Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Fiji Election 2018 – a review by Rajendra Prasad. Part I

Rajendra Prasad pn217
As usual, Fiji’s election held on 14 November 2018 raised the usual heat and dust, which preceded previous elections. 

In the aftermath, one is able to discern what the future would be or could be, as leaders of two dominant parties, the FijiFirst and SODELPA represent contradictions with one trying to unite the nation while the other bent on restoring the politics of ethnicity and elitism.
Heading each party are two men who were once the commanders of the Fijian Army – former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka (1987-1992) who heads the SODELPA and current Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama (1999-2014) who heads the FijiFirst Party. It is a clash of the Titans and Mr Rabuka’s return and success at the polls is extraordinary by any measure. In 2014, he suffered an outright rejection by the SODELPA management, even unworthy of its membership because of the stigma attached to his name being the father of the coup culture in Fiji. However, two years later, Rabuka not only gained the membership of the party but also became the SODELPA leader, which clearly defines the fickleness of Fijian politics.

False propaganda

Prior to the coup of 5 December 2006, the main indigenous Fijian political parties, namely the Alliance (1970-1987), SVT 1992-1999) and SDL (2001-2006) parties unashamedly used false propaganda against the Indo-Fijians to create fear in their people. They told them that if they did not vote for them, the Indians would come to power and their land ownership rights, including their culture, customs and traditions could be in jeopardy. They delivered hate-filled messages, maligning Indo-Fijians as their enemies who aimed to rule over their lives and make them landless in a nation that belonged to them. 

The politicians also enlisted the support of the pastors and preachers to use their sermonizing skills to give vent to their political propaganda. With lying politicians and colluding padres, the ordinary indigenous Fijians, largely gullible and trusting, simply fell for the rhetoric and supported their political and spiritual masters.

2018 Election revelation

What was the worst revelation in the 2018 election? Politics of race remains a powerful force, particularly with indigenous Fijians. However, it was not so with Indo-Fijians who abandoned their ethnic parties (NFP and FLP) and overwhelmingly supported Prime Minister Bainimarama’s FijiFirst Party. 

Considering this, the Government’s policies, advocating non-racial Fiji, equality, inclusiveness and common identity, convinced Indo-Fijians that it was the way forward for Fiji. 

Sadly, it has not had the same impact on indigenous Fijians who opted to embrace politics of exclusiveness where indigeneity gave them social, economic and political supremacy over others. Their leaders have consistently nurtured such thoughts in their minds, amplifying that without them at the helm, they risked an alien race ruling over them, compromising their privileged position given to them by God. They also propagandized that the Bainimarama Government discriminated against them, as its policies favoured Indo-Fijians and not them.

Multiracialism vs Communalism
Through such advocacy, the indigenous Fijians considered themselves victims and they overwhelmingly voted for SODELPA, pulling Fiji away from the multiracial path carved by Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama. Fiji has experimented with politics of ethnicity with disastrous results. With such change, one would naturally conclude that much is lost and Fiji may be heading towards restoration of politics of ethnicity. 

However, much will depend on who wins the next election but most pundits predict that tide against anti-incumbency is strong across the world and if SODELPA wins power in 2022, it would aim to restore the 1997 Constitution and pursue politics of ethnicity, as it would best serve its political interests. The SODELPA has failed to win the trust of Indo-Fijians and has not shown much interest, seeking to allay their fears and gain their support. In this election, Prime Minister Bainimarama has lost considerable indigenous Fijian support and FijiFirst party must count itself fortunate that Indo-Fijian support for it remained intact, despite strong forays made by the NFP in its traditional domain.

NFP in quandary
The NFP’s bluster and bravado built around the slogan ‘change is coming’ has come to haunt it and its parliamentary leader, Professor Biman Prasad cuts a sorry figure amidst his two other parliamentary colleagues – Pio Tikodua and Lenora Qereqeretabua. 

The NFP is now in a deeply troubled zone, unsure of the road it should take to retain its exclusivity and identity. It has a long history, being the first political party in Fiji, formed in 1964, as an ethnic Indian party and it has not been able to shed its identity in the eyes of Fijians. Unfortunately, it has not moved with the times and most likely pay a heavy price for its imprudence. It may dissolve into insignificance, as Taukeis infiltrate it and become its dominant and domineering voice. 

Should this scenario emerge, the Indo-Fijians would shift en masse to the FijiFirst party. The SODELPA has tasted success, its age-old formula of creating fear, a sense of victimhood among the Taukeis still works and it may not change. It is the feral approach where what is good for the nation does not matter but victory at any price and by any means becomes the name of the game.

Rabuka rising

Reflecting on leadership, former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka is on rise. He shows maturity, wisdom and grace, which are essential attributes of a political leader. He does not flare up when pressured with probing questions. He knows Fiji politics, indigenous Fijian politics, in particular, better than most and knows that rhetoric, marinated with fear, God and religion, works best within his flock. He still commands fanatical support from fiery Methodist preachers who resort to highlighting the Old Testament scriptures wherein anger, fear, hatred and violence harmonize with the political sermons of SODELPA. 

Alarmingly, the New Testament is ignored wherein love, tolerance and forgiveness become a mismatch for attaining the political objectives of the SODELPA. Fiji’s reversion to politics of ethnicity portends resurrection of politics of elitism, cronyism, nepotism and corruption. For this reason, the Great Council of Chiefs, which played key roles in the restoration of Fiji’s indigenous Fijian elite into power in 1987 and 2000, needs to be part of the SODELPA plot.

Rabuka changeable
However, Mr Rabuka is not a committed nationalist but an opportunist. In 1992, he became the Prime Minister and by the end of his term in 1999, he delivered the 1997 Constitution to the nation, repudiating his very own 1990 Constitution, which advocated positive discrimination against Indo-Fijians. He lauded the 1997 Constitution and told the nation that multiracialism and multiculturalism was the way forward for Fiji. But when he lost the election in 1999, he again began giving mixed signals – sometimes supporting retention of politics of ethnicity and sometimes decrying it. In his hands, the future of Fiji rests, which is going to decide if politics of ethnicity becomes a dominant feature of Fiji’s democracy once again or it takes a multiracial approach, superimposing the policies enshrined in the 2013 Constitution.

With the majority ethno nationalists in his camp, indications are that Mr Rabuka would prefer to lead SODELPA on the familiar path of racial politics. However, the most important thing for him is to consider his legacy – as the destroyer of democracy in Fiji or as a reformist who eventually acted in the best interest of the people of Fiji. He has not many years in his favour for the redemptive action.

 First published in The Fiji Sun.

[Rajendra Prasad is the author of Tears in Paradise (2004) and Enslaved in Paradise (2018) – a book recently launched in Auckland, recounting mammoth betrayals of Fijians by the British, Chiefs and Leaders of Fiji 1876-2006]  

See previous posting pn216.

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