"SODELPA, the obvious inheritor of the usurped SDL, complains too much and does too little. Its political navel-gazing continues while Bainimarama buys every vote he thinks he can see. Its leader is barely visible while the lieutenants preach to the converted on land and indigenous rights while largely ignoring the regime’s record...It now stands as a one-dimensional party that at least some fear to vote for, imagining (with some justification) that a Sodelpa victory would mean another Bainimarama coup."
The Former Publisher and CEO, Fiji Sun
Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama and his party may or may not win a majority of votes at next month’s election. But he WILL be declared the winner. And he WILL be Fiji’s next prime minister (or whatever other title he decides to adopt). He’ll win because he has to. Anything short of a resounding electoral endorsement represents a one-way ticket to jail for himself and most of his team, cronies and associates. Bainimarama will not allow that and has the power to enforce his wishes.
By any stretch of the imagination his should be a hopeless political task. His record in power is nothing short of appalling. Bainimarama has consistently (and openly) lied to those he purports to represent. The litany of untruths is well enough known. He has also slashed pensions, more than halved sugar production, channelled budget support to an already bloated military at the expense of other more immediate needs. He has militarised the public service and has personal control of the vital organisations and institutions of the state. The national debt has ballooned under his dictatorship – despite his solemn eve-of-coup pledge to rein it in. Much of that debt is in the form of loans from China.
Reliable information is hard to find in the new transparent Fiji but by any account poverty has increased as a direct result of his actions. Wages are held down and prices allowed to rise as the business houses that have given him support now hold sway over economic policy. Many will recall how he cited the Qarase government’s increase in VAT which hits the poor hardest as another trigger for his coup.
Corruption – the major (stated) reason for his coup – has not been addressed, the “show trials” notwithstanding. In fact the secrecy that now shrouds the fiscal and fiduciary actions of the Bainimarama regime are a guarantee that corruption can flourish as never before.
He has trashed Fiji’s status as a high-end, high value tourism destination to the extent that it is now seen as discount low-budget holiday spot. He has alienated the indigenous majority.
He has imposed a constitution that gives him control of everything up to and including indigenous land. The list of failures, favouritism and betrayals is mind-numbingly long.
The regime’s progress, particularly in access to education, cannot come close to counterbalancing its disasters.
How, then, can this man even dream of winning an election?
Well, he controls the media. Through an organisation with (like much of the regime apparatus) the Orwellian title of a media “development” authority.
All the pious and seemingly sincere claims by the authority personnel that media freedom is alive and well in Fiji can be safely dismissed. Journalists and editors are routinely reminded of the draconian penalties that exist for those who fall foul of the infamous Media Decree that gags all news sources. A few have enthusiastically embraced the restrictions in return for government advertising. Some are government owned and have no choice while a few continue to win the occasional minor – but important - victory.
None will talk on the record about the threats – for they know what will happen to them if they do – but those are nonetheless regular and real.
The authority itself yields to none in a dog-like desire to please its master. It has even absolved the Fiji Sun of all bias – which must have been a source of some embarrassment for the paper which has never sought to conceal its outright support for and devotion to the regime.
Fiji Television is kept on a leash via six-monthly licence renewals at the whim of attorney general and minister for all that his boss doesn’t want Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum while most media organisations more or less toe the line out of fear of retribution or hunger for a share of the public funds lavished on supporting this regime.
Those journalists and editors who have embraced such deceit are doomed to discover when the rule of law eventually returns that their integrity, while so easy to pawn, can never be redeemed. But that’s for the future.
What it means for the present is that they now have a vested interest in maintaining the Bainimarama regime in power.
So while blatantly buying votes through handouts of everything from sewing machines to bridges (all bought with the people’s own money and a declared reason for a coup when carried out by someone else), the regime can rely on an unending stream of praise and doe-eyed devotion from the nation’s media.
This in turn has engendered a spreading distrust of the media with most of those who have access – regime supporters and opponents alike – seeking to balance their information and opinion diet at sites such as this. The long-term effects on the media are difficult to foretell, but, certainly, damage is being done to a once-respected industry.
He even – however indirectly – controls the polls. The Fiji Sun’s Razor Poll consistently predicts an overwhelming Bainimarama victory while the Fiji Times Tebbutt poll foresees an only slightly less emphatic triumph. But the single fact that neither poll would see the light of day were the results otherwise renders them worthless.
Also in the regime’s electoral favour is the fragmented opposition. New parties spring up like weeds after rain while the old ones seek to reinvent themselves. All seek to maintain the fiction that this election is an opportunity for people to alter the course of their country’s destiny. Some simply seek a seat on what they hope will be the Bainimarama parliamentary gravy train where fat salaries and overseas junkets can be just for saying the right things.
SODELPA - ONE DIMENSIONAL PARTY
SODELPA, the obvious inheritor of the usurped SDL, complains too much and does too little. Its political navel-gazing continues while Bainimarama buys every vote he thinks he can see. Its leader is barely visible while the lieutenants preach to the converted on land and indigenous rights while largely ignoring the regime’s record. It made the monumental mistake of spurning Sitiveni Rabuka who would have brought vital cross-cultural support. It now stands as a one-dimensional party that at least some fear to vote for, imagining (with some justification) that a Sodelpa victory would mean another Bainimarama coup.
The Fiji Labour Party surely cannot retain its old appeal while continuing to harbour Mahendra Chaudhry while the NFP tries hard but will find it difficult to shrug off perceived Indo-Fijian bias.
Meanwhile the regime continues to churn out its self-serving decrees and even tinkers with existing ones to suit its own electoral purpose.
It would very much like to win this election but if it can’t, well, no matter.
Ominously, in his visit to New Zealand Bainimarama let it be known that nothing less than victory in all 50 electoral seats would satisfy his ambition. And he has the means to make that happen.
Add the continued and misplaced triumphalism among sections of the now minority ethnic Indo-Fijian community who finally have sight of their own holy grail – land – and support for Bainimarama becomes ever more evident.
It’s darkly muttered in Suva that they’re only storing up trouble and that land will be Bainimarama’s downfall just as it was for Mahendra Chaudhry before him but so far at least those have amounted to no more than mutterings. There has been no sign whatsoever of any “Fiji spring” of the like that felled governments in the Arab world. Otherwise the reactions of Fiji’s neighbours might have been entirely different (see below). The Fiji people, it will be argued, have the government they deserve.
And it’s a hard argument to defeat.
So why bother to have an election at all when the outcome (if not the result) is already known?
The principal motive is what all despots and dictators crave: acceptance. If Bainimarama can at least go through the motions of a free and fair election, Australia and New Zealand for their own rather shop-soiled reasons, have already given him the nod. They’ll look the other way, as will the EU. Others will follow and Bainimarama can strut the world stage claiming legitimacy.
Not only that. The aid tap will be turned on again, travel sanctions removed (though he shows no sign of removing his own travel sanctions on Australian and NZ citizens).
So while the election may well be an exercise of the inevitable, what may (or may not) follow the pronouncement of a Bainimarama victory is likely to carry more weight than the voting.