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.
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.
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.
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.