October 14, 2014

Prof Wadan Narsey: The new catastrophic risks to Fijian sovereignty

(Fiji Day, 10 October 2014)

[This article is based on my presentation at a panel discussion on “Post-Election Issues”, organized by the Adi Cakobau Secondary School Senior Old Girls, at the QVSOB Club, Brewster Street, Suva, on 30 September 2014.]
Some are describing the election of the Bainimarama Government on the 17 September 2014 as the “dawn of a new era” and who knows, it may turn out that way if Fiji miraculously sees the emergence of a genuinely transparent and accountable government that we have seen no trace of, over the last eight years.
But the more probable outcome is that the Powerful Two (Voreqe Bainimarama and Aiyaz Khaiyum) will use the “people have spoken” popular mandate of the elections to further tighten their authoritarian and unaccountable rule and media control, under a façade of parliamentary democracy, while they now legally manipulate the revenues and assets of Fiji, including a fire sale of the most profitable public enterprises to preferred clients.
The next four years could see the Fiji economy dominated by a new breed of powerful investors whose disdain for the law could signal the beginning of the end of indigenous Fijian sovereignty in the only country which is home to a unique ethnic group comprising less than six hundred thousand people.
The experience of the last eight years and the 2014 elections make clear that the Powerful Two have defeated all opposition forces that could have defended Fijian sovereignty to take total control of a parliament, to which there are no checks and balances left.
All the checks and balances under the 1997 Constitution, contained in the powers of Senate (Upper House), especially for indigenous Fijian rights and contentious new legislations, are gone, simply because the Powerful Two have decreed that there be no Upper House now.
Bainimarama and Khaiyum are unlikely to allow FFP Cabinet Ministers or backbenchers to act independently, even if Fijian national sovereignty is at stake.
The 2013 Bainimarama/Khaiyum Constitution (2013 BKC) has been meticulously designed to ensure that the Fiji Parliament will be largely ineffective in ensuring the transparency and accountability of the Bainimarama Government.
While Adam Smith’s economic model argues that if all economic stakeholders follow their own selfish interests, then the paradoxical result will be an optimal economy, such a recipe in politics is likely to lead to the slow but sure, and irreversible loss of Fijian national sovereignty.
The writing is already on the wall for Opposition parties, but there are several indicators that the concerned public should monitor, such as:  the continued refusal of the Bainimarama Government to make public the full uncensored Auditor General Reports and all other important reports, the likely inability of the Opposition MPs to have constitutional reform items placed on the parliamentary agenda, the lack of internal democracy of the Fiji First Party, the Bainimarama Government’s distribution of membership of public enterprise boards, and the tightening control of the media.
There is an urgent need for a new breed of intellectual Fijian bati, if Fijian sovereignty is to have a reasonable chance of surviving in Fiji.
Adam Smith’s model will not ensure Fijian sovereignty
In economics there is an elegant if paradoxical model which argues that if all economic interests behave selfishly, maximizing personal profits, incomes and consumer satisfaction, then society’s  welfare will be optimized (with a few exceptions acknowledged such as externalities and public goods).
But this model is not going to work in Fiji’s politics, when it comes to safeguarding Fijian national sovereignty.
If Government Ministers, parliamentarians, civil servants, corporate interests, professionals and professional organizations, media owners, journalists, anonymous bloggers, and ordinary citizens   all continue their “business as usual” in looking after their own selfish interests, as they have done for the last eight years, then there is a catastrophic risk that indigenous Fijians will lose political control of Fiji, with corporate control and the accompanying corruption eventually permeating the highest levels of government.
The catalyst for this erosion of sovereignty will be the entry of new corporate global giants to the Fiji economy, many of whom have little regard for laws that limit their total freedom.
New corporate kids on the block
With high economic growth of 5% or more being essential for the management of the increased Public Debt, it is likely that all large business investors will be given the green light, with minimal due process or regulation.
Over the years, Fiji’s powerful local business interests (usual multi-ethnic names) have exercised their influence over government ministers to obtain special financial and economic advantages in the grant of monopolies, tariff protection, tax exemptions or reductions, controlled price increases, restrictions on wage increases, etc.
These local business houses will continue to receive their special benefits, as reward for their  generous contributions to the FFP 2014 elections campaign.
But they will be minor supporting cast to the new breed of new investors, who are global billionaires, with little difficulty, especially in poor developing countries, in influencing government ministers and senior civil servants, using the “universal lubricant”.
Should these giants obtain pervasive influence over Fiji’s key ministers and civil servants, there will be no turning back the clock on Fiji’s loss of national sovereignty, and we will not be the first country by far.
There are several Central American countries whose political leaders and civil service chiefs became so subservient to American multinational corporations that they have been appropriately described as “banana republics”.
There are African and Asian countries today where similar trends are leading also to the rapacious extraction of mineral resources, circumvention of environment laws, and severe erosion of national sovereignty.
Even the corporate giants’ own home governments have difficulty controlling their illegal activities, while the political will to do so is often weakened because of the commonality between global corporate and global imperial interests.
The warning signs in Fiji
Over the last eight years, one visible indicator is that the Bainimarama Government has given permission for many business developments which have resulted in the illegal cutting of mangroves and tirireclamation all over Fiji.
Despite many public queries and protests the Ministers and senior civil servants responsible have refused to reply (the planned rezoning and potential environmental destruction at Uduya Point will be an interesting test case), while continuing to make empty public speeches of their belief in green sustainable development, brazenly doing the opposite, which an intimidated media has been unable to highlight.
There has also been total silence by the authorities on the alleged approvals given to rezoning already scarce public spaces, such as at Shirley Park and Churchill Park, for private commercial development.
There has been no response to the anonymous query on The Pensioner website, on lease approvals apparently given to preferred clients, without public tender, at the Nadi Airport.
Many more such cases about which this government is keeping quiet, will become known in due course, about major mining concessions, government loans, the awarding of tenders, and the sale of shares in Fiji’s valuable public enterprises, some of which such as airports and ports, may also risk compromising national sovereignty at Fiji’s borders.
Many foreign investors have also contribute generously to the FFP elections campaign, and they will also expect return favors from government.
The danger is that elected FFP parliamentarians will not be able to resist unethical decisions by their government because of a fundamental lack of democracy in FFP.
The lack of democracy in FFP
It might be thought that with elected parliamentarians being part of Cabinet, individual Cabinet ministers can be relied upon to protect Fijian national sovereignty, but the September 2014 elections processes and results suggest otherwise.
In one my Fiji Times Elections Issues articles, I had suggested that candidates and voters examine the internal democracy of their own parties. While some prickly friends in the Opposition parties took offence, that article was more relevant for FFP candidates and supporters.
Was there any transparent committee which selected the FFP candidates?  Was there a FFP Committee which decided on the FFP manifesto?
Was there a committee which decided on the elections strategy which deliberately engineered the voting to ensure that the bulk of the votes went to the Party Leader Bainimarama, while giving the ordinary MPs minimal votes, as a result of which not a single one can boast that they have any popular democratic mandate from the voters (except for the Powerful Two).
Was there a FFP Committee that transparently decided on the appointment of Ministers and portfolios, or was it again the Powerful Two?
The public have commented that some FFP ministers had marginal numbers of votes while others, with much higher number of votes, were left out, such as Brij Lal (who one would have thought as being appropriate as a Minister of Education).
The public have noted that “proven performer” (according to the Regime spin doctor) Dr Neil Sharma was not returned as Minister of Health, while the new Minister of Health is one who has no experience in that area, and was the Minister of Labor previously.
Most astonishing is that the only elected FFP MP with a PhD in Economics (Dr Mahendra Reddy) was not made the Minister of Finance or the several other Ministries where his knowledge and experience should have been useful.
No doubt these Ministers will do their best in their allocated responsibilities, and some might indeed be quite effective in their limited fields.
But will they be allowed any collective democratic decision-making within the FFP Cabinet and  party, with the freedom to oppose any decisions on professional and ethical grounds without fear of being expelled or victimized?
Or will they be so desperate to keep their positions, that they will become pawns to be used by the two Grand Masters?
One indicator of concentration of FFP power outside government will be their future distribution of Board memberships which should be much easier now that sanctions are no longer being applied against Fiji citizens who take up board positions.  Will the Powerful Two still continue the eight year pattern of multiple memberships for their select few, despite their inherent conflicts of interest?  Will membership of Public Enterprise boards even be restricted to Fiji citizens?
The subservience of military ministers and civil servants
One of the worrying political developments over the last eight years, has been the pervasive appointment of former military officers in key positions, as cabinet ministers or senior civil servants, now legitimated by the elections.
Unfortunately, unlike normal democratically elected ministers or independently appointed senior civil servants, these former military personnel have been trained to obey orders without question, even if they have professional and ethical reservations.
While some have displayed far more ministerial energy than some elected Ministers, will they question decisions which are not in the public interest, as for instance on environmental destruction or questionable decisions on contracts and tenders?
All the FFP cabinet ministers know that they can be easily sacked, since none of them have any independent political legitimacy with a proven voter base.
The same dilemma faces senior civil servants who oppose any political decision on professional grounds, that they can be dismissed with no recourse to appeal as they had pre-Bainimarama.
Most of these former military personnel have no alternative employment opportunities in the private sector. They are also now enjoying vastly increased higher salaries and perks as ministers and civil servants; they have acquired costly mortgages which require regular and substantial servicing; they are quite likely to obey orders blindly, even if it means compromising any professional and ethical principles.
The concentration of ministerial power
A powerful indicator of potential abuse of political power and vulnerability to corporate control, is that one individual has monopolized all the economically important portfolios, each of which would have been more than enough for one Minister.
For eight years, Aiyaz Khaiyum repeated over and over in his public speeches that it was the vision and objectives of “Prime Minister” Bainimarama that were driving the policies of the Bainimarama Government, and Bainimarama supposedly had the responsibility for several portfolios.
No doubt there is some branch of psychology which explains how subordinates to dictators must not only continuously glorify and legitimate the authority of the dictator but that is also a sure technique for wielding his powers from behind the throne.
But the eight year pretense of Bainimarama looking after several portfolios has now been discarded, and Khaiyum has been explicitly given control of all ministries which have the real power over Fiji’s economic resources, some not declared in the original list of five ministries.
[Since my presentation at the panel discussion, Khaiyum has relinquished two ministries (with little discretionary ministerial powers) and reacquired the Attorney General position which will be absolutely critical in the next four years during the likely challenges to the 2013 BKC, and the need for many more new decrees to expedite the fire sale of public enterprises worth hundreds of millions of dollars.]
One dangerous consequence is that important investors seeking favors in any field, will now legitimately have a “one stop shop” (Aiyaz Khaiyum) to make their requests and exchange incentives.  Khaiyum’s powers of micro-management will be immense, with only Bainimarama to be kept satisfied, as he has done quite successfully these last eight years,.
Unfortunately for civil service delivery, senior civil servants in a wide variety of ministries will continue to face a “paralysis of decision-making” as they wait for one minister, Khaiyum, to make the decisions.
It is quite likely that most of the other Ministers will have defer to Khaiyum for the final important decisions, as they have done over the last eight years.
It is highly unlikely that any individual Cabinet Ministers or senior civil servants will oppose any decisions by the Powerful Two, even if they undermine national Fijian sovereignty.
Contrary to all our expectations, the elected Parliament will also be unable to stop such erosion of national sovereignty or even raise it for debate within Parliament.
The emasculation of parliament
While many of us have tried to take comfort that after the September 2014 elections, government will now be more transparent and accountable, this may turn out to be “wishful thinking”.
Already, senior appointments have been irregularly made to the positions of Speaker and Secretary General to Parliament, with the Opposition not even being thrown the “crumbs from the table”, with the election of the Deputy Speaker.
There is every likelihood that parliament will be called as few times in the year as the Bainimarama Government wishes, and with limited agenda approved totally by themselves.
Despite the façade of high technology being made available to each and every MP and parliamentary proceedings televised to the world, the reality is that parliamentary proceedings and outputs will be tightly controlled, as will be the media reporting of issues, which is already unfairly monopolized and manipulated by the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation.
It is wishful thinking that the Opposition parliamentarians will be able to question and revise the many objectionable elements of the 2013 Bainimarama Khaiyum Constitution (2013 BKC) that have eroded the basic human rights of our people.
One spin doctor profitably employed by the Bainimarama Government has already given the game away by declaring on his personal blog that the 2014 Elections results should be seen as a referendum on all past policies and decrees of the Bainimarama Government, including all elements of the 2013 BKC, which had been unilaterally imposed on the people of Fiji.
It will be next to impossible for Opposition parliamentarians to bring about any changes without the approval of the Bainimarama Government, because their 2013 BKC requires a 75% majority that the Opposition simply will not be able to muster, even if they could induce a few from government side to vote with them (also an impossibility).
The moving of parliament from the ample more suitable complex at Draiba, to the much smaller Government buildings space was strangely justified by Bainimarama as “coming full circle” to the pre-1987 parliament.
But the physical reality is that situating the parliament at Government Buildings severely restricts the space for the Opposition parties and their research staff, compared to the old spacious parliamentary complex at Draiba.
If the parliament is not going to be too fruitful an avenue for the real restoration of basic human rights, can the Fiji public look to civil society organizations and individual citizens?
The pliant NGOs and professional organizations
It is tragic that over the last eight years, professional organizations of lawyers and accountants have been quiet on the many decrees which have reduced the human rights of Fiji citizens.
Civil society organizations have disputed some, but eventually accepted the illegal “laws” and constitution imposed on them, despite the powerful intellectual and legal comfort of a 2001 ruling by Justice Anthony Gates (current Chief Justice) that no individual has the power to abrogate the 1997 Constitution, regardless of the number of years a tyrant may remain in control, and regardless of his popularity.
But Fiji’s civil society and professional organizations of lawyers and accountants have failed to defend democracy and freedom, because they have not been supported by society at large.
The Indo-Fijian apathy
There is an astonishing intellectual and social apathy of Indo-Fijian academics and students in all the three universities, made evident by their total absence from any national public debate, and refusal of university managers to provide ethical intellectual leadership.
The educated Indo-Fijian elite will continue to enjoy whatever benefits come their way and plan their date of emigration, while immersing themselves in the daily escapist diet of Bollywood that is their new “opium of the masses” peddled by Fiji’s businesses and the media.
The local Indo-Fijian business community have hedged their bets by taking out permanent residency or citizenship in Australia, NZ, US and Canada and moving their families there, “in case things go wrong in Fiji”.  You can be sure that they will make lots of money in Fiji before they go.
Expect no ethical activism from them about loss of Fijian sovereignty or lack of accountability of government.
The absence of Fijian whistle blowers and Fijian collaboration
For eight years the public and political parties have been calling for the Bainimarama Government to release all the Auditor General Reports since 2006, to reveal details of ministerial salaries between 2010 and 2013, to release the reports on the massive financial losses in FNPF investments, audits of the RFMF Regimental Funds, and how approvals were given for projects that resulted in environmental destruction.
What should be deeply worrying to the indigenous Fijian community, is that there has not been a single “whistle blower” who has made the information available to the public.
The indigenous Fijian intellectual elites, who merrily wine and dine at the annual charades of accountants’ or lawyers’ conferences, willingly dance along with the smooth propaganda that is thrust down their throats, apparently unconcerned about the dangers to Fijian sovereignty.
Increasing numbers of intellectual indigenous Fijians are escaping by taking up safe employment with regional and international organizations or emigrating like their Indo-Fijian colleagues, to greener pastures, leaving their Fijian communities totally vulnerable and leaderless.
The Fijian bati to defend Fijian sovereignty are only to be seen performing meke for tourists, or lining the driveway to Government House with their clubs and daubed with ashes looking fierce, but only after their High Chief had already been hounded from his presidential office, to die in sorrow at his home in Lau.
While the defense of Fijian sovereignty requires a new breed of intellectual bati, very few of the hundreds of educated Fijians have stepped up to assist those brave few in SODELPA who struggled against the mighty propaganda machine of the FFP and the likelihood of victimization by the powerful state machinery.
A few Fijians continue to vent their anger and frustrations through the blogs, but always anonymously, which reduces their social value to young impressionable Fijians to zero and indeed, had little impact on their very important votes in the September 2014 elections.
Anonymous bloggers also rant and rave about Aiyaz Khaiyum implementing his Master’s degree’s “Sunset Clause” on the Fijian race, when it should be obvious that it is the indigenous Fijians themselves who are driving the tanks and firing the shells at Fijian sovereignty.
Khaiyum, without any personal political base, just happens to a most efficient strategist, very smooth, suave, and successful at serving Bainimarama, who is backed completely by his Military Council and the RFMF, all also completely indigenous Fijian.
Ominously, there is a never-ending supply of prominent indigenous Fijians, (including High Chiefs) who have been willing to join Bainimarama’s Government, parroting the Bainimarama Government propaganda, while keeping the government machinery running, all personally befitting in the process of course.
The uncomfortable reality that Fijians leaders have to face up to is that if indigenous Fijians (including Bainimarama) follow their own individual self-interest according to Adam Smith’s model, as they have done over the last eight years, they could be hammering the last nails into the coffin of indigenous Fijian sovereignty.
Let us hope that this “gloom and doom” scenario of catastrophic risk to Fijian sovereignty is all pessimistic conjecture which will be proven wrong by the next four years.
[The term “catastrophic risk” is usually applied to global phenomena such as global warming, which endanger the planet on a global scale.  I believe that the term can also applied to the risks to “Fijian sovereignty” for which there is only one geographical host in the world, Fiji.]

FBC News: RFMF is the ultimate guarantor of national security: PM

13:07 Mon Oct 13, 2014
Report by: Edwin Nand

The role of the military has come up in the first sitting of the new parliament as MPs debate the President’s opening speech this week.

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has paid tribute to the RFMF for standing by him as the military commander, saying the military could not stand by and watch Fiji be destroyed by corruption and nepotism.

“History will eventually make its own pronouncements on the events of 2006, but those of us in the military who believe passionately in national unity came to the conclusion that the fabric of our nation was unraveling and that only radical intervention would enable us to pick up the threads. None of us wanted to remove the civilians we had appointed to take our forward, but when it appeared that they had precisely the same racist and corrupt agenda as the instigators of 2000 we had no choice.”

However, Opposition leader Ro Teimumu Kepa in her address also made reference to the military, saying it’s been involved in every coup in Fiji’s history.

“Coups cannot occur or succeed in this country, unless the military is involved and we therefore look to the new military commander to return the military to the professional and disciplined force it once was and to re-commit itself to the defence of our people and not against them. I believe the question of the transparency and accountability of this parliamentary process is something that in time, will reveal itself.”

The Prime Minister has stressed in parliament that national security has always been the responsibility of the RFMF.

“Only a radical intervention was capable of getting Fiji back on track of establishing once and for all the universal democratic principle that all men and women are equal. I want to thank the RFMF for supporting the reform process, of carrying out its duty to be the ultimate guarantor of national security, of holding Fiji together and for the personal support I received as commander.”

The first parliament session continues at the Government Buildings in Suva.

The Mercury: A snake with a taste for soy latte

SEPTEMBER 23, 2014 12:00AM

A soldier mans a roadblock in Suva the day after Frank Bainimarama took over in a bloodle
A soldier mans a roadblock in Suva the day after Frank Bainimarama took over in a bloodless coup in 2006. Picture: AFP
SOY latte. Nice drink, but just the thought of it leaves a bad taste.

This is the preferred brew of Fiji’s true powerbroker – a lawyer, fashion-plate, cunning strategist, smooth-talking charmer who can move like a snake in the grass.
It is not Frank Bainimarama but Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, attorney-general in the military regime who ran Fiji for the past eight years, the primary brains behind the throne.
He is not exactly loved in Fiji but curiously admired by many for plotting the sometimes nasty path for Bainimarama from a military coup in 2006 to winning last week’s election.
Bainimarama, heading the Fiji First party, is now legitimately in power. Aiyaz, who was minister in charge of the election, was comfortably voted in.
But back to soy latte.
I met Aiyaz soon after arriving in Fiji in 2008 for a second stint as general manager of the 140-year-old Fiji Times.
I was sitting with a group at a tourism convention on the patio of a beachfront hotel along the Coral Coast from Suva.
The palms swayed gently in the warm night zephyr as everyone sat around in bula shirts, relaxing after a meal.
I was introduced to Aiyaz by a mutual friend and invited him for a nightcap at our table.
“Soy latte, please,” he said.
“And maybe a nightcap, too?” I inquired.
“No, just the latte, thanks. I don’t drink.”
He wanted to meet the new Fiji Times general manager, and I was keen to meet the strategist behind the military rulers.
We had an issue to get our teeth into. Just that afternoon I had refused to run a full-page government ad in the next day’s Fiji Times that had clear errors of fact in it.
He wasn’t happy and made it clear. My response was that surely, as a lawyer, he would agree that factual errors were not acceptable.
We were not off to a great start – but I did pay for the latte.
A snake with a taste for soy latte
Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, left, and Frank Bainimarama during a 2008 press conference in Suva.
Over the next few months he remained firmly on the Fiji Times’ case.
The military government, and particularly the AG, seemed obsessed with the newspaper and any criticism through its columns or letters.
The paper was the only voice of reason and balance in Fiji, taking the military government to task.
Our editor, Netani Rika, a brave Fijian, infuriated the regime by referring to it as an “interim government”.
The opposition Fiji Sun was on side with the military and sweetly rewarded with a steady flow of government advertising, even though the Fiji Times had a much higher circulation and readership.
We ran letters from all sides, many critical of the military rule, high unemployment, failing economy and lucrative jobs dispensed to military mates in the public service.
Bainimarama would phone Netani, shouting abuse and invective. He was an editor under immense pressure but, if anything, this seemed to steel him.
Some months after the first soy latte, the interim AG and I agreed to meet again, at a cafe in a busy Suva side street.
Aiyaz looked sharp in a nicely tailored shirt and trousers and designer glasses. Under his arm was the official Fiji Times dossier, bulging with articles cut from the paper since the coup: letters, highlighted headlines and captions, stories that didn’t synch in with the rulers’ communications strategy.
I shouted two soy lattes as the conversation proceeded, but there was a chasm between the paper and the politician. In a country where most acquiesced in the military rule, theFiji Times was an obstacle.
Soon after, a letter appeared on our letters page from someone in Brisbane criticising a Fiji High Court decision rejecting a case brought by the deposed prime minister and validating the Bainimarama coup.
The soy latte AG struck – like a viper!
He and the Solicitor General quickly instigated court proceedings against the editor, the general manager and the paper for contempt of court, publicly calling for the High Court to jail Netani and me for running the letter which, they claimed, asserted the judge was biased and corrupt.
Former Fiji Times general manager Rex Gardner at Sydney Airport in 2009 after having been
Former Fiji Times general manager Rex Gardner at Sydney Airport in 2009 after having been deported from Fiji.
Our lawyer advised that we should plead guilty but emphasise there was no attempt to discredit the court.
The litigation was well-publicised and the judge saw it very much through the government prism. Down we went.
The editor was given a three-month jail term, suspended for two years. My contempt charge was dismissed, but somehow I got a 12-month good behaviour bond. The Fiji Times company was fined $100,000.
Just days later, my work permit was revoked and I was very swiftly directed to the airport. A second Fiji Times general manager in 10 months was on his way but was quickly replaced.
The noose tightened on the Fiji Times. Censors were in the newsroom every night, and a government decree had come through eliminating foreign ownership of the media. News Limited had three months to divest itself of this very proudly held newspaper.
Fiji is a land of ironies.
On my first day back at the Times in June 2008, the phone rang and, in a deep gravelly voice, the paper’s star columnist asked to drop by to say hello.
The caller? Sitiveni Rabuka, the leader of two military coups during 1987, who closed the paper for five days during the first coup and five weeks during the second. We had a friendly chat in which even he expressed misgivings about the state of things.
And, so, with Bainimarama legitimately in power, will the Fiji Military Forces fade into the background?
Last week, for the first time in months, members of the FMF marched through the streets of Suva, in an action one observer said was to remind people they are still around.
Their leader, Mosese Tikoitoga, has assured diplomatic missions in Fiji the army will operate within the constitutional democracy.
But military coups have happened with lamentable frequency in Fiji – and while love is in the air at the moment, the balance can be tipped again.
And that would be the ultimate irony.
Rex Gardner is managing director of Davies Brothers Ltd, which publishes the Mercury and Sunday Tasmanian.

August 11, 2014

Prof Wadan Narsey: The continuing myths of “1 person = 1 vote = 1 value”

Professor Wadan Narsey
11 August 2014

Over and over, one hears claims from Bainimarama supporters that Fiji now has the most democratic electoral system ever, in which Indo-Fijians are now finally “equal” to indigenous Fijians, with “1 person = 1 vote = 1 value”.

New Zealand citizen Rajendra Prasad recently enthused (Fiji Sun, 30 July 2014) that “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.”

While Rajendra Prasad’s article has many outlandish claims such as the great positive impact of Bollywood and rugby on multiracial harmony in Fiji, let me focus here on his myths about the new electoral system compared to the old.

Myth 1: That all previous electoral systems were biased against Indo-Fijians
Of course, previous electoral systems had ethnic constituencies, called Fijian, Indian and Generals (not to be confused with our current military generals) and there were some small biases, mostly in favor of the Generals.

But these ethnic constituencies were created after painful compromise between the political leaders of those times, to give emotional security to indigenous Fijians, who were afraid that the numerically superior Indo-Fijian voters would dominate elections under the common roll, as they probably would have before the Indo-Fijian emigration after 1987,

But even in those years, there were also mixed constituencies called “Cross-voting” (1970 Constitution), or Open constituencies (1997 Constitution) in which all citizens could stand, and all eligible voters could vote- effectively “common rolls”.

The electoral system under the 1970 Constitution did not stop the Indo-Fijian National Federation Party (NFP) from winning in the first 1977 election, nor the Indo-Fijian Fiji Labor Party/NFP Coalition from winning in the 1987 election.  They could hardly be called biased against Indo-Fijians, although the military coups that followed them certainly were.

Let us look at the 2006 results which Bainimarama has repeatedly claimed as “ethnically biased” against Indo-Fijians, supported by similarly wild allegations from from Australian citizen Father David Arms, here in Fiji to assist an illegal government with his electoral missionary work.

The 2006 election had both ethnic and Open (Common Roll) constituencies.

Basic fact: the proportion of seats in parliament held in aggregate by the Indo-Fijian parties (FLP and NFP) was 44% and only slightly less than their share of the total votes (46%),

Basic fact: the Fijian political parties (SDL, SVT, PANU, NAP) in aggregate obtained 49% of the votes, and a slightly higher 51% of the seats.

With similar results prevailing in 1999 and 2001 under the same 1997 Electoral system, it was clearly not racially biased against Indo-Fijians at all.

Indeed, in 1999, the largest Indo-Fijian Party (the FLP) managed to win control of the Fiji Parliament, with the same Alternative Vote electoral system, until they were booted out by the military.

It is a blatant lie and sheer propaganda to keep repeating that the 1997 Electoral system was ethnically biased against Indo-Fijians.

The real unfairness of the Alternative Vote system was to smaller political parties, both Fijian (NAP, PANU, SVT) and the Indo-Fijian party (NFP) in that when they could not win more than 50% of the votes in a particular constituency, their preference votes shifted to the larger parties who benefited.

Thus the Fijian SDL had around 44% of the votes, but a much larger 52% of the seats.

Similarly, the Indo-Fijian FLP had 40% of the votes but a larger 42% of the seats.

The Bainimarama propagandists should take note that the 2013 electoral system also discriminates against smaller parties and Independents, to the benefit of the larger parties.

Myth 2: “1 person = 1 vote = 1 value” in the 2013 Electoral System
The Rajendra Prasad quote I gave earlier (also echoed by Thakur Ranjit Singh, Satendra Nandan and many others) is the rallying cry of the Bainimarama Regime.

But the 2013 Electoral system has many inequalities which negate the “1 person = 1 vote – 1 value” claim, still frequently advertised by the Elections Office.

In a strictly proportional system, each of the 50 seats in Parliament would represent roughly 2% of the votes cast, or roughly 10,000 votes.

But under the 2013 Constitution and Electoral System, successful parties and Independents MUST obtain the 5% threshold, or a massive 27,000 votes, or they will be disqualified.

Inequality 1
If any small Party or Independent does not get 5% of the vote (the threshold), these candidates will not be elected, even if their candidates get more than 2% of the total votes cast.

All their votes will be totally discarded and will be worth exactly ZERO.

Only the political parties which satisfy the 5% threshold will then share the 50 seats in proportion to their total votes, EXCLUDING the votes for small parties and independents which have been discarded.

In other words, the larger qualifying parties will get a higher proportion of seats than the votes they receive, at the expense of all the small parties and independents.

If for example the total votes received by those not reaching the threshold amount to, say, 10% of all the votes (quite a plausible result, I believe in the forthcoming elections), then the 5 seats that would have gone to them proportionately (10% of 50 seats), will go instead as bonus to the larger parties.

There are many small parties and 1 Independent contesting this 2014 Elections and I believe that most of the votes for them will be wasted and have ZERO value.

Small regional constituencies which would previously have able to elect their own Independent candidate to Parliament will no longer be able to do so, unless their candidate stands for some large party guaranteed to obtain the 5% threshold.

Inequality 2
If any Independent gets more than 5% or more of the votes (and is therefore elected), all those voters supporting this Independent will still have only 1 parliamentarian to represent them.

Had these voters voted for a large Party, this same number of voters would have elected between 2 and 3 parliamentarians to represent them.

The value of each vote for a successful Independent will therefore be worth only a third of the vote for a successful party candidate.  Hardly equal value of the propaganda.

Inequality 3
As I have explained in a previous article, once a large party gets it quota of seats, then the “successful” candidates are decided by going down the list of candidates ranked by the votes they receive.

Suppose the Leader of a successful Party gets 150,000 votes, while the remaining 49 candidates get 100,000 between them.

The Leader may be entitled to take the top 24 of his own Party, in order of votes received into Parliament.

His last successful candidate may have received only a few hundred votes, and will still be elected, while any number of candidates and Independents will be disqualified, despite getting far more votes.  In other words, totally unpopular candidates may creep into Parliament under the umbrella of their popular leaders.

Every vote for a large party is worth far more than a vote for a small party of Independent.

All voters remember to examine how many of the “successful” parliamentarians in the September 2014 Elections will get more than 10,000 votes, the likely average for parliament.

The Elections Office should stop the false advertising propaganda that “1 person = 1 vote = 1 value”.

The propaganda of “1 person = 1 vote = 1 value” will not stop racism

There is a ridiculous propaganda that the “1 person - 1 vote - 1 value” electoral system will end the racism against Indo-Fijians who can now live with dignity, and this is believed by many of them, helped by the massive advertising campaign calling everyone “Fijian”.

How patently unrealistic.

United States, Australia,  NZ, Germany all have had “one person=one vote=1value” electoral systems for decades, and everyone there are called Americans or Australians or New Zealanders or Germans, yet racism against non-whites (blacks, Aboriginals, Asians, Maoris,  Islanders, Arabs) is alive and well in all these four countries.

Racist attitudes in Fiji are also quite entrenched amongst all our ethnic communities, Fijian, Indo-Fijian, European, kailoma, and Chinese and they will not end because of military decrees calling everyone “Fijian” or perpetually repeating the slogans “1 person=1 vote = 1 value”.

Racism may even have worsened amongst some groups as a reaction to the dictatorial Bainimarama policies.

One would have expected Indo-Fijian leaders to keep in mind that with the continuing emigration of Indo-Fijians, the proportion of indigenous Fijian voters will keep rising above 60%, and all future parliaments under a strictly proportional electoral system, will have the majority of the parliamentarians elected by indigenous Fijian voters.

Will these elected indigenous Fijians parliamentarians be any different from the general Fijian community?

Indeed, how multi-racial are some of the members of Bainimarama’s indigenous Fijian team, which includes people like Inoke Kubuabola, Filipe Bole and Isikeli Mataitoga, some of the leaders of the coups in 1987 and 2000?

Throwing away the Multi-Party Baby with the Bathwater
One of the most unwise aspects of the 2013 Constitution, is the rejection of the 1997 Constitution’s Multi-Party provision that could have been of great value in establishing multi-racial co-operative governments.

Under this provision, any party with at least 10% of the seats (today 5 seats out of 50) would have been entitled to be invited into Cabinet.

This provision was not used wisely in 1999 by the FLP (to their cost) or the SDL in 2001.

However, it was being made to work in 2006 with the SDL/FLP multi-party government, until Bainimarama’s 2006 coup with the active support of Mahendra Chaudhry and other Indo-Fijian leaders, torpedoed it.

This provision would have allowed all minority groups (whether regional groups, such as all those from Vanua Levu, or ethnic groups such as Indo-Fijians) to be represented not just in Parliament, but far more importantly, in Cabinet.

How useful would this have been for Indo-Fijians who will live in Fiji for the foreseeable future and who still comprise 30% of the voters, decreasing further with time?

The saddest aspect of the current propaganda about the glorious equality of all races under Bainimarama, is that most of it is coming from Indo-Fijian intellectuals who have already made their decision to leave Fiji, and settle in the safety of Australia or NZ.

Rajendra Prasad’s concluding lines in his Fiji Sun article were:  “Will this election be won on deceit and lies, or will it be won on truth and understanding? Only time will tell.”

He should ask himself why the Bainimarama Government would need to spend millions of dollars on propaganda created by American PR company Qorvis, if it has truth and understanding on its side.

For certain, I can tell him that the propaganda that “1 person = 1 vote = 1 value” will not apply to the thousands of voters who wish to vote for small parties and Independents.