to share power with Chaudhry following the 2001 Election, thereby breachingthe 1997 Constitution and breaking the law. His later "acceptance" led to the farce of Mick Beddoes's party of two becoming the official parliamentary opposition. And then there was the roll out of ethnic legislation: the so-called Tolerance and Reconciliation Bill that would have absolved all those responsible for the Speight Coup (and the arson in Downtown Suva!); the Qoliqoli Bill that would have set mataqali against each other and denied non-Taukei (including the vital tourism industry) access to beaches, off-shore recreation and fishing, and other supposedly pro-taukei legislation that in reality would only have benefited the Taukei elite, that led to the Baininimarama Coup.
Now Qarase and Chaudhry, once mortal enemies and now tweedles of convenience, are thinking of a joint presentation to the Constitution Commission, and there's even talk of a shared interim government in 2014.
I cannot help but compare Fiji with many other "Third World" countries when critics talk of alleged (and real) abuses of human rights. Where else would two former PMs be allowed to walk freely in the streets and talk sedition? Where else would two largely discredited political parties, whose policies were instrumental in causing two coups, be allowed so much freedom?
God help Fiji if Qarase and Chaudhry and unreformed SDL and FLP parties are ever returned to power.
Fiji needs new politicians who will appeal to people of all races, and political parties that promote healthy debate and unity of purpose, not discord and division. The alternative is more of the same—and more coups.