Saturday, February 15, 2014

Election Round Up for the Week

By Croz Walsh

As with the proverbial rose, the length of a a week lies in the eyes of its beholder. It is only two weeks left before PM Bainimarama steps down as PM, and at least as importantly, as commander of military forces. A lot can happen in those two weeks, and even more in the weeks to follow if things do not work out as the PM intends.

He has spoken several times recently to the military on the issue of loyalty and completing the job it started in 2006. There has been no announcement of his successor but the anti-government blog Coup 4.5 says there will also be a new police commissioner in a bid to strengthen Bainimarama's protective power base.

Unionists and the Political Parties Decree
Meanwhile, Government seems likely to tighten the Political Parties Decree which in section 14 states trade unionists cannot show support for, or be part of, or engage in party politics. They must be see to be neutral. The action is a response to unionists being present (they said only in advisory capacities) at meetings of two political parties.

Legal expert Nazhat Shameem says they run the risk of deregistration which is no doubt correct, but one must ask why unionists should be excluded from politics in Fiji. Most Labour and left-leaning parties, in the UK, Australia, NZ, continental Europe and indeed Fiji, owe their origin to trade unions. There is a natural progression from concerns about workers' rights at work to parliamentary action to improve worker conditions. Dr Alumita Duratalo makes the same point in an interview with the Fiji Sun that is reported below.

This is no different from right-wing parties whose power bases lie in farmers' unions and chambers of commerce. The Fiji government has good reason to distrust the intentions of unionists such as Felix Anthony but that, in my opinion, is an insufficient reason to ban union leaders from party political activities. It is also bad politics because it risks losing the possible support of many ordinary union members and other citizens who may otherwise have voted for the Bainimarama party.

It is ironic, as the more moderate anti-government blog Fiji Today points out, that the PM is tarred with the same brush. While still in office, he is using every opportunity to urge people to vote for the party he will form over the next few weeks. His latest appeal was at the opening of an extension to the Vatuwaqa Primary School, of all unlikely places.

There is also an outside chance that some political parties could be deregistered. The Registrar of Political Parties says some party officials have not declared all their assets as they are required to do in law. One hopes that Labour's Mahendra Chaudhry is not holding back on more than the $3.8 million (sic!) he has declared.

Sparks flying
Sparks continue to  fly between Bainimarama and the older political parties, with claims, counter-claims, and generalized accusations. Bainimarama is urging people not to vote for the old political parties, claiming they want to re-empower the same people who "brought Fiji to its knees." He says Chaudhry's claim of "best economic performance" under his leadership in 1999 is all lies, and the A-G says the claimed percent increase was due to a low base in 1998. The NFP's Raman Pratap Singh wants Bainimarama to name the people he is accusing, saying his generalised accusations are not helpful. There was no response from the SODELPA to Fiji Village's questions on this issue when it went to press.

SODELPA: when new is old
SODELPA had not appointed its president when we went to press but a likely front runner is Ro Teimumu Kepa, paramount chief of the Burebasaga confederacy, former Qarase Cabinet Minister, and a stauch Government critic.

The party held a workshop during the week. Several election-related topics were raised but most concerned the Great Council of Chiefs and itaukei rights. For a party needing to show itself as a multi-racial party, the invitation of Indo-Fijian Waden Narsey to speak on the economy was hardly enough.

Its further claims of Bainimarama's "systematic disenfranchisement of the indigenous Fijian youth [by] dismantling Fijian institutions [resulting in] exploiting Fijian resources" is unlikely to appeal to the non-itaukei electorate, and possibly not to many itaukei, elders or youths, who benefited little from the work of these institutions under the Qarase and earlier governments.

Forum Group in Fiji
The Pacific Islands Forum Ministerial Contact Group paid a two days visit to Fiji during the week. They were there to review Fiji's progress to what is termed a "return" to democracy. They met with government and opposition parties and no doubt left Fiji as enlightened as they were when they arrived. Both McCully and Bishop want a return to normal relations but more needs to be done to lift the travel bans. Without this there can be no return to normal relations.

Unless the Forum countries do something positive soon, they may well find themselves marginalised and overshadowed by the Melanesian Spearhead Goup. But that is only if Bainimarama wins the elections. If he loses and one or more of the old political parties become government, it will, of course, be back to more of the same: a very unequal partnership of Australia and NZ and the Island countries.

The media
One final word before handing over to political academic, Dr Alumita Duratalo who is currently teaching in the School of Maori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies at the University of Otago.

By and large, the Fiji media, which included government-owned Fiji Broadcasting and the government-leaning Fiji Sun, have been fairly reporting statements from all political parties, but the Fiji Times for months now, has largely side-stepped all political issues, focusing instead of the everyday and less consequential. I'm left wondering whether it's  a case of once bitten twice shy or are they making a political point?


In an interview with the Fiji Sun
Dr Alumita Durutalo sheds some light on what the PM’s party can expect.

What can the PM expect?
She said: “Under representative democracy, party formation is done by people or voters with similar interests who believe that they can contest and win elections, form government and stay in power for as long as they possibly can.

“So a political party harnesses the many different interests of its supporters and attempt to present these to the voters in a unified and a cohesive manner through a party manifesto.”
She said a party would also have qualified and able office bearers as well as qualified and able candidates who would be supported by party members and voters in general.
“Normally political parties have political power bases from within which parties are launched.”
Dr Durutalo gave the example of Labour parties around the world are often launched through trade unions or trade union movements.
“A party needs a political power base for its long-term foundation and entrenchment.
“A power base also facilitates and enables the coming together of like-minded supporters  who may be influenced by certain ideologies or philosophies,” she said.

To maximise voter support?
“To be able to win votes any party manifesto should be able to appeal to as many voters as possible. This is quite a challenge in multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies like Fiji.”
Will the removal of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) prove costly for Commodore Bainimarama?
Dr Durutalo said it depends on a number of factors including ethnicity, demography and the electoral provisions in the new constitution.
“If we assume that all iTaukei voters think alike and support the GCC wholeheartedly and the electoral provision allows people to vote for their own ethnicitythen perhaps, this may influence election results.
“On the other hand, if we look back into Fiji’s political history, two GCC supported iTaukei political parties, the Alliance (1987) and the SVT (1999) have lost elections already.
“In the globalised world that we live in now, the party that delivers to the people in terms of enhancing socio-political and economic development for all will win.”

“I would argue that a leader that is already in power  has the upper hand if he or she has been delivering on his promises to the people.”
Dr Durutalo said those from the outside trying to enter the political arena have to work twice as hard to win voters confidence unless voters preferred a leadership change.

She added that elections are about choosing outstanding leaders and voters choices can either bring forth desirable or undesirable leaders.
“Voters need to do their own research and ask a lot of questions regarding the different party manifestos and the competency of candidates in their constituencies before ticking a name on the ballot paper.
“Use your voting power to choose the best.”


Anonymous said...

Croz, Bainimarama is standing down as military commander but not as PM. Welcome back. But time to start keeping up with events again. :)

Anonymous said...

I assumed that was typo. A neat and objective piece, Croz. It is refreshing to see you using your powers for good rather than evil.

I rarely appreciate your one-sided views, but this one balanced.

Regardless of the difference in our positions, welcome back and good health to you. I suppose you will need much stamina as we move into a watershed period in Fiji's history and future.

Manase said...

Croz I respectfully disagree with most of your views outlined above: Why should our government allow pernicious unionists distort the political landscape? All they do s inciting disaffection with our current government that we need to confirm in the forthcoming elections. All these noises surrounding the old parties cannot deny the fact that our PM and AG are supported by a wast majority of the electorate. Allowing people like Felix Anthony to stir up the workers is not the same as allowing an incumbent government to use its position to promote their soon to be formed party. Every government on this planet does this. What we need is an elected Bainimarama government that is accepted by the donor community as legitimate. Then vast amounts of aid will flow and the country can progress towards a guarded and managed society.

Anonymous said...

Let's not fool ourselves. Fiji is a difficult country with complex problems that have no easy solutions. Lots of patience and forbearance needed for the future.

Outcomes said...

Does anyone actually believe Bainimarama will accept any outcome other than his own parties victory. No matter how free or fair the election is I definitely can not see him accpeting a outcome other than his own elevation to elected PM with the exception that he maybe becomes president. The stakes are too high. He knows if any of his old enemys gain power their first job will be retribution for their own years in the wilderness. He should expect new laws targeted at him, reviews of his past pay and his family and friends would all lose thier jobs. The military will definitely be reviewed. And why not - its the first thing he did post coup was to spend a good 3+ years getting at anyone who had or percieved to have had be anti him

Pay back time said...

The clock is ticking.....