Tuesday, 4 December 2018

What the FijiFirst Government Can Do, Starting Now, to Win the Next Election

An image to foster. pn269 (Renumbered from pn179)
In a curious way, the opposing visions of Sitiveni Rabuka and Voqere Bainimarama that we discussed in an earlier posting (pn182) are examples of what the famous English writer George Orwell* called "doublethink"the ability to hold two completely contradictory thoughts simultaneously while believing both of them to be true. Rabuka wants Taukei supremacy, Bainimarama restrains public debate to ensure equality, and they both think they are being democratic.

The question now is how to reduce the doublethink to improve their party's chances in the 2022 election, and put an end to Fiji's coup culture.

The suggestions that follow come from many people, some expressed publicly, others on blogs or emails. Some are from Fiji insiders; others from outside well wishers. My task has simply been to weave them into a collection, and expand on their arguments. In this posting attention is given to what FijiFirst can do. Later postings will discuss what the Opposition, the unsuccessful minor parties and the public can do.

What the FijiFirst Government can do
If FijiFirst wishes to win the next election (which is an obvious assumption of any political party) they need to do some serious thinking about how to win more support from Taukei and the vocal public.

Development activities alone will not win them more support. Indeed, I suspect that many who benefited from their development policies voted against them.

They need to encourage people, and especially Taukei, to speak up, and listen carefully to what they say, whether they like their views or not. They should be involved and consulted, at every level, as much as possible.  FijiFirst also needs to heed what the more rational members of the Opposition are saying in Parliament. It has been too easy for the Opposition to accuse them of arrogance and not listening and too easy to blame Indo-Fijian and Muslim influence.

As things stand, the elections saw a drop in their popularity and an increase in support for the overtly pro-Taukei SODELPA. The slogan "one people; one Fiji" did not work. Neither are demographic changes working in their favour. Thanks to their age structure and population growth, far more Taukei will vote at the next election, and there will be fewer Indo-Fijian supporters thanks to emigration.

Strengthening FijiFirst Taukei's image
Whether real or imaginary,  a significant number of Taukei think, with no small amount of prompting from SODELPA, that they are not being fairly treated and that their traditions are threatened and unprotected.

This is the lynch pin for FijiFirst to win the next election.

The Ministry of Taukei Affairs need their full attention. Many Taukei see Indo-Fijian and Muslim faces everywhere in Government. To counter this, the PM should consider transferring his Sugar ministry to an Indo-Fijian and give more attention to Taukei Affairs.  Fisheries and Forestry could be combined to release one Taukei minister,  and the third highest voted Alipate Nagata could be added as an Assistant to the Taukei Ministry. 

Everyone, but especially Taukei, need better access to Ministers.  Some
Ministers have too many portfolios and ministers other than the PM and A-G need to be given more public exposure.

Now with only one constituency for all the country, some Taukei feel the absence of more local geographic representation. Hence, more FijiFirst presence is also needed in the provincial councils, and their MPs with links to local areas should regularly visit them. 

Finally, and this is a big ask, the status of the Great Council of Chiefs should be reviewed to see whether it could be reconvened to look after Taukei succession and tradition, but with absolutely no political powers. Bainimarama may be right in saying Fiji has done well without it for eight years, but that is not the image, the perception, that he should be heeding.

The 2013 Constitution
Three possible amendments to the 2013 constitution need to be carefully considered.

First, and most importantly, those parts of the 2013 Constitution based on decrees that overly limit free speech, and restrict trade union and political party activities such as the Public Order Act and Political Parties Decree need to be amended.

Secondly, the 5% threshold seems to be too high for Fiji. Proportional representation is intended to strengthen minor parties which often leads to coalitions. 

In Fiji, the combined vote of the three unsuccessful parties did not even come close to 5%, and there would appear to no chance of an independent candidate ever being elected. Dropping the threshold should ensure wider representation, the possible emergence of a "middle" party such as Unity Fiji or HOPE, and a possibly much needed coalition party in 2022. The move would also be popular and seen to be conciliatory.

Thirdly, the open list system did not work in their favour because it resulted in proportionally more Indo-Fijian MPs and proportionately fewer Taukei. Taking FijiFirst policies to Taukei is easier with Taukei Ministers.

A similar comment could be made for SODELPA whose Indo-Fijian candidates did not even look close to wining a seat. The closed list system which allows parties to rank their candidates could be a better system for Fiji. This would give parties the right mix of skills they require and suitable representation of other ethnicities. If a constitutional change  is not considered possible, a law change which results in candidates more closely reflecting national ethnic populations might be, and if not this, an agreement between the parties.

Dialogue, reconciliation and consensus
The image FijiFirst sometimes projects is one of an unbending autocracy.  It is only the Opposition parties that talk of dialogue, reconciliation and consensus building. This is not the image of a Government which claims to represent all the people of Fiji.  
Once-FijiFirst functionary Jone Dakuvalu has been speaking about dialogue and listening to the people for several years, SODELPA MP Ratu Antonio Lalabalavu listed ways he would like to work with Government in his maiden speech to Parliament (see next posting) and Opposition leader Sitiveni Rabuka extended an olive branch in his speech at the opening of Parliament.

Whatever their feelings, FijiFirst MPs should encourage biparty dialogue and standing committee participation, work towards consensus building, do more about reconciliation. and show something of the "compassion" about which Rabuka speaks. For example,  visas could be granted to Professor Brij Lal and his wife Dr Padma Lal who, incidentally, could do much more to help Fiji universities if they visited Fiji. This is a relatively minor "concession" that would be well received.

They could even ask the judiciary to review George Speight's prison sentence, perhaps releasing him from prison to house arrest with some restrictions on his movement. Many believe that Speight was just the hastily recruited spokesman for the 2000 coup and others, who were not arrested, were the real movers. Reconciliation does not necessarily mean to forgive or forget; it can simply mean putting the past behind you so that it does not interfere with your present and future work. 

Unfortunately,  I cannot see Bainimarama accepting —of even listening to—these or other similar suggestions. I think his mind is made up which is a serious weakness. Even military leaders  change their tactics to match changing  battle situations.

But one has to ask FijiFirst, what after Bainimarama? The party needs to start grooming new leaders now, and be seen to exercise more influence over Bainimarama and Sayed-Khaiyum.

Getting their ideas across
It is not enough for Quovis to help write the PM's speeches. He needs to say somethings differently, use the media and social media to promote discussion on his policies.  He could even set up a mock Youth Parliament. 

Some 45,500 more people were registered to vote in 2018 compared with 2014, and over 37,000 fewer people voted.  No further evidence is needed of FijiFirst's failure to capture more votes. 

In addition, FijiFirst should, of course, continue with its development and social welfare work which many agree have helped Fiji, and with day-to-day issues such as the cost of living and wages. And, though it may seem trivial, the PM really should work on a new image when confronted. He has a beautiful smile.

To conclude, the arguments raised in this posting suggest some of the other —and perhaps more important—  ways in which many people think Fiji First should act during its second term in Parliament if it has any chance of winning for a third time in 2022.

In future postings we shall consider what the Opposition, the unsuccessful minor  parties and what the public can do to help make "Fiji the way the world should be."

* His novel "1984" first published in 1940 describes a future world where the people are subject to perpetual government surveillance and propaganda, a police state.

--- ACW

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