PRELUDE TO THE AUGUST GENERAL ELECTIONS IN FIJI

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VIEWPOINT

July30, 2001

By Sanjay Ramesh, Ph.D.

As Fiji heads towards a general election, unanswered questions still remain regarding the destructive events of 19 May 2000. After more than a year, the case against George Speight and his henchmen are proceeding at a snail’s pace. There are divisions within the army with suggestions that the army is split along provincial lines and that any further taukei uprising will create a situation far more volatile and violent than those witnessed in the past year. Adding to this is the prolonged detention of those suspected of the 2 November 2000 mutiny and rumors that some senior army officers are yet to be investigated for their role in the whole episode. Detained rebel soldiers have named senior military officers -- including Colonels Jeremaia Waqanisau, Savenaca Draunidalo, Alfred Tuatoko, Ulaisi Vatu, Maciu Cerewale and Lieutenant Colonels Filipo Tarakinikini and Etuweni Caucau -- as key supporters of the May 19 uprising. Above all, the people of Naitasiri are upset over the prosecution of their high chief Ratu Inoke Takiveikata, who was charged for assisting the mutiny, and a group of pro-Speight supporters launched the Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua Party, which is expected to win a majority of indigenous Fijian nationalist votes. Not only that but rebel Ratu Timoci Silatolu and George Speight are preparing to contest the upcoming general elections. Both indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians are divided into various intra communal factions, but there are greater divisions among indigenous Fijians and this continues to create political instability. Struggles for power among various indigenous Fijian chiefly houses have caused fragmentation and disillusionment among indigenous Fijian grassroots as various political and religious groups attempt to jump off the race bandwagon and reflect hard on the effects of extremism on the economic and social life of Fiji. It is however in this environment, Fiji citizens, once again in little more than two years, go to the polls from 25 August to 1 September 2001.

The upcoming election dates were finalized following the judgment in the Fiji High on 11 July 2001 of Justice Scott, who supported doctrine of necessity and dismissed the lawsuit brought by the Citizens Constitutional Forum (CCF). The action was seen as politically expedient under the prevailing political circumstances in Fiji. However that does not legitimize the actions of the army, the President, Interim Government and the GCC following the events of last year. The doctrine of necessity cannot be applied in the Fiji case, because only the legislative arm of the Government was incapacitated by the actions of extremists on 19 May 2000. The Executive and the Judiciary, including the army (despite divisions) were functional. The move by army commander Frank Bainimarama to impose martial law was misplaced and a judgment regarding this was made in the Fiji Court of Appeal on 1 March 2001. Now for Justice Scott to suggest that the doctrine of necessity can be used to legitimize the decisions taken by the GCC and the President is erroneous. Under the 1997 Constitution, the President cannot act unilaterally in contravention of the constitution at any time. This is precisely what the regime argued in the Chandrika Prasad case -- that the President has "reserve powers" and can do virtually what he pleases. Scott in fact endorses this viewpoint without a critical constitutional test. This leaves the way open for the President to continue to act outside the constitution in the future and the security apparatus can also use the doctrine to unduly interfere in politics.

The Doctrine of Necessity has been used recently in the Pakistan case, where the military usurped political power from civilian authorities. The doctrine simply allows justification of an act (usually of usurping power or suspending civil liberties) on the basis of necessity. In Fiji's case, the official argument is that it was necessary to ensure civil control and as a result, the President acted outside the constitution, following the Fiji Court of Appeal judgment by allowing the Interim Government to continue in the caretaker capacity. As a consequence, the elected Prime Minister was summarily dismissed and the parliament was dissolved, paving the way for an election writ, which was issued on 12 July 2001. If "effective control" has been established as a legal precedence in Fiji, then the army can use the same argument to suspend civil liberties, usurp government and pre-empt the outcome of elections. Insinuations that part of the army (those sympathetic to the Speight "cause") do not want Chaudhry as Prime Minister indicates a potential for factions within the army to act outside the constitution. Interestingly enough, extra constitutional intervention in politics by the army has already taken place twice on 14 May 1987 and again on 19 May 2000. This clearly demonstrates the fragility of constitution, government, and associated institutions in Fiji.

While bankruptcy of political power is clearly evident in the Fiji case, the situation is accentuated by rampant communalism, including the institutionalization of extreme nationalist i taukei viewpoint. This is clearly manifested in the deliberations of the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua Party, led by caretaker Prime Minister Laisania Qarase. The party manifesto seeks to win the extremists elements within the indigenous Fijian community in Fiji via the "blueprint on supremacy" and other discriminatory provisions, including concessions to churches and indigenous Fijian farmers. Indications are that Qarase and team will request the President to pardon those on Nukulau, following their election victory. Such a move is envisaged to enhance "Fijian unity" -- a theme endlessly hammered down by the SDL strategists since the end of the hostage crisis last year. The SDL has some appeal among urban and some provincial voters but will face challenge from the Nationalist party, Conservative Alliance Party and the SVT. In the west, the New Labour Unity Party (NLUP), Party of National Unity (PANU), Ba Kei Viti Party, and Fiji Labour Party (FLP) will end up sharing Fijian communal votes. Meanwhile, there is a chance that SVT and SDL may pull up a few surprises in the west, but this is highly unlikely.

On the Indo-Fijian camp, the National Federation Party (NFP) is clearly in disarray with the shock resignation of Dr. Biman Chand, who was elected party leader recently. However, reports indicate that factional infighting may have forced Dr. Chand to quit. On 20 July, Attar Singh was endorsed as the party leader and Dor Sami Naidu as Deputy leader. While NFP has come up with interesting policies, it has failed to show strong leadership on issues affecting Indo-Fijians. As a result, the NFP has an uphill battle in the upcoming elections. Not only the NFP, the Fiji Labour Party is also fragmenting from inside after party faithfuls defected to Dr. Baba’s New Labour Unity Party. There is clearly something very wrong with the FLP apparatus that has compelled people like Kenneth Zinck, Suresh Verma, and Vinod Maharaj to move on to the NLUP camp. Vinod Maharaj in particular has a very good rapport with the Indo-Fijian community in Vuda and his track record clearly demonstrates that he is honest and responsive to his constituency needs. Then why has such a person abandoned Chaudhry? Not only him but Suresh Verma -- a die hard Labour man since the inception of FLP prefers NLUP. The FLP is a party that supposedly lives by the ideals of late Dr. Timoci Bavadra, who had a multicultural vision of a nation, where people from diverse communities resolved conflict in an amicable way and worked towards national goals and objectives. It seems that somewhere along the way, personal and sectional interests have taken hold.

Nevertheless, the FLP remains the favorite to win a majority of Indo-Fijian communal seats. Will this then allow Chaudhry to form a coalition with "moderate" indigenous Fijian parties and come back as Prime Minister?

This question is haunting many, because nationalist indigenous Fijians are against Chaudhry coming back as Prime Minister. Meanwhile, the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB) has proposed new land legislation, which is expected to be used as a springboard to revitalize the failing sugar industry. The NLTB General Manager, Marika Qarikau, suggested a speedy resolution to the land issue. While on land, the much-publicized mahogany report will be tabled at the next Great Council of Chiefs Meeting, scheduled to be held after the August poll. There are a number of interested parties to the mahogany deal, including those who are facing treason charges for last year’s failed coup. George Speight and his group will go to trial in the High Court on 31 August and the police are proposing to ban media coverage of the trial to protect witnesses. Representing the Speight’s will the new Australian defense counsel Dr. Marc Michael Gumbert, who was admitted to the bar on 9 July 2001. In a surprise turn of events, on 26 July Chief Magistrate Salesi Temo allowed George Speight and Timoci Silatolu to file nominations for elections at Nausori. Not long after Temo’s orders, the High Court invalidated his judgment, stating that the Chief Magistrate had no jurisdiction over the initial application from Speight and his group.

Apart from the legal maneuvering, the army is preparing its own witnesses who will testify in the mutiny trial scheduled for December 2001. The mutiny case has been given a new twist with revelations that senior army officers, supporting the May 2000 takeover, were still in the army. Affidavits filed by 15 Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit (CRWU) members demonstrate the difficulty surrounding the mutiny case. On a positive note, the President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, on 8 July apologized to communities which were victims of the widespread racial violence that gripped the country after May 19 coup. Not only Iloilo but also other church leaders have expressed profound regret on the events of last year.

In the end, there are some 26 political parties contesting the August polls. Some of the candidates are listed below.

 

Soqo ni Duavata ni Lewenivanua Party

Fiji Provincial Communal Constituency

Mitieli Bulanauca (Bua); Konisi Yabaki (Kadavu); Laisenia Qarase (Lau); Simione Kaitaini (Lomaiviti); Ratu Aisea Katonivere (Macuata); Pita Nacuva (Nadroga/Novosa); Ilaitia Tuisese (Naitasiri); Ratu Suliano Matanitobua (Namosi); Tomasi Vuetilovoni (Ra); Ro Teimumu Vuikaba Kepa (Rewa); Joketani Cokanasiga (Serua); Tomasi Sauqaqa (Ba West); Manasa Vaniqi (Cakaudrove West).

Indian Communal Constituency

Gaya Prasad (Labasa); Anil Sharma (Labasa Rural); Munesh Prasad (Macuata East/Cakaudrove).

Open Constituencies

Asenaca Caucau-Filipe (Tailevu South Lomaiviti); Asaeli Masilaca (Nausori/Naitasiri); Peni Silatolu (Nasinu/Rewa); Solomone Naivalu (Cunningham); Manoa Dobui (Samabula/Tamavua); Ratu Viliame Volavola (Suva City); Kaliopate Tavola (Lami); Ted Young (Lomaivuna/Namosi/Kadavu); George Shiu Raj (Ra); Isireli Tuvuki (Bua/Macuata West); Seru Komaitotoya (Labasa).

Conservative Alliance Candidates

Fijian Communal Constituencies

Josateki Vula (Bua); Bogiviti Lotawa (Lau); Isireli Leweniqila (Macuata); Adi Amete Volavola (Nadroga/Navosa); Ratu Peceli Rinakama (Naitasiri); Ratu Jope Tui Duilomaloma (Namosi); Ratu Moape Niudamu (Ra); Ratu Timoci Silatolu (Rewa); Jona Rokowai (Serua); Levani Tuinabau (Tailevu South); Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu (Cakaudrove East); Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure (Cakaudrove West); Metuisela Mua (North East); Eroni Lewaqai (North West) Fijian Urban Communal; Eseroma Ledua (South West); Ratu Aca Soqosoqo (Suva City;) Sireli Korovulavula (Tamavua/Laucala); and Suliasi Raibevu (Nasinu)

General Voters Communal Constituency

Harry Robinson (North Eastern)

Open Constituencies

Viliame Sausauwai (Tailevu North/Ovalau); Rusiate Korovusere (Tailevu South/Lomaiviti); Navitalai Ratukalou (Nasinu/ Rewa); Iliesa Naituku (Cunningham);

Basilio Kalokalodromu (Laucala); Jone Bebe (Samabula/ Tamavua); Militoni Leweniqila (Lami); and Rusiate Tagicakibau (Lomaivuna/ Namosi/ Kadavu)

Open Constituencies

Waisea Qoronalau (Ra); Apenisa Maiyale (Serua/ Navosa); Ratu Josefa Dimuri (Bua/Macuata West;) Semesa Matanawa (Labasa); Solomone Catarogo (Macuata East);

Manasa Tugia (Cakaudrove West); and Kini Maraiwai (Lau/ Taveuni/ Rotuma)

 

Fiji Labour Party

The list of the candidate line up is:

Indian Communal

Sanjeet Maharaj Viti Levu East/ Maritime; Anand Babla (deposed MP) Tavua ; Satendra Singh (farm advisor) - Ba East; Gaffar Ahmed (former MP) -Ba West; Udit Narayan - Lautoka Rural; Dr Ganesh Chand (deposed Minister) - Lautoka City; Amjad Ali

(deposed MP) - Nadi Urban; Dr Gunasagran Gounder (deposed Assist Minister) - Nadi Rural; Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi (deposed Minister) – Nadroga; Prince Gopal Lakshman (deposed MP) - Viti Levu South/Kadavu; Gyani Nand - Suva City; Kamlesh Arya– Laucala; Pratap Chand (deposed Minister) – Nasinu; Ragho Nand ( deposed MP) - Tailevu/Rewa; James Krishna – Labasa; Mohammed Lateef Subedar ( deposed MP) - Labasa Rural

 

Open Seats

Poseci Voceduadua - Tailevu South/Lomaiviti; Lavinia Padarath (deposed Minister) - Nausori/Naitasiri ; John Ali - Nasinu/Rewa Joeli Kalou (deposed MP) - Cunningham

Tomasi Canuwale - Samabula/Tamavua; Tanasio Naqarase - Suva City

William McGoon (carpenter) - Lami ; Sainivalati Naitala (cane farmer) – Ra; Pravin Singh (MP) – Tavua; Mahendra Chaudhry (deposed PM) – Ba; Gyan Singh - Nadroga

Daniel Urai - Lautoka City; Krishna Prasad – Nadi; Permal Mupnar - Yasawa/Nawaka;

Inoke Kadralevu (retired Roko Tui) – Nadroga; Poseci Bune (deposed Minister) - Labasa

Evia Vazrani Sailo - Bua/Macuata; Krishna Datt (deposed Government Whip) - Macuata East; Viliame Katia - Navosa/Serua

 

Fijian Comunal

Remesio Rogovakali - North West Urban; Ilaisa Senimoli - Tamavua/Laucala; Sailosi Saucale - Nadroga/Navosa province; Naipote Vere - North East Urban; Koleta Sivivatu - Namosi

New Labour Unity Party

Posiano Nauku, Lami Open; Mohammed Jamal, Nadroga Indian Communal

Iliveleti Waqa, Tavua Open; Loraini Tulele, Naitasiri/Nausori Open; Jiuta Wakolo, Cunningham Open; Muttu Sami Gounder, Nasinu Indian Communal; Nardeo Mishra, Suva Indian Communal;Timoci Naco, North/East Fijian Urban; Suresh Chand, Laucala Indian; Paulo Ralulu, Ba East Fijian Communal; Peter Nand, Labasa Town Open; Alikisada Naisoro, Naitaisiri/Kadavu Open; Shri Chetty, Nadi Open; Keshwan Nair, Ba West Indian; Ishwari Prasad, Viti Levu South Kadavu; Vinod Maharaj, Vuda Indian Communal; Abdul Haliz, Macuata East Indian Communal; Ram Karan, Labasa Indian; Isikeli Nasoga, South West Fijian Urban; Seini Nawalowalo, Suva City Fijian Urban; Rameshwar Lal, Tavua Indian Communal; Meli Tukisi Tikoicina, Nasinu Fijian Urban;

Sitiveni Tuvou, Tailevu North Fijian Communal; Mitieli Vodonaivalu, Tailevu North Open; Mere Tuikoro, Tamavua Fijian Communal; Kenneth Zinck, Suva City General

Communal; Dr Jeremaia Koroijiuta, Nasinu Rewa Open; Dr Tupeni Baba, Tamavua Samabula Open; Ratu Isireli Vuibau, Tailevu South & Lomaiviti Open;Ratu Mosese Volavola, Nadroga Open;Ofa Duncan, Suva City Open; Haroon Ali Shah, Lautoka City Open; Dalpat Rathod, Lautoka City Indian; Tomasi Tokalauvere, Lomaiviti Fijian Communal; Ratu Lai Kikau, Tailevu South Fijian Communal; Avinash Vinod, Laucala Open; Satya Deo, Labasa Rural; Apisalome W, Bua Macuata West Open; Suresh Verma, Nadi Urban Indian Communal; Kemueli Waqavonovono, North West Fijian Urban C

Fijian Association Party

Dr Isimeli Cokanasiga for the Lami Open, Joji Uluinakauvadra - Nasinu Urban, Leone Tuisowaqa - Nadroga/Navosa Fijian Communal, Adi Ema Golea Tagicakibau - Laucala/Tamavua Fijian Urban Communal, William Aull - Suva City General and Adi Kuini - Serua/ Navosa Open. The other candidates are Sakeasi Lomalagi - Serua Communal, Ratu Inoke Seru - Tailevu South/Lomaiviti Open, Ratu Lepani Tagicakibau - Tailevu South Communal, Isikeli Nasoga - South West Urban, Tupou Draunidalo - Laucala Open, Anil Kumar Sharma- Nasinu Rewa Open, Deeneshwar - Nasinu Indian Communal Mosese Whippy - Suva City Open, Lanieta Naqasima - Samabula/Tamavua Open and Simeli Radrodro - Bua Communal.

Party of National Unity

Bua/Macuata Open seat-Joe Cava; Lautoka Open-Maciu Botito; Tavua Open-Kamemieli Tora; Nadi Open-Arthur Soweni; Ba East-Ponipate Lesavua; North/East Fijian Urban-Netani Gucake; Ra Communal Fijian-Reverend Eloni Goneyali.

©Sanjay Ramesh, July 2001

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