Fiji has become a hotbed of politics and politicking in the past four months, as the fever of the general election began to grip the nation. Rightly so.
For, if a country has to be called a true democracy, it should allow people to subscribe different political philosophies and engage them in a lively debate. People should have a choice of Government based on principles and programmes that each of the parties can offer to progress the country.
Fiji is not famous for its opinion polls, for a free and fair election in itself is a novelty in a country that has been torn by coups, successive Governments that have failed the people and institutions that have practiced and promoted graft.
These are now become things of the past and no one would even remotely suggest today that he or she can ‘encourage’ a public servant to do them a favour or two in exchange for cash or moveable and immovable property.
Political parties are campaigning on a number of issues, the most important of which (as in the case of New Zealand), is the Economy.
When Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama took the reins of the Government sending the Laisenia Qarase Government into oblivion, the fate of the country began to change. He spent the first three years in cleaning the administration of its dirt and apathy and inducing a sense of commitment and spirit of service among public servants. He also called for a ‘National Charter’ to engage in dialogue with Fijians and find out how they wanted their country to move. He then sought the services of experts to draft a new Constitution that would guarantee equal rights to all citizens irrespective of their political, religious and social extraction. The term’ race’ began to gather an ominous tone.
To say that these achievements came about overnight would be doing disservice to Mr Bainimarama and his team of close advisors, for they had to endure severe international criticism, crippling economic sanctions and embarrassing travel bans.
The country was subject to summary dismissal without a just course to defend itself, discard without discussion and adjudication without trial. Of course, there have been aberrations from this side as well.
Those feelings of international animosity are now being replaced by conciliatory approach, investment offers, financial aid and ‘such help as may be necessary towards normalisation of bilateral relations.’
New Zealand and Australia have told Mr Bainimarama and his senior cabinet colleagues that they would be open for business after September 17, 2014.
However, to most Fijians, the moment that would be decisive is at hand and how they conduct themselves over the next five weeks would determine if they are serious about democracy.
We have reported time and again that an ever expanding number of people believe that Mr Bainimarama has pulled Fiji away from an economic catastrophe and created a feeling of pride and honour among the people.
While he has been speaking about the importance of equality, a Decree issued by the interim Government on June 30, 2010 amended the old laws relevant to equality.
“Let us do away with terms such as Indo-Fijians, Chinese-Fijians and European-Fijian, let us adopt the term ‘Fijian’ to include all of them. We should not do lip service to equality but actually practice it,” Mr Bainimarama said.
The Decree effectively replaced the words ‘Fijian,’ or ‘Indigenous’ or ‘Indo-Fijian’ with the word, ‘iTaukei’ in all written laws, and official documents while referring to Indo-Fijians. “All citizens are now called, ‘Fijians,’ and all Government agencies must apply these changes in all official communications.
Notwithstanding international criticism and expulsion from the Pacific Islands Forum and a similar action by the Commonwealth, the government remains steadfast in its plan to revamp the constitution and end race-based politics.
While the initial period following the December 2006 coup and the resultant interim government faced opposition from some sections of the population (including Indo-Fijians), there has been growing support for Mr Bainimarama in recent months.
Businesses, farmers, retailers and ordinary people believe that he is the only leader who can save Fiji from its economic quagmire and order prosperity.
“Although the type of government (democratically elected or otherwise) does not really matter to us, Mr Bainimarama’s efforts to remove corruption from the echelons of administration have been successful.
“The man needs more time to cleanse the officialdom of graft and we are willing to wait. The country will certainly face another coup if Mr Qarase returns,” they said.
Senior citizens say that the West should accept realities, if a majority of the people had decided to support the current regime.
“It is better to have a military regime that ensures administrative discipline, social harmony and communal peace than a democratic government that is corrupt, conceited and divisive.”
“Fiji is at the crossroads of chaos and orderliness. We want the later and if it can be achieved through a military regime, so be it.”
“I want a government that assures me of equal rights, equal opportunities and equal justice, thus far denied in this country and if it takes a few years to put in place such a government, it is worth the wait.”
“I don’t care who rules this country, so long as there is peace and harmony. We are tired of coups and upheavals. This century is for progress.”
Those were some of the views that we have heard from people of varied vicissitudes, incomes, ethnicities, social and cultural background and political proclivities in Fiji.
‘Democracy’ is a word and a concept that has not only been subject to misinterpretation but also misuse.
Impressive gathering: More than 1500 people of Fijian were at the Fiji First Festival held on August 9 in Auckland (Picture by Bobby Chandra)
Supporters of Bainimarama at Fiji First Festival (Picture by Bobby Chandra)