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Go to the towns, markets or sports arenas, the people of Fiji are one happy lot, the writer says. Photo: Paulini Ratulailai
by Rajendra Prasad
(Rajendra Prasad is the author of Tears in Paradise – Suffering and Struggles of Indians in Fiji 1879-2004)
I spent a week in Fiji (9th to 16th July) and saw a nation on the move to claim its place among the democratic nations of the world. On September 17, 2014 Fiji will go to the polls to elect its first Parliament after the military coup of December 5, 2006. It will be held under the new 2013 Constitution, which is strikingly different to all the previous constitutions. The 1970, 1990 and 1997 Constitution advocated ethnic voting whereas the 2013 Constitution has removed this provision and every citizen of Fiji is now on one roll.
The basic precept of such provision is “one person, one vote, one value” for all. Equality and dignity of every citizen is the rallying cry of this Constitution. Remarkably, a departure from the norm has gone down well with the majority of people except those who exploited ethnicity to rob their way to power. Ethnic voting kept the nation divided, giving way to racism to flourish. Multiracialism and multiculturalism existed in name.
There are those who laud the Bainimarama Government for the changes and work it has accomplished in eight years of its rule. Many believe that Fiji’s rotten democracy needed drastic measures for drastic change. The Fijian democracy was a cover for autocracy to prevail by the chosen few who benefitted from the state of anarchy that became the core character of the nation.
The Bainimarama Government, though unelected, has given the nation a new taste of what democracy, equality and dignity entails. At least the common citizen feels that he/she is part of a modern, secular, inclusive and equal society and not ruled by racist bigots. Interestingly, security of indigenous land is never an issue except in the period preceding an election.
It is used by the racist bigots to camouflage truth, because it fires the emotions of indigenous people on a non-existent threat and they vote en-masse to their so-called ‘champions’. Yet, it has been revealed that, when in power, they had insidiously converted land at Momi and Denarau to freehold.
But let us dispassionately review the land issue. Let there be no illusion, it is implied that such threat comes from Indo-Fijians. They have been in Fiji for 135 years and in this period they have not appropriated an inch of indigenous owned land. However, many had leased such land but when the leases expired or upon extra-legal action taken by landowners, largely at the instigation of their leaders, they vacated such land without resistance or demand for compensation.
Today, most of such land is lying fallow, compounding the poverty of landowners whose rental income has ceased forever. Further, since independence for 36 years (1970-2006) the iTaukei elite have been in power for 35 years and yet they did nothing to liberate their people from poverty but always blamed Indo-Fijians for it.
Bizarrely, they pursued policies to marginalise and dispossess Indo-Fijians so that the two communities gained parity in destitution when they should have promoted the prosperity of both to economically benefit the nation.
The current Government is advocating prosperity for all and equitable sharing and distribution of resources. Rental income will no longer be shared by others, as in the past, which left peanuts for the landowners. They are now being encouraged to lease their land through the TLTB or Land Bank to enable them to receive regular rental income. Indeed, productive use of land resources by landowners themselves or tenants is in the best interest of everyone. God gave this vital gift to humanity to use it for its livelihood and prosperity. Those who own such resources should not squander the opportunities that abound.
Land and religion in Fiji comprise the most volatile fuel to kindle the racial conflagration. Religion is now also being dragged by the advocates of racism in a desperate bid to win the election. Most, if not all, project themselves as devout Christians. Yet, Christianity is a religion that is anchored to love. Christianity without love equates to heathenism. Indeed, there is no point in declaring Fiji a Christian State when those who advocate it hold the sword of violence to achieve their goals and objectives.
Indeed, Christianity could have been effectively used to rout racism in Fiji; instead it has been used as a weapon against the lost who shun it as a religion bereft of love, tolerance and goodwill. They also rightly claim that today, in Fiji, more Christians are in prison than those whom they label as pagans. Could this also be attributed them, as iTaukei poverty is?
Corruption was the fastest growing industry during the era of democratic rule in Fiji. It is not to claim that it has vanished but it is being addressed. Much maligned Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum have declared their assets, which gives startling comparison to the wealth of leaders who were Prime Ministers of Fiji except Rabuka who had the harvest but was not astute enough to hold it in his granary.
Go to the towns, markets or sports arenas, the people of Fiji are one happy lot who relate well with one another. There is happy and respectful exchange of greetings and hearty banter, followed by laughter that is an evolving as Fiji Way, replacing the meaningless Pacific Way. Letters to editor columns carry the same spirit and not the nasty ‘snarling’ of the past. Indo-Fijians follow the Fiji 7s team with same fervour as the iTaukei, including Indo-Fijian women. Bollywood has also infiltrated the iTaukei hearts and minds, drawing them to the TV screens and rigid following of their favourite programmes.
Go through the iTaukei settlements and it is not unusual to hear the Bollywood beats echoing, as they do from Indo-Fijian homes. This medium is also enhancing race relations, which is also transforming hearts and minds of Fiji’s peoples, as they realize and accept they are one people and Fiji is their home.
However, Fiji can only become the utopia of our dreams if there is political harmony. Indeed, democracy in Fiji was a label without the basic ingredients of equality, justice and dignity.
Democracy that is reconfigured to pursue racial discrimination is not democracy but tyranny. Both form and content comprise its inseparable limbs.
Worldwide such autocratic democracies abound and it usually entails the tyranny of the aristocracy, propped by the Armed forces, against the majority. Fiji has had a parting of ways between the two on December 5, 2006 and a new era in Fiji politics began, much to the disgust of the ruling elite who had a long reign, using it to restore it to power whenever it was lost, as in 1987 and 2000. With this detachment, a new era in Fiji politics began, which will culminate in first democratic elections on September 17, 2014. The field is open and those deposed in 2006 and their associates are back with their ideologies and banners to retake what they considered to be their birth right. Truth, morals, ethics and principles will become the immediate casualties, as victory at any cost becomes the name of the game.
What amused and also saddened me was the sheer lack of remorse and moral conscience of some of the leaders, convicted for abuse of office or violation of laws, as they campaigned for their political parties.
Sometimes, it is beyond the bizarre, as one person, a recent arrival to the mainland from Vanua Levu told me that the Government was wrong in fining Chaudhry F$2 million, as he was paying the farmers evicted from their leased land $28,000 each from the funds he held in Australia!
He genuinely grieved that now the poor farmers cannot be helped because the Government had taken all the money in fines. I was gobsmacked by the naivety of the person whose seriousness in his belief was inscrutable.
Will this election be won on deceit and lies or will it be won on truth and understanding? Only time will tell. God Bless Fiji!