Venkat Raman in Suva
Freedom of expression is the biggest winner in Fiji today, with political parties and their supporters openly holding the incumbent government to account as the election fever increases its pitch in this small but cohesive nation.
“Change is Coming”
“Change is Coming,” is the theme of a strong campaign launched by the National Federation Party (NFP) with is Leader Professor Dr Biman Prasad alleging that Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama “has does nothing in the past 12 years,” and Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) Leader and former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka complaining that “there has been no public consultation on policies and programmes since December 5, 2006.”
The two main English dailies are also known for their loyalties. The Fiji Sun is overtly pro-government and a huge supporter of Mr Bainimarama, whereas the Fiji Times is generally titled more towards his adversaries.
But the fact that people talk and write freely expressing their opinion is a clear indication of ripening democracy in this small South Pacific Island Nation, which, about 12 years ago, was divided by racism, discrimination and intimidation of non-ethnic Fijians.
There is no fear of coup now, not at least under the leadership of Mr Bainimarama, but whether that terrible culture would return, depends on the bona fides of any alternative government.
“Change has come”
Mr Bainimarama and his trusted colleague, Attorney General Aiyaz Syed-Khaiyum are unfazed by opposition attacks. They are followed by thousands of admirers and supporters at meetings and rallies that are organised almost every other day in different parts of Fiji and even critics credit them with good policies that have helped Fiji score high on the global scene.
“The Change has already come,” Mr Bainimarama said at a ‘Family Fun Day’ held in Suva on Saturday, October 27, 2018.
Those five words sent the 2000-strong crowd to a state of euphoria and there is little dispute over some of the remarkable changes that have occurred in the past decade at least.
Pathways to progress
There is no more distinction between ethnic Fijians (known as iTaukei) and ‘others,’ especially people of Indian origin; corruption, which had once dominated the echelons of the government, is reported to have been struck down; and one does not see either the military or the police patrolling the streets (which in fact was never the case).
Mr Rabuka, who toppled the Indian-dominated government before staging the first coup in 1987 and ousted the then Indian High Commissioner T P Sreenivasan, has stepped up his campaign after being acquitted by the Suva Magistrate Court on October 26, 2018.
He was charged by Fiji’s Independent Commission Against Corruption under Fiji’s Political Party Regulations for providing a false declaration of his assets, income and liabilities.
“Policies have been developed without consultations with our people,” he said.
NFP mounts attacks
Dr Prasad, who resigned in April 2014 from his lucrative job as Professor of Economics and Dean of the Faculty of Business and Economics at the University of the South Pacific to pursue a political career, described the Bainimarama government as ‘total failure.’
“Nothing has been done to lift the lot of the poor. This is a government that supports only rich businesses,” he said in a wide-ranging interview with us.
Our Ten-Page ‘Fiji Election Special’ starts on Page 5 in this issue.
- Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama
- Sitiveni Rabuka
- Professor Dr Biman Prasad