By Crosbie Walsh
I've neglected my blog postings for the past 14 days due to a holiday in Malaysia and Singapore. My ipad is not as blog publishing friendly as my notebook. But I did manage to keep an eye open for Fiji news, as ever looking for something encouraging and useful with the elections now barely a month away.
Unfortunately, too little has changed. The political parties continue to drip feed policies and the names of candidates, alternatively agreeing and disassociating themselves with each other. The same individuals and NGOs continue to made damning statements on the lack of freedom and make dire predictions about the unfairness of an election that has not yet been held. NZ's Amnesty International repeats the old claims of the aforementioned NGO's.
Bainimarama's New Zealand Visit
In New Zealand, AUT's Pacific Media Watch ran a heading "NZ Protesters Challenge Bainimarama's Election Visit." The Wellington DominionPost called on people to support Sai Lealea and Richard Naidu's call for a march to protest Bainimarama's visit to Auckland.
Some 30 protesters turned up and the media reported their objections and the odd interjection from an otherwise hugely supportive audience of close to 2,000. Little of what Bainimarama said was reported, and he was only interviewed by NZ Indian Radio Tarana and blogger Cameron Slater.
The mainstream media coverage says much about the use of media freedom in my country.
The Crazy Bloggers
On the blogs, Ram Gopal Sharma called me "A failed political hack who curries favour for the highest bidder. Falla has no idea what hes talking about!"
Another comment warned that with Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum (a Sunni Muslim) taking over the country after the election, the Syrian army and navy (mainly Shiite Muslims!) would come to the dictator's assistance. Australia chose this moment to renew its travel advisory. Visitors to Suva were warned about the high crime rate and the possibility of civic disturbances. I will stop there before it gets even crazier.
Speaking to Nabudrau villagers in Rewa Ro Teimumu said "We can only pray for the results of the 2014 elections “This is really about the people of this country, the vanua and God,’’ she said.
She had doubts about the integrity of the elections because" We don’t have the Commonwealth and the European Union observers like we had before. It’s going to be hard but we really can’t dictate anything to this government.’’
With an Australian-led 14-nation observer team, I can't see how it will be any less vigilant that other observer teams at earlier elections. Could it be she's looking for an excuse in case SODELPA polls much worse than expected?
On the elections, candidate nominations close on Monday (18th August); a machine will randomly allocate candidate numbers; Mahendra Chaudhry lost his court appeal and will not be standing (though he insists he is still the FLP leader); the only Independent candidate, Roshika Deo has registered with 2,790 signatures; unionist Daniel Urai looks likely to be standing for the PDP; and there's some uncertainty whether Jone Dakavula will be a NFP candidate.
The NFP has distanced itself from Ro Reimumu's claim that there cannot be equal citizenry, and NFP. FLP and PDP have questioned SODELPA's intended resurrection of the divisive Qoliqoli Bill. They had all earlier distanced themselves from Ro Teimumu's call for Fiji to be declared a Christian state. With such fundamental differences in policy, how can any of them seriously consider any sort of alliance with SODEPLA?
The Fiji Sun has a useful summary of party policies and an article by Cameron Slater on the mechanics of the election
As of 30 June, the Fijian Elections has registered approximately 570,000 voters.
An informal Fiji Broadcasting poll indicates that about 19% of eligible voters will not vote, somewhat less than the proportion (24%) not registered according to Sun-Razor polls.
The latest polls by Tebbutt and Razor show Bainimarama and FijiFirst are still way in front as the preferred PM and political party. The Tebbutt polls say this support is across all ethnicities, ages and gender, but Taukei support has dropped a little. SODELPA has improved its placing and is favoured by 31% of Taukei, 15% of Other voters, and 1% of Indo-Fijians. Razor does not provide a comparable demographic breakdown of results.
Some Government opponents claim the Fiji Sun-Razor poll is biased in favour of Bainimarama and FijiFirst. They are happier with the Fiji Times-Tebbutt poll that definitely does not support Bainimarama. Dr Wadan Narsey says the differences are not necessarily due to unfairness by Razor: there are margins of error in all polls and the margin is likely to be larger when sample size is small.
Razor samples 600 people and Tebbutt over 1,000. The difference is also likely to be caused by sample location and person selection. Razor interviews 600 people weekly at bus stops in the Western (Central and Northern Division. Tebbutt uses random household sampling in urban and peri-urban areas, and this is their first political poll since May. A third factor that makes comparison even more difficult is the apparently different treatment of "undecided" and "decline to answer" responses.
The most recent Razor results on preferred PM has Bainimarama at 86% (the 10% increase from the previous week is as likely to be due to small sample size as to increased popularity), Ro Teimumu at 9%, Biman Prasad 3%, and Felix Anthony and Mahendra Chaudhry on 1% each, making a total of 100%.
Razor apparently had no undecided and decline to state responses in this latest poll, though they included these responses in earlier surveys.
By comparison, Tebbutt has Bainimarama at 60%, Ro Teimumu at 17% (double her support in May), Biman Prasad at 3%, FLP's Lavinia Padarath and Felix Anthony at 1% each, and two others at under 1% each, making a total of 82%
A further 11% were undecided (down from 20% at the earlier poll in May) and 7% declined to state. If these people are added, the total comes to 100%.
Both poll results must be considered with caution. All that can be safely concluded is that with four weeks to go before the elections Bainimarama and FijiFirst appear to have the support of well over half of the voters polled. Their advantage may well be slightly eroded by SODELPA in the weeks to come, but the future of other parties, other than NFP, looks grim indeed. They have a long way to go to cross the 5% threshold needed to elect one MP.
The DominionPost editorial referred to above urging opposition to Bainimarama's Auckland visit could not see the illogic of its argument: resist the undemocratic Bainimarama who they admitted "unfortunately" seemed to have the support of most people in Fiji.
Another response to a Razor poll question does not bode well for the Opposition that continues to criticize Government's management of the economy: Asked "Is the economy better today than before the 2006 Takeover?" 76% said yes, 21% no, and 3% were unsure.
Taking all of this information into account, it is easy to see why Ro Teimumu is praying.
FIJI LEAKS provides some useful background papers on a number of election-related issues.