Saturday, 26 January 2019

Why Fiji First May Lose the Next Election if it Doesn't Do Something Soon

The image: Puppet and Puppet Master. pn245
UPDATE. See 'A Good Start' at the end.
I was going to write a response to Rajendra Prasad's second article (pn219) in which he suggested Rabuka and Bainimarama shake hands over a bowl of grog and engage in consensual politics but events have overtaken my intention. 

Government has entered into an unnecessary argument with the Catholic Church, alienating Catholics and many others. The upcoming Code of Conduct Bill has revitalized the Opposition and spurred Robert Nair among others to denounce the Bill and the outcome of the recent election. He says the proposed Bill will jail or fine people who make a complaint about a public official, and that this is ridiculous, curious, and unknown in any other country. And the Fiji Sun has named Bainimarama 2018  Person of the Year! 

Fiji First and the Sun seemed to be living in cloud cuckoo land, and have learned nothing from the decreased vote in the last election. Unless FjjiFirst understands  why they are losing support, and do something about it, I think the results of the 2022 election are foregone conclusion. 

This will mean that all Fiji First has achieved —and it has achieved a lot—  will be lost. Fiji could well slide back to the race-driven inequalities, and the stunted development capabilities of all races, that have plagued  the nation to a greater or lesser degree since the 19th century.

As I see it, there are two problems.  

First, the two men leading the Fiji First Government, PM Bainimarama and Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, are totally non-responsive to suggestions or criticism, however well-informed and intended. Many people previously close to Bainimarama, such as Pio Tikoduadua (pn197), Jone Dakuvula, Robyn Nair and, I think, Fr Kevin Barr, no longer support him. Pio has said he is not the man he once knew; Jone distanced himself when his advice was rudely spurned; and Fr Barr when his stand for improved wages was dismissed out of hand, and he was threatened with expulsion from Fiji.

This is the more important problem — the unwillingness to heed the opinions of others— because unless it is fixed nothing will be done about the second problem which is the perception of many that the government is Indian-dominated and not acting to protect the interests of Taukei. 

Government too open to charges of nepotism
The perception, cultivated by the Opposition and the social media is that Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum is really running the country. He is the puppetmaster and  Bainimarama the puppet. 

Cartoon after cartoon on the Truth for Fiji blog repeat this message. The cartoons in this post are  typical.

Selita Bolanavanua in the Fiji Sun suggested six reasons for FijiFirst's poor election result, namely,  propaganda misinformation, 
the use of audio discs and a strong SODELPA campaign in rural areas, civil servants and teachers who did not like proposed reforms, some Christian churches that liked SODELPA's emphasis on religion, the  Court decision on Rabuka, a timely boost to morale, and the  "base instincts" of Taukei. I agree with all of them, but they were not of equal importance.

Others have put it down to complacency, FijiFirst's mistaken 
belief that government rural development projects and other policies favouring the poor would result in Taukei voting for them, and lackluster campaigning in the final few weeks before the election.

Unsuccessful NFP candidate and trade unionist Attar Singh singled out one cause. The election, he said, was more about race and emotion than policy and the cost of living.  

I think he and Selita are both right.  Taukei racial "base instinct" swung many voters.

Thus, in my view, the overwhelming reason for FijiFirst's poor election performance was their failure to recognize the perception by Taukei that their place, their culture, their traditions, that is, their identity in Fiji, in Maori terms their turangawaiwai, was threatened by what they were persuaded to believe was an Indo-Fijian-led government. 

FijiFirst left itself wide open to this perception. The social media is awash with comments that show "Fiji controlled by the cunning Khaiyum, his stooge Bainimarama and his puppet Saneem" (the Election Commissioner)."  His puppet master Sayed-Khaiyum was the person really responsible for all the nasty decrees, indigenous cultural genocide, increased poverty, increased unemployment, doubling the national debt, theft of indigenous lands and the vindictive politics in the Bainimarama government. 

Resignations and reshuffling of positions have not helped. Government now has more Indo-Fijian MPs than Taukei, and important ministries that deal mainly with Taukei are headed by Indo-Fijians. 

Many Indo-Fijians voted for FijiFirst because it has done more for them than most previous governments. They feel far more secure than they would with a SODELPA government, even one with a NFP junior partner, and it was their vote that produced a narrow Fiji First victory, and resulted in Government having more Indo-Fijian MPs than Taukei. But numerically they will be less important at the next election.

Those Taukei who felt their ethnic identity had been undermined by FijiFirst went along with SODELPA's claim of insufficient consultation for changes, resulting in the 2009 Constitution replacing the 1997 Constitution with its communal voting system; and the abolition of Fijian institutions, including the Great Council of Chiefs, the Fiji Affairs Board and the Native Land Trust Board;  supposed threats to Taukei land ownership; the redistribution of land rent money; and the imposition of the common name "Fijian" that had previously "belonged" to them. 

In a previous post, pn197-1, I outlined some specific ways in which FijiFirst could improve its profile, and who it needs to target to win the next election.  It will not be the last time I will be making similar postings.

For now, no matter how Government continues to improve the economy and people's wellbeing, I doubt this will be enough to win the next election.  Three broad areas need improvement, or prejudices, build-in ideas, and what Selita called "base instincts" will be exploited by SODELPA which will win the next election. 

To summarise and conclude:

These broad areas need constant and ongoing attention.

First,  I agree with the  "inclusion-moderation thesis" that would have Government being more inclusive, engaging with the more "progressive" elements within SODELPA and the Opposition.  It must desist from trading personal accusations and demeaning remarks.  It must be seen as moderate, friendly and conciliatory. 

All contributions in Parliament's Standing Committees should receive the attention they deserve.  Outside Parliament, it should invite and heed  the opinions of the "vocal" classes: the urban middle class, the trade unions, intelligentsia, some chiefs, religious bodies and NGOs. A special consultation forum, and even a youth forum,  could be good ideas.  The PM and Attorney-General should lead the way in accepting well-meant suggestions and criticism.

Secondly, it must be more open and transparent.  If it is more inclusive, this should follow automatically. Its leaders and MPs must be "squeaky clean." Accusations of corruption must have no basis. Most restrictions on freedom of speech and media freedom should be carefully monitored and progressively removed. Similarly, some decrees. The Fiji Times should be "included", the pro-government FijiSun should be more balanced, and, most importantly, Government should be active on Facebook and other social media.  

Thirdly, it must show itself as a truly multi-cultural party that enhances the role of Taukei, and convince Taukei that the accusations of SODELPA with respect to race and ethnicity are false (see also previous posting pn197-1). Ministries that deal with Taukei should, where possible, be headed by Taukei, and where this is not possible, the Indo-Fijian minister should be supported, and accompanied, by competent Taukei.  
It is essential that the PM divest some ministerial duties and concentrate his energies on maintaining and winning the support of other Taukei.   
The Attorney-General should take a back seat where Taukei interests are concerned.   He is too easily portrayed as the puppet-master which makes Bainimarama look like a fool.

Finally, in addition to existing racial, ethnic and social identities,  every effort should be made to develop "shared" identities: ones that embrace all Fijians.  Support for the Fiji Sevens is a good start.

-- ACW


Two new MPs
sworn-in by HE the President as Assistant Ministers. Hon. Selai Adimaitoga as the Assistant Minister for iTaukei Affairs while Hon. Alipate Tuicolo Nagata is the Assistant Minister for Employment, Productivity & Industrial Relations, Youth and Sports.

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