Fiji – some perspective

China-Fiji link raisedPrime Minister John Key is continuing to tread carefully over China’s relationship with Fiji, saying a collaborative approach to Pacific Island issues will get the best results. Fiji’s self-imposed leader Frank Bainimarama has… [NZ Herald Politics]

There is a short article in the Herald today commenting about the role of China in the affairs in Fiji. One could say I told you so, but then nmost people aren’t actually listening over Fiji.

Here in New Zealand we seem to have this distinct wish to bash Fiji for having a governmental system that is not dissimilar to other countries that we actively seek free trade agreements with. We have feted pakistans’ military dictator before he was ousted, we pursued and got a FTA with China, arguably one of the most un-democratic countries in the world, and we are doing the same with Thailand which until recently was ruled by a Military Junta. Similarly our SOE’s are conducting business in Burma and many other undemocratic countries that have zero sanctions, comment ot otherwise placed upon them. Not so Fiji. Why is that?

We also seem to have a belief that sanctions will work when demonstrably around the world sanctions have been an abject failure especially for the ordinary folk of the targetted country. Zimbabwe is a case in oint, gee haven’t the sanctions worked a treat there.

Chris Trotter wrote a post and got bashed for it and I have desperate commenters wanting me to comment on Fiji. I will say this, I don’t agree with the the anti-democratic way in which coups keep afflicting my place of birth but I can’t see any other way to move forward from the legacy of racism and favour that is the root cause of the troubles. I can understand what the Commodore is trying to do.

Gordon Campbell from Scoop has written what may well be the best article on Fiji so far, ever. Campbell explains in detail why the constant calls for a return to the now cancelled constitution and fresh elections under that constitution make a farce of the claims that Fiji was a democracy. That it has taken an arguably left-wing journalist to explain this and one from an independent outlet shows just how parlous the state of journalisn has fallen to in new Zealand.

Those of us who know and love Fiji, and more importantly interview people who actually live in Fiji rather than one embittered tossed out fool, know just how corrupt Qarase’s regime had become and why reform was needed. The political will didn’t exist to address it and so it fell to the point of a gun to enact some change. I deplore this action but as a Fijina born person more than a newspapers vieew of the history of Fiji, I can understand this approach.

Gordon Campbel explains the 2006 election and why the Commodore has tried to set a lsow and steady timetable so that even the dimmest commenter can appreciate the issues;

Last year’s White Paper on the Fiji election timeline did mention many political imponderables, but it also seemed to indicate that a ten month preparation time was feasible for most of the hurdles to be surmounted, which would have been roughly in accord with the South Pacific Forum’s desired timetable. Some delay was inevitable, and desirable – because the 2006 election had been no picnic for democracy. The election was hastily called in 2006, the weighting of votes between constituencies (more on that below) was unjust, and there were major inaccuracies in the rolls – while the campaign itself entailed the campaign bribes (eg wage rises held out to public servants) and an extreme polarisation of society along racial lines that Qarase’s campaign fed on and fostered. These factors cannot be tidily divorced from the events that are now unfolding in Fiji.

Another election along 2006 lines is therefore indefensible. And if holding an election is the only test of political morality that really matters, the Marcos family would still be running the Philippines, the Shah’s dynasty would still be in power in Iran and conversely, Hamas would be administering international aid right now to Gaza. (They should be, but has the NZ government ever backed that legitimately elected government? No.)

Well, quite. Elections are not the litmus test that academic fools like Macolm Harbrow (Idiot Savant) like to think they are. One should note that no-one in Fiji actually wants Qarase back, not the people, not the courts and certainly not the Fiji Appelate Court who in their tumultuous ruling last week actually didn’t advise re-instating the hopelessly corrupted Qarase. Again it falls to Gordon Campbell to educate the press as to why that is;

As Trotter pointed out, Qarase had been installed by Bainamarama in the wake of the George Speight coup – and on an understanding that he would not abuse that incumbency within the 2001 election. Qarase then formed a political party and forged an alliance with a crew of ethno-nationalists that were close to the coup plotters who – among other things – had tried to assassinate Bainimarama in November 2000. Many of the seeds of the current conflict were sown during this period.

On other grounds, it is not as if the election process had been smashingly admirable in the 2001 election, either. Labour won most of the vote – 34.9% – but got only 28 seats in the 71 seat House of Representatives. Labour were then denied by Qarase their constitutional right to Cabinet power sharing. Even when subsequently ordered by the courts. Qarase lengthily delayed his compliance, especially over the seating of Mahendra Chaudhry. For some reason, none of this caused much concern to the Fiji desk at MFAT.

There has been much made of th fact that Fiji’s previous elections have been “free and fair”. Again it takes Gordon Campbell to do the research that other mainstream journalists should have and still have not done. Lets see just how “fair and free” those elections really were.

In the 2006 election for example, there were on average only 9,437 registered voters in Fijian, 4,607 in General Voter, and 5,373 in Rotuman communal electorates. This compared with 16,065 for Urban Fijian electorates and 10,762 for Indo-Fijians. Urban Fijians and Indo-Fijians were grossly under-represented.

These averages hide even further inequalities. The rural Fijian electorates of Bua, Kadavu, Lau, Namosi and Serua each had less than 7,000 registered voters, while more urbanized Ba West had 15,348, and Nadroga/Navosa 19,044.

It should be noted that the former over-represented electorates are among the least “developed” and most prone to influence by chiefs and church ministers. In contrast, the latter under-represented electorates produced two multi-ethnic Fijian parliamentary leaders ousted by racist-driven coups: Dr Timoci Bavadra, Fiji’s first Labour Party leader (ousted by the “Rabuka” coup in 1987) and Adi Teimumu Vuikaba Speed, Deputy PM in the Mahendra Chaudhry Labour-led government (ousted by the “Speight” 2000 coup).

It is, of course, an over-simplification to equate patterns of voting with geographic areas, but there is some relationship.

So if each person’s vote is to be of equal importance — as the UN requires — you wouldn’t recommend the Fiji system, whatever its ethnic predispositions.

See what I mean, hardly free and fair are they. In fact the correct term would be rigged. Gerrymander is another good term. Hardly democratic, hardly free and hardly fair. As Gordon Campbell points out the South pacific Forum, hardly made up of democratic nations itself, should instead of pointing the finger and telling off Fiji be willingly assisting Fiji return to a true democracy by;

…identifying the remaining barriers to cleaning up the electoral rolls, to establishing a fairer weighting between constituencies and to replacing the alternative vote system – and to setting a reasonable timetable for these outcomes, and the deployment of resources (from outside if need be) to help complete the tasks. The interim regime had already established a Peoples Charter process of electoral reform. It has long claimed to need more time to complete this process. So far, the regime and the Forum have not engaged in any fruitful dialogue on reaching a compromise timetable.

Finger wagging at people with guns rarely achieves anything and in fact forces them to seek assistance elsewhere, like from China. That will be a spectacular failure by the South Pacific Forum if they force Fiji into the waiting and compliant arms of China.

Qarases goverment was especially corrupt with estimates that over 50% of allocations were lost to corruption and graft. Bainimarama had quite literally seen enough damage to Fiji under Qarase with public debt rising to 52% and corruption endemic.

Should he have obeyed orders, and dutifully continued to serve as a dutiful servant of the Qarase government? Yes, according to those who believe in the primacy of elections, any elections. Yet when a system is corrupt and its leaders about to enact divisive and racist laws on behalf of its cronies and factional support base – including the boosting of a socially regressive GST-type tax – some people may decide not to be its accomplice any longer. So Bainimarama made his move. Illegal? Maybe. Understandable? Yes.

Exactly. Bainimarama has though stumbled in trying to enact reforms, and I think that the blame for the stumbles can be laid at the heavy handed approach of Australia and new Zealand. That approach incidentally hasn’t changed with the change of governments in New Zealand and Australia lending credence to the charge that the politicians ostensibly in charge are actually captured by the official of MFaT.

It would be no picnic. If Bainimarama finally fails, he will be judged by his people on his failure to deliver greater prosperity – and less so on the curtailment of freedoms in the process. This can only make the use of economic weapons against him look very attractive indeed to his critics. Yet IMHO, it would be harmful to the cause of reconciliation if the European Union refuses to deliver its assistance to the Fijian sugar industry, and if Britain and the UN choose to refuse to use Fijian troops in future in their peacekeeping work overseas. This would only create further economic suffering and resentment, and not meek compliance. With justification, it would also enable Bainimarama to blame outsiders for his own failures.

There is no going back. If the end result delivers Fiji back to the same corrupt, incompetent and race-mongering elites that Bainimarama has tried to replace, it would be a double tragedy. Chris Trotter at least, seems willing to consider that even worse alternatives than the current regime are on the cards.

In late 2006, if there had been a truly progressive Labour government in New Zealand, it might have grasped the opportunity that Qarase’s exit offered. It could have engaged positively with the interim government. It chose not to. The result, in all likelihood, will not be in New Zealand’s best interests, much less that of most Fijians. As Scoop has previously argued, our current diplomatic policy is only likely to push Bainimarama further into isolation, and further towards a closer alliance with China, thus providing China with a military and economic ally right on our doorstep.

Gordon Campbell is right on the money here. We could, if we really wanted, assist Fiji. It is the point I have been arguing all along. Why MFat officials cannot see that the current path is doomed to ultimate failure is beyond me. We risk seeing Fiji falling into the control via remote of China and their foreign policy. We risk not only Fiji falling under the Chinese gaze but also other Pacific nations hovering at the moment on the right side of democracy. Kicking Fiji out of the Pacific Forum will be the first step to the Chinese-ification of the Pacific.