SUVA, Fiji (Nov. 25) – The leader of the Fiji Labor Party, Mahendra Chaudhry, has finally abandoned the fiction that he was not also the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament.

As of today, he is Opposition Leader, a position many – including the Government - have argued he should have accepted immediately after the 2001 election that brought the SDL-led coalition of Laisenia Qarase to power.

But Mr Chaudhry has never been one to pass up an opportunity to disrupt his political opponents and his many court actions, ostensibly aimed at forcing the Government to accept his party in Cabinet in the numbers and portfolios he wanted, had a degree of success in that area.

But no government would have given Mr Chaudhry all he asked for – and he knew it. So his campaign to have the number of ministries and the portfolios he deemed his right was always little more than an attempt to sow confusion in the government ranks. It may have seemed a legitimate political ploy. The end justifies the means has been the style of Mr Chaudhry’s brand of politics. At the same time, however, the uncertainty caused by his apparently unending court actions did real harm in terms of an uncertain investment environment.

He rejected every offer of inclusion in Cabinet, preferring instead to seek more and further clarification from the courts. But the strategy came close to leaving him without a relevant voice – something he will undoubtedly have as Leader of the Opposition. What this means, also, is that the 2006 election campaign is well and truly underway. The battle lines are drawn. Mr Chaudhry, a seasoned and expert campaigner, will hammer away at the Government over what he will describe as its uncaring attitude to the poor and underprivileged while Mr Qarase will trumpet his government’s record on rural development, health and education.

One of Mr Chaudhry’s aims will be to divide the Fijian vote, particularly in the urban areas. If he succeeds, we may well see Mr Qarase complaining of token ministries in a multiparty Cabinet in 2007. For, make no mistake, had the positions been reversed, Mr Chaudhry would not have behaved differently.

November 25, 2004


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