Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. (René Descartes, mathematician and philosopher,1599-1650)

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Mick Beddoes and the Other Races

Crosbie Walsh

I really can't believe it. As the country struggles to achieve some degree of common purpose before 2014 and a non-racially based election (a non-negotiable element according the military-backed government), Mick Beddoes is calling for the retention of race-based seats in Parliament because it's "too early" to abandon racial voting.* 

His reasons?

Individual and Institutional Racism
He says, "It will take two or three elections before prejudices and mistrust between different ethnic groups completely die out in the country." Which dream world does he live in? Racial prejudice completely gone, of its own volition, within 15 years? I'd predict two of three GENERATIONS for most OVERT prejudices to die out, and even then some people will still be prejudiced. 

But what is just as amazing is that Mick does not understand this is not about individual prejudices, however long they may take to go.  It's about institutional racism, which is an altogether different thing. It's about the allocation of jobs, housing, scholarship and, yes, parliamentary seats, on the basis of race. And institutional racism must go before individual prejudices can be expected to diminish.

Reflections of Diversity
Further, he says  a "voting system must be retained which reflects the nation’s diversity." But he does say why this has to be by the allocation of racial seats in parliament. Diversity (and a degree of integration) would be just as easily achieved by multi-racial parties standing candidates of different ethnicities. And this is likely to happen because if a multi-racial party hopes to win a seat in, say, a predominately Indo-Fijian electorate, it will most likely stand an Indo-Fijian candidate. And  so on for the other ethnic groups. In Suva, where Other Race General voters are important, parties could well have Other Race candidates.  And if the candidate does not win, so what? Policies committed to multi-racialism, not personalities and race, is what should matter in 2014. 

However, the suggestion of multiple MPs in larger electorates would make it more likely parties would stand candidates from all races.

Mick seems to assume that only by having race-based parties will the interests of each race by secure.He treats Other Races as one. But if this were so, one must ask what his presence in parliament did to protect the interests of the Other Races before the 2006 Coup. I'm sure he did a good job but I cannot think of a single piece of legislation that was passed to protect or advance Other Races.  Indeed, the desperate plight of most Kai Solomoni remained unchanged despite them having a party with which, according to Mick, they can identify.

Mick's "Simple Solution"
Mick persists with what he calls "a simple solution" about how to ensure parliamentary representation for ethnic minorities. He gives this example: “So let’s say it’s four percent minorities and we end up with three seats, so we divide Fiji into three but every citizen in Fiji votes for that minority. So the minority representation remains in parliament, same things with Indians, same with Fijians so you have that mix in parliament and the people look up and say, ah, I am represented. But it also requires aspiring candidates to appeal across the board to all the population.”

What he seems to be saying is the ethnicity of who votes does not really matter so long the people elected represent all races. So, for the Other Races, some 210,000 ITaukei, 180,000 Indo-Fijians and 11,000 Other Races vote for three Other Race MPs? They may be elected of the people but I can't see how the grossly outnumbered Other Races would think the MPs had been elected by their people.

What Mick is really talking about is a guarantee that the new electoral system will retain the essential features of the old system, at least as far as Other Races are concerned. This would mean having more MPs than they should be entitled to on a per capita basis. In 2006 when General Voters comprised under 4% of the population they had nearly 7% of the communal seats.

When 14,000 Votes Count Equally to 98,000 Votes
Let's put this in perspective. With three electorates totalling under 14,000 registered voters, the General Voters had three seats. Compare this with Fijian Urban voters where it took an average of 32,000 voters to return one MP. Put another way, three General Voters electorates with 14,000 voters had  three MPs, the same as  98,000 Urban Fijians in three electorates. There were similar discrepancies in other electorates. Ba West Fijian Communal and the Nadi Indian Communal electorates, for example, also had more registered voters than the three General Voters electorates combined but they each only returned only one MP. This is the reality of the fair and democratic electoral system Mick wishes to retain or slightly modify.

The Farce of the Parliamentary Opposition
Another consequence of the race-based electoral system saw the two member UPP become the parliamentary opposition, and Mick the Leader of the Opposition. Representing barely 5,000 people in the two electorates they had won, the UPP held two of parliament's 71 seats that  represented  close to 480,000 voters, while an independent represented the other General Voter electorate.

Who are the General Voters/Other Races?
Finally, it is important to look at the concept and reality of General Voters. Put bluntly, it is difficult to see the General Voters/Other Races as an ethnic group or even as a group of ethnicities with some common demographic, economic, social or cultural characteristics.

The last official figures I have are for the 1996 census, but at that date, Other Races  included some 3,000 Europeans, 5,000 Chinese and part-Chinese, 11,600 Part-Europeans, and 10,000 Other Pacific Islanders.

 It does not stop there because within each of these groups, there are further divisions. Most of the Europeans are non-citizen expatriates many of whom will leave Fiji. Many Part-Europeans are part-ITauakei, the KaiLoma. Some of their families have traditional links with ITaukei families, and they are a "fully accepted" part of Fiji. Others, by choice or no choice, are less securely accepted. Among the Chinese there are the long established, the new arrivals, and the Part-Chinese who identify closely with ITaukei. The Other Pacific Islanders who are citizens are made up of Kai Solomoni and Kai Vanuatu, descendants of indentured labourers who have married into ITaukei families, Banabans and Tuvaluans with land in Fiji, and Samoans, Tongans and others. Even they do not share basic similarities.

Numbers Declining
Since 1996,  the numbers of General Voters have declined, as their more advantaged members emigrated. Between the 2001 and 2006 election, the number of registered voters in the three General Voter electorates fell by over 20%  to 13,817, and in the 2006 election 20%  of registered voters did not bother to vote.

The Role of the Other Races Unchanged With or Without Seats in Parliament
Historically, Other Races have filled important roles in colonial Fiji, and today some continue to have an influence far in excess of their numbers.   I don't see this changing, whether or not they have assured separate parliamentary representation.

This does not mean that the individual races should not have some special place in the administration of government.  They could, for example, have  standing or advisory committees or, if Senate is retained and revised, each could have  their own senator. And there's nothing to prevent them establishing their own voluntary associations with open channels to Government.  But it does mean no special legislative presence in parliament based on race. (If you have any ideas, see Question 26 Protecting Ethnic Minorities in Fiji Political and Constitutional  Forum www.fijipcforum,

A Special Fiji, Not a Special Place
What Mick and those who think like him should want is not a special place in Parliament based on ethnicity, but a special Fiji where all races are treated with dignity and equally before the law, and where individuals receive special assistance, not on the basis of their race, but because of their individual needs.

This will come whether Mike's UPP have three or no seats in Parliament if people turn their attention to the principles of the People's Charter and work together to achieve the best possible outcomes from the Constitutional and Electoral reform dialogues. It is less likely to come without the co-operation of people like Mick Beddoes.

* Mick Beddoes's statement based on a rent Radio New Zealand International interview.


Oh please not again, never again said...

This exposes Mick Beddoes for the self serving racist that he is. He knows his only hope of power in Parliament is the retention of communal seats because most people in Fiji would never vote for him!The poor old General Voters would though because their choices are limited. In fact according to Brij Lal the communal seats were retained in the 1997 Constitution not at the insistence of the itaukeii but at the insistence of the generals who feared the loss of what is left of the colonial powers of the European and part European. Johyn Apted apparently insisted.

Cicero said...

Whatever Mick Beddoes is, he is not a racist. Those of us who know him may fully vouch for that. How could he be? He has been voted for and supported by people of all ethnic communities for a very long time.In other words, he has a mandate. If you must make personal remarks, keep them honest. Keep them sensible and unprovoking. And you shall answer to those of us who know better than you. This is not the time for deliberate mischief-making.

Anonymous said...

oh the sledging and acrimony aimed at this guy but ....all we see is gutless kowtowing to an illegal regime who now appear to model themselves on the egyptian military.

Anonymous said...

Roll up! Roll up! Racists for rent! No advance payment required! No deposits! All customers must promise the rented racist the following:
The Truth and Reconciliation Bill
The Qoliqoli Bill
Reserved seats for the rich elite
Reserved scholarships for the children of the elite
Racial schools
Compulsory prayer sessions in all ministries and departments without which promotions will not be considered
Free shoes and handbags as assault gear for unfaithful husbands
Free weedkiller for errant and presumptuous Indians who dare to call themselves Fijians

Anonymous said...

Beddoes was brought out of the cold by the United Nations to apply some heat to thaw the deep chill.

He has done his job, bring everybody together to talk. This has been with the full co-operation and involvment of the security council.

It was also supposed to be with the consent and support of Bainimarama.

How the AG felt/feels with the situation is anybodies guess, but generally the thinking is, not good.

When all is done, the question remains, "What of the military?"

If you dont talk about it, negotiate the way forward, then the whole Ghai Commission and constitutional pow wow will be for nothing. We are talking "immunity" foremost, among others.

Without "immunity", then what Beddoes has described will be first order of business for a new parliment.
No democratic society can have treasonists, murderers, thugs walk freely amongst the people without their consent.

I fear the problem is that the AG is not lending support to the military with a solution, that they obviuosly do not have the capacity to solve.
The military has had its "night of the long knives" Fiji Time.

Fiji is waiting, and the military has its pants down.

So, do tell, FMF, at what point do you enter the road map.

Anonymous said...

god croz, you are suffering the worst of all possible fates suffered by endless bloggers ... you've become boring and predictable.

Crosbie Walsh said...

@ Anonymous on Beddoes... Where on earth did you get this story? The UN and the Security Council calling on Mick to bring everyone together (the SDL, FLP, UPP?) to talk? Are you sure it wasn't the Pope?

Friend, if you believe this, you are too trusting of those you listen to. I doubt anyone in the Security Council has ever heard of Mick Beddoes. Croz

Anonymous said...

But in wanting to keep race voting Beddoes gives himself away as a racist. The old order? The taukeii and general vote united against the dastardly Indians. Read the sub text!

Anonymous said...

This is wher the argument goes from Croz and his regime followers, all previous politticnas even those appoitne dby this regime are racist, but the militray deserves every chance no matter what they do to have their comments interpreted for them in the most favourable an craven way as they are the exemplars of what is good and right with the world. Oh dear the amount of efforts that goes into attacking one guy , but the level of protection and spinning the regime and military receive is just embarrassing.

Anonymous said...

Embarasssing? Or frightening for the so called democrats who only accept public support when it comes their way?

Anonymous said...

If the military regime are so confident, they and their cronies stand for election and seed what happens.eta see if they have the guts to accept the will of the people.

Fair is Fair said...

So you do agree that inspite of his flaws and mis-steps,Bainimarama is moving Fiji forward to a more democratic society based on your own reasoning ("No democratic society can have.."). It fits, therefore,that Bainimarama's should be praised for removing Speight and his sidekicks from society by locking them up in Naboro rather than have them holiday in beautiful Nukulau (with the further prospect of a pardon and a government appointment); for quashing the Reconciliation Bill to pardon treasonists and racist thugs; and sacking of a government which came to power in a rigged election and which elevated known former perpetrators of the 2000 coup as government Ministers. Immunity is contextual. Governments have been overthrown throughout history but if the outcome is a more democratic and a fairer society then we must take our hats off for the perpetrators.