Deregister the Old Political Parties

                                                                         Opinion by Crosbie Walsh

SDL logo
FLP logo
Government is clearly uneasy about the activities of the old political parties. Not long ago police raided the SDL headquarters in Suva where some SDL members were sharing a bowl of yaqona (and not having an illegal meeting) and last week police raided a private home in Nadi where a former FLP MP was also conveniently sharing a bowl of yaqona with 14 FLP members and supporters (and not having an illegal meeting). The old parties are waking from their hibernation.

Meetings between SDL's Qarase, FLP's Chaudhry and UPP's Beddoes with a view to presenting common or similar submissions to the Constitution Commission, and possible political cooperation leading up to and after the 2014 elections, hint at future collusion. 

Given that the only thing these three parties have in common is their opposition to the Bainimarama government and their determination to restore the old status quo, Government has every reason to be concerned. 

Add to this the statements by paramount chief Ro Teimumu and businesswoman Mere Samisoni, both vocal opponents of Government, that they intend to stand again for election, and we begin the see the coalescence of powerful anti-Government forces that could well derail the Constitution dialogue. Then add the subtle silences of Vanua Levu paramount chief Ratu Naiqima Lalabalavu, the retention by the Methodist Church of its old racist leaders, the opposition of FLP-backed trade unions, and some very powerful forces are waiting in the wings to follow the lead of the old political party leaders. 

They have told us nothing of their plans for Fiji's future
This would not be too serious if any of them had shown any indication of accepting the People's Charter, the Roadmap or, indeed, the Constitution Commission and Assembly. They have used every opportunity to criticize Government and offered little of anything positive themselves. 

They have told us nothing of their plans for Fiji's future, and said nothing about how their methods, memberships and policies will differ from what they were before 2006. Their sole purpose seems to be to undermine and destroy public and overseas confidence in the government and judiciary They do not say which, if any, of the Government's many decrees they support and will honour if they are returned to Parliament. 

Will they support the initiatives for women, infrastructural development, rural areas,measures to help the poor and disadvantaged, an efficient public service, the Made in Fiji project, minimum wages, a media code of ethics, more diverse agricultural development,  land banks, and land rent money  paid directly to mataqali? 

Will they truly work for a Fiji where all races are treated fairly? Will they maintain the many new diplomatic links and the new Fiji presence in the UN forged by Ambassador Winston Thomson, and membership of the Non-Aligned Movement, or will they revert to the former Australia-New Zealand dependency? 

What will they do about the Great Council of Chiefs? Will they abide with  the recommendations of the Constitution Assembly?  On these and other equally important issues the old political parties have said nothing.  

Government wrong which ever way
Government is left in a quandry. It has invited the old political parties to join the dialogue process and
challenged them to announce their new policies, but other than token acceptance of one man one vote, they have persisted in petty criticism of voter registration and the Constitution Commission, and volunteered nothing new. 

If Government leaves the old political parties to speak out negatively without caution, and allows them to gather strength in their ethnic strongholds, their appeals for ethnic support  could win back the bigoted and less educated of their former power base. 

If, on the other hand, Government demands they apply for licences to hold political meetings, and the Methodist Church not to delve in politics, it is criticised for restricting freedom of assembly. Whichever way Government acts, it is open to criticism.

SDL  "essentially i'Taukei"
 Why they should have been de-registered long ago
The recent actions of  Government and the old political parties have led me to believe the old political parties should  have been deregistered in 2009 at the time of the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution. This would be an outrageous suggestion in  normal circumstances but circumstances in Fiji are far from  normal. 

The old political parties  have shown they will do everything they can to demean and impede the dialogue process, and I think  Bainimarama  will do what he can to make it difficult for the old political parties to stand for election unless they become truly multi-racial. 

Whatever their leaders claim, the FLP was (and is)  essentially an Indo-Fijian party and the SDL an i'Taukei party. They were formed under national constitutions that no longer apply, elected under a now discredited electoral system that will not operate in 2014, and appointed by a Great Council of Chiefs that no longer exists.  Unreformed, they will always divide Fiji along racial lines. 

Their deregulation would have created a "gap" through which new political parties and new, younger leaders could have emerged.   And had the old parties wished to re-form, they would have needed to start from scratch to rethink their aims and policies. Now, they seem merely to have taken up where they left off.
FLP "essentially "Indo-Fijian"
Government has every reason to be worried about the re-emergence of the race-based parties. They are increasingly well organized and their organizers are reaching out to win wide support.  If they had been deregistered they would not have had this early start,  and  Government,  less worried about their re-emergence and the damage they would  cause to the dialogue process.  would have had less need to limit media and other freedoms.  

This empty space or "gap" would also have allowed Government and  people of all persuasions to concentrate on the positives now emerging with the Constitution Commission and preparations for elections. Instead, we have open discord that might have been avoided.

Government could have arrested and detained Qarase, Chaudhry and Beddoes and it could have deregistered their parties. But it did not, and now ironically  a government accused of intolerance by its opponents, has let the tolerance it is said to lack, result in the present situation where the likes of Qarase and Chaudhry continue to oppose its every move in their bid to return to power, whether or not it is in the best interests of a fairer, multi-racial Fiji.


Reality said…
What the Bainimarama government is concerned about is they may not actually win the election. And what must really worry them is if a SDL or FLP won the first thing they would do is set about retribution against past enimies - that means Bainimarama and his government. Sadly this is no different to what Bainimarama did and no different to what Chuadry did when he joined Bainimarama early on.
Anonymous said…
Sorry Croz but if this government really believes in deomcracy then they must accept one possibility is either SDL, FLP or a hybrid is elected - thats democracy. And if you truely believe in democracy then you should accept that reality. Frank does not have to like it and if he resigns from the military and steps asided from PM's role then he should be free to fight the election. Maybe he could even win but at the end of the day democracy is about accepting the will of the people. Lets keep in mind race based voting will be gone, race based electioneering will not be allowed and parties will have new or updated charters.
Anonymous said…
Perhaps there is a valid reason for all this anit-government noise ? Perhaps the military strong man has brought it on himself. And yes he has good reason to be scared - he could spend a long long time in jail for treason.
No to all the old crew said…
Who are the old political parties ? Lets have a look at Bainimaramas team - apart from the military men and AG they are all failed politicians from failed political parties. Relics even older than SDL & FLP.

I'm OK with banning all former MPs as long as that includes the current ones - including Frank. After all he promised no one in the interim government would stand and its about time he led by example rather than just lecturing us.
Voter in Waiting said…
Croz, its like me saying that since you are getting old and talking rubbish, you should be put to rest - euthanasia, for your dribble - where is democracy in action. Its the people who have to decide, and not you! Lets wait and see what the people want - for the Constitution Commission will tell us.

Now, that your favourite pet Akuila Yabaki and CCF have been charged with contempt of court, what will happen to his separate campaign to reach the grassroots - how will he square up with the people and the regime? I challenge you to publish and reply! Opinion is not a cloistered virtue, reserved for YOU
All for nought said…
It is increasingly becoming obvious that the 2006 coup has all been for nothing? Bainimarama is desperately searching for an exit strategy?
Anare said…
What we see here is the normal dilemma that every dictator has to face sooner or later: Letting go of the reigns means that the horse could bolt in any way. Keeping the reigns tight means, well a dictatorship. The only process that would work is one that levels the playing field. The dictator steps aside, hands over to an interim government of national reconciliation and has his actions tried in an independent court of law.
Croz Walsh said…
Dear Croz,

I am inclined to agree with your view about all erstwhile political parties and their need for deregistration. It is surely improbable that any off them will ever be able to find the will to reinvent themselves? This demands, after all, imagination and creativity and heaps of energy and money. In the past, the money came often from debatable and undeclared sources. The energy was there but directed too frequently in inappropriate places. The ceativity and the imagination were in short supply and they were always hampered by:

1) Cultural bogeys
2) History repeating itself
3) Huge biases against women’s participation on an equal footing (even Irene Jai Narayan)
4) A culture of smoke filled rooms and scratching each others’ backs or, when this did not suffice,
Continual bickering and internal conflict and venom which spilled over into the national sphere: so
Muddying and poisoning the waters for everyone. Mulitply these traits by the number of parties,
You end up where we have been for the past twenty or more years.
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