Thursday, April 16, 2009

ZenTiger Bula Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell gives a succinct summary of the current situation in Fiji, and more importantly, how they got there. He could have added a couple more paragraphs on the kind of 'democratic' corruption the Qarase government was engaged in, but you'll get the idea. Some excerpts (large chunks might be more accurate) below:

The notion that an election, any election is an over-riding litmus test of political legitimacy cannot pass unchallenged...Qarase’s mandate, and the methods by which he gained it, were always dubious - and addressing the patent inadequacies in the Fijian voting system has been a genuine reason for delay in calling elections.

...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 .. 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...

As Trotter pointed out, Qarase had been installed by Bainimarama 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. [My emphasis. Probably thought retrospective validation of legislation would fix the problem, it did in NZ]

Nor was the voting system in Fiji quite so very free and fair in other respects...[examples follow of gerrymandering]..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.

So the 2006 election was, to that extent, rigged. The issues that need to be addressed before truly free and fair elections are called go to the heart of the many flaws in the current communal forms of seat allocations, and the voting system in play.

..The job of reforming this mess had been embraced by Bainimarama who – in the cause of fostering national identity – has advocated scrapping the communal voting system altogether, in favour of a ‘one man, one vote’ common roll system that would make no ethnic distinctions between voters.

..The point being, any meaningful dialogue between the regime and the South Pacific Forum should be 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.

..As Singh points out, the level of corruption in the years 2001-2006 was immense, with the interim government alleging some 50% of allocated funds were being lost via corruption and waste. Though Qarase’s economic credentials rested on his prior career as a banker, public debt doubled to 52% of GDP during that time. By late 2006, Bainimarama had had more than enough.

..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.

..The interim government tried to live up to its pledge to combat corruption, requiring all civil service appointments be made by the Public Service Commission, creating a new anticorruption investigation team to collect evidence of fraud and graft in all government organizations, and establishing an independent commission to adjudicate evidence gathered by the investigators. As a result, numerous high-profile actions were taken in a matter of months, including the suspension of the chief executive of the $2 billion National Provident Fund for alleged corruption and abuses and of the assistant police commissioner for accepting bribes.

..Bainimarama also pledged to rid the system of race-based politics so as to restore social peace, curb the exodus of skilled Indo-Fijians, and revive the economy.

..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.

There is not much hope to hold onto. Yet any election at all, under any terms and conditions whatsoever – is not a recipe for a just and socially sustainable future for Fiji, either.

Much more in the link, but given the habit of links disappearing, I posted a chunk of the article above. His article replies to comments by NRT and Chris Trotter. I haven't got the links for those just now (places to be, things to do, maybe later) but it seems in the short space of a week or so, this will be the second time Chris Trotter has found some agreement at NZC. Amazing.

Via Scoop: Gordon Campbell on Fiji

Earlier on NZC: Fiji in Crisis

1 comment(s):

MK said...

As with most things in this world, the choices are not between good and bad, but bad and worse.

"....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."

He may be an SOB, but at least he's our SOB, anyone?

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