Political Round Up: First Week in March

                By Crosbie Walsh

The main news event of the week was the resignation of PM Bainimarama as Commander-in-Chief of the RFMF and the appointment and promotion to Brigadier General of Mosese Tikoitoga as his successor.  The name of the new Commission of Police has not yet been announced but contrary to Fiji Today speculation, Francis Kean is almost certainly not a front runner.  Former Brigadier General Iowane Naivalurua seems the most likely appointment. These two positions, the military and the police, are seen by observers as critical to the maintenance of order in the run up to the September elections, and in the years following.

The role of the RFMF in the new Fiji

From the speeches at the military handover ceremony on Wednesday and in Tikoitoga's interview with ABC's Bruce Hill, it is clear that the military is proud of its role over the past eight years under Bainimarama's leadership and is confident the new constitution, in ensuring the basic equality of all citizens, has removed the "need"  for future coups. All former military people in government have now resigned their commissions and there is now no mililary presence in government.

Speaking at the handover ceremony, Bainimarama said, "The RFMF is the guardian of the nation and the protector of every Fijian. And this duty is now guided by our nation's constitution, which is your solemn duty to defend and uphold."

In the Hill interview, Tikoitoga referred to the many changes over the past eight years. "We have developed an institution and we helped create the Constitution in 2013." He went on to say,  "But the biggest role now for RFMF is to ensure that we protect and maintain the sanctity of that Constitution and that's the priority as we go into the elections of 2014, and then support whatever democratic party that comes into to play at that time.

To Hill's question on what exactly was meant by the military guarantee of the changes and whether this meant the RFMF would continue to "take a role in the country's political life",  Tikoitoga replied that its "role is as passed in the Constitution and we will continue to uphold that role, which is given to us in the Constitution. That is the only role we will play in the nation's future ... protecting the sovereignty and people of Fiji."

Asked whether he thought Fiji could ever be rid of the coup culture, Tikoitoga replied, "...only and unless the Constitution is carried out to the letter, you can be guaranteed there won't be any more coups. The Constitution is the prime document for Fiji and it guarantees one vote per person and that in itself will take away or take away anything that will disgruntle a number of the community or a group of the community which would led to your suggestion. But there is no reason that we will go back to that issue, that's the whole reason why we've rewritten our Constitution, to ensure that everybody gets equal rights in Fiji."

"So", asked Hill,  " if there's an election next year and a party or group of parties that aren't affiliated with the former commander, Commodore Bainimarama win, what would the army do, would it accept that verdict?"

Tikitoga replied, "Under the Constitution, we accept that verdict, definitely. We accept that verdict under the Constitution. And like I said, we will protect the Constitution to the letter... The Prime Minister has done a lot of good jobs in the RFMF. He's brought us so far and we wish him well for his political endeavour and the RFMF will refocus on its new command and we will make the necessary changes when it is necessary to be made."

My reading of Tikoitoga's remarks and of the constitution (which entrusts the RFMF withe the task of ensuring "the security, defence and wellbeing of Fiji and all Fijians") is that the military would see itself obliged, in what it considers to be extreme cases, to step back into the political process. It pins its hopes on the election process outlined in the constitution (multi-ethnic parties, four large electorates)  which will certainly reduce the opportunities for the manipulation of perceived ethnic grievances to achieve political ends but it cannot totally prevent such manipulation.  I would be more confident if the RFMF also took steps to progressively make itself more multi-ethnic, and the Police Force to return to the ethnic balance it once had.

The political parties

The further slight delay in the promulgation of the Electoral Decree (the A-G says the Electoral Commission is working with Australian and NZ consultants to "get it right") and the announcement of a new Supervisor of Elections  (Electoral Commission chairman Chen Bunn Young said the decision has been "put aside for the moment" while they concentrate on the Decree) have raised questions from some political parties.

FLP's Mahendra Chaudhry has called on the Electoral Commission to release the draft Electoral Decree for comments from political parties and the public. He said, “The rapport between the Electoral Commission and the Bainimarama Government to the exclusion of the rest of the community is a matter of concern to us,”  Registered political parties have received hard copies of voter registration but Chaudhry is among other political leaders who have complained they have not been given e-copies.  Chairman Young said  there is no specific provision that entitles them to a soft copy.“I can’t take it any further than that. If the political parties think I have a magic wand and give it to them – I’m not in a position to do that. I work within the framework of what we have and I think that is what the legislation says."

An election manual for candidates and the public, recommended by the EU Electoral Observers team when they were in Fiji for the 2006 general elections. is being prepared by the Fiji National University. The manuals will be published in English, iTaukei and Hindi. The project was funded by the Japanese Government, through its Grant Assistance for Grass-Roots Human Security Projects. Japan will provide $450,350 to Supplementary training workshops will also be carried out by the university. Work on the draft has commenced and FNU will be liasing with the Electoral Commission on its release.

FNU's Professor Richard Herr said the manual,  “Is simply intended to make sure that people can with assurance campaign legally and ethically – they have to know the laws and the timing and all the things they need to comply with.

It will also include advice on the ethics of adhering to the law and that’s important because we want people to behave with respect for democracy on all sides.”

This news was not welcomed by the Old political parties.
Parties oppose AG’s comments
Publish date/time: 07/03/2014 [15:05]
Three political parties have spoken out against Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum after he said that the government is planning to work with a potential donor to ensure that a parliamentary manual is put together for all candidates contesting this year's general elections.

While speaking at the Fiji National University earlier this week, Sayed-Khaiyum stressed that this is necessary as some parliamentarians in the past did not understand parliamentary procedures and there will be a lot of new MP's.

There is an audio file attached to this story. Please loginto listen.

Former Prime Minister and Fiji Labour Party Leader, Mahendra Chaudhry has rejected Sayed-Khaiyum's suggestion. 

Chaudhry said previous parliamentarians knew the procedures and proper training has always been provided before people go into parliament. 

He said Sayed-Khaiyum should not display childish behaviour. 

There is an audio file attached to this story. Please loginto listen.

National Federation Party President, Raman Pratap Singh said the Electoral Decree should come out first before educational pamphlets are done. 

Singh rejected Sayed-Khaiyum's statement that former parliamentarians did not know the procedures.
Social Democratic and Liberal Party official, Doctor Tupeni Baba said Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum is in no position to preach about parliamentary procedures. 

There is an audio file attached to this story. Please loginto listen.
Meanwhile Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said the government's focus is to build strong institutions and he will not participate in name calling as done by some of the old politicians. 

There is an audio file attached to this story. Please loginto listen.

Opposition parties are also critical of one-day polling. Mr Young says, “It all boils down to resources, all things being equal I think we will be able to meet the deadline but it will obviously not be without challenges...And that’s one of the first questions we actually asked our experts – how is this possible?

“While some of us may have been sceptics in the beginning, the more we understand the whole process and if the decree as we see it now, is drafted in that particular fashion - I think it can be done and in my view I think it will be a good thing for the country to do it in one day. “The secret behind the one-day poll is the education of the voters – to say that this is how it will be done and to perhaps  take the uncertainty out of it. Now it’s on our shoulders to put the manpower, the education into place to make sure that  it happens,” he said.

Not surprisingly, old battle horse 2006 Coup frontsman and former PM Major General Sitiveni Rabuka has confirmed he will contest the 2014 general election but at this stage he's standing on his own and not not joining any political party.

 He said he still had a lot to offer to the people of Fiji and has "unfinished business" about uniting the people so that they had a common pride in the nation.    Had he answered Peter Firkins poll he would have said Fiji is not doing well. He said Fiji was stagnant and blood was being drained from its citizens by the use of natural and financial resources. Work that one out.

People's Democratic Party interim general secretary Sat Narayan said that despite  the resignation of founding member Nirmal Singh, the PDP says it is getting stronger by the day. "Our aim is to register about 34 to 40 per cent voters to our side, so we are working tirelessly. " The party will focus on reducing unemployment and create more work opportunities."We have plans to ignite investment, create employment, reduce squatter problems, homelessness, landlessness and focus on other big issues."

The maverick National Youth Party said it expects one or more of the Older Parties to be deregistered before the elections. If they comply with the regulations, I think this most unlikely but if Mahendra Chaudhry's court hearing, due at the end of the month, finds him  guilty, the FLP may be without its leader.

The Fiji Times intends to run a biographic piece on political figures. It's first one was on Mick Beddoes.

There were also hints during the week from members of the United Front for a Democratic Fiji, that includes the  FLP, SODELPA and the  NFP.  It would seem they will not form an alliance before the elections but the FLP and SODELPA may act together after the elections.  The NFP had not yet decided whether to join them.

Finally, three questions were raised by readers on last week's posting. 

Here they are:
Q. What if? B not win elections or be able to form a coalition. A. I don't know.
Q. Am I saying corruption has been dealt with? A. No. I said it was being dealt with.

A third reader wrote: "You think you know  Fiji".  He prefers the opinions of  Graeme Dobell (Radio Australia's Asia Pacific associate editor) and FLS Pres Dorsami Naidu (and former NFP leader). Adding,  "Your inexplicable sychophantic leanings know no bounds" Def. sychophantic: "using flattery to win favour from individuals wielding influence; toadyish; obsequious."

In his latest statement on Fiji Dobell, referring to the delayed military changeover, said "It is unclear now when that changeover will take place... The postponement is an example of how domestic politics and the Fijian military have become inextricably linked during Commodore Bainimarama's interim Prime Ministership."

I though it was due to heavy rain, winds and flooding.


Power behind the throne said...

Military council is the power in Fiji.
They have had a taste of power.
They like it.
They will not relinquish it.
Baimiarama wins, no coup.
Bainimarama loses, coup.
Council will say only Bainimarama can be faithful to constitution.
Example, SODELPA wants to bring back GCC and declare Fiji Christian State.
This is not being faithful to constitution.
Bainimarama is military.
Temumu Kepa is military outsider.
She will not listen to army.
Army does not want a chief challenging their authority.
All must be subordinate to army and its vision - chief, church, state, people.
The question is, who do indigenous Fijians support?
If SODELPA wins, and is denied power, how will they react?
Can we completely rule out coup/civil war?

Cancer on the nation said...

The Fiji military, under its former and now current (yes man) leadership is a cancer on the Fijian nation. It is a disgrace. It desperately needs leadership based on integrity, courage and professionalism.

Anonymous said...

AS if SDL leadership was based on 'integrity, courage and professionalism' - far from it.