Making Some Sense of Recent Developments


It's supposed to be a holiday period when people relax, and New Year when the more idealistic make new resolutions. But you wouldn't have thought so on the Fiji political scene.

First we have a new Catholic Bishop and a congratulatory message from the Methodist church  that they expect to work well with him with a a hint that all was not hunky dory with the retired Bishop.  A little earlier Amnesty International and a group of international trade unions sprung to arms with claims of torture by the military for an event that occurred months before (and which the police are investigating) but with no mention of background information that may have convinced others all was not as they saw it. Then came the hardship and damage caused by Cyclone Evan, Fiji's third natural disaster in less than one year. And then, the Constitution Commission presented its draft constitution to the President; the PM sought expressions of interest in joining the Constituent Assembly that that will consider the draft —and all hell broke loose.

Hell let loose
Readers will be aware of the main events: Prof Ghai's attempt to collect and presumably distribute the draft from the printers; the confiscation of the draft copies and the temper tantrum shown by an unnamed senior policeman in burning the galley proofs; Victor Lal's internet distribution of an earlier copy of the draft; the sudden approval of this draft by the old political parties (of which more below); my insistence that whatever we may think of the draft and Prof Ghai's attempt at distribution, he was  acting illegally according to the amended decree that governed the constitution dialogue process; Prof Ghai's denial of illegality and his internet publication of the final draft; the failure of the Fiji media to report anything on the unfolding events other that Col. Mosese Tikoitoga's statements denouncing some provisions in the draft  (that the public had not seen) and that Ghai should be arrested for breaking the law.

Much of the discussion on the draft was misinformed, inconsequential or irrelevant. I thought government handled the whole affair poorly but however it was handled, anti-government people were sure to take advantage of this "bonus" development, and take advantage they did. The limited NZ coverage had one of my golfing friends yesterday asking if I'd seen that the Bainimarama government had burnt the decree, and he's an educated person, so goodness knows what less educated New Zealanders think. And, more importantly, less educated Fijians.

Information only on the net
It must be difficult for Fiji citizens to consider Col. Mosese Tikoitoga's assessment of proposals with which he does not agree in the draft constitution, as published in the Fiji Sun, when the draft, the Constitution Commission's reasons for the proposals and Prof Yash Ghai's subsequent statements to the media are not available to them because they have not been published in the Fiji  media. Unless they have a computer and have been following the foreign media and the anti-Government blogs.

And even then they may get it all wrong because the anti-blogs  —and  the old political parties (the FLP, SDL, UPP) that have suddenly  become enthusiastic supporters of the Commission—  are obviously taking advantage of the much over inflated "burning" of the draft printers' proofs and government's refusal to release copies of the draft.

I wonder whether Government anticipated the response of the old political parties and whether this was its reason for the amendment decree and its insistence the draft be not circulated.  As matters have unfolded, it may  have been  better to have released the draft.

Prof Ghai's explanation is now on the anti-blogs.  I am undecided whether to sympathise with the dilemma he must have been facing with government clearly not going to release the draft for discussion until it was presented by the President to the Constitution Assembly, or question whether he is  also
motivated by self-interest in preserving his international reputation, and employability, as someone who is not pushed around by dictators. But either or both ways, I cannot see how his attempt to release the draft, and subsequent actions, have been helpful to Fiji.

When all looked so promising and with the Constituent Assembly to meet in only two week's time, Fiji now seems to be back to where it was before with the battle lines drawn: a Government, and a military, that will certainly oppose some of the draft commendations, and a revitalised coalition of the old political parties that  will do anything to restore Fiji to how it was before the 2006 coup.

Loss of neutrality?
One final word. It seems likely that the reason government amended the Constitution Process (Constitution Commission) Decree was because it had lost confidence in the neutrality of the Commission, a provision that was central to the original decree. There were so many stories of Yash Ghai socialising with known Government opponents, and then later there was the appointment of Ratu Joni Madrawiwi as a consultant.  I have no deep problem with these events, though I think them unwise, but I can well understand why government was concerned: a commission whose key member was no longer neutral was also no longer independent. Government had begun to think the Commission was  unlikely to produce a document that would fully address the concerns that had led to its creation.

The ultimate plotter? 
I am also disposed to think that Mahendra Chaudhry at least had early information on  the first draft of the constitution or some of its provisions.

Why else the shifting position of the Fiji Labour Party as reported on their website?  In May, they berated delays in the appointment of the Commission and accused government of using the Commission to advance its own Roadmap. In May, they insisted the Commission be independent. In August, they wanted the immediate appointment of a caretaker government. In September, they questioned the credibility and legality of the whole process. In mid-October they made their own submission, and it is from this time on, that the only postings  on their website concern the need for transparency and accountability.The Commission's  "credibility and legality" is no longer challenged. Then,  in early November, they said people were being shut out of the process (despite massive nation-wide consultations) and said the Commission was being intimidated.  Finally, on 21 December —the same day Prof Ghai presented the draft to the President— they "slammed the secrecy surrounding the draft decree",  and within a week they had forged some sort of alliance with  the SDL and UPP and approved the draft released by Victor Lal.

A complete turn around whose cause "cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt", but which provides circumstantial evidence that at least one member of the Commission or its staff  had indeed compromised the "neutrality" provision in their appointment by  providing advance information to  Chaudhry,  and possibly others.

And the good news?
The only good recent news is that the Methodist Church now wants to work with government and put the confrontational days behind it.  The sad news is that Chaudhry, Jone Kubuabola and Beddoes seem intent on forming a new FLP-SDL-UPP party coalition that without any doubt will oppose each and every move in the Constituent Assembly to reach an acceptable consensus.  The coalition will not last, of course.  The three race-based parties share more policy differences than similarities but it may last long enough to derail or delay the dialogue process, and upset the work of the Constituent Assembly.

Ultimately all will depend on how much support there is out there among the silent majority.  The old political parties should not assume  the support they had in 2006 remains intact, and new political parties will emerge before the elections in 2014. But neither should the government assume that the traditional apologies it has received from iTaukei groups represents a real shift in thinking.

And then there is urban, educated "middle Fiji".  I suspect government has lost some of their support  in recent years (and more recently over the secrecy and "burning" incident), not because it does not share government's vision of a more racially tolerant and just Fiji, but  because it has been excluded from most decision-making and because of government's clumsiness in handling its critics and opponents.

The Chaudhry's will take advantage of every opportunity to cast doubt about government's  intentions. They have to if they want to return Fiji to the way they liked it. Middle Fiji should not forget how it was then.

-- Crosbie Walsh

Comments

Anonymous said…
Military lost confidence in the the independence or did they just not like what the independent commission came up with ? I would wager on the latter. And why is the military now both police and government spokesperson ?
Anonymous said…
Croz, how is it you continue to have complete faith in this military government. The draft looks pretty reasonable. People wher widely consulted. Why should the militarise submission ( late and not done publicly ) hold any more weight than others. They get immunity and claim they wnt to stop future coups so having them clearly accountable to government will help. It all looks a lot like men in power wanting to sty in power.

The Reeves commission came up with a good constitution but it was fiddled with by vested interests. I the PM has talked about before as ave you Croz. Lets hope a new set of vested interests ( PM and his military ) don't stuff this one up.
Anonymous said…
Dear Croz,

People where rightly worried about Ghai because they though he might have been picked by the AG because he could be manipulated or pushed around by the AG and military. They need not have been worried as he is no push over. What we all need to worry about is what the PM and Military do next. They are not known for even handed rational responses.

As for Mosese - every time he opens his mouth it's a disaster.

Thanks for your blog. Keep up the good work.
Anonymous said…
Those who know Professor Yash Ghai over a period of time now approaching sixteen years have confidence in both his intellect and in his integrity. Let us be assured that this trust has not been misplaced. The moral high ground shall be defended. Those who defend it must be consistent in their personal and professional qualities. Their impartiality and their independence must be vested in a moral and ethical outcome for the greatest number of people: not hoist on the petard of marginal, vested interest or subject to the suasion of any self-regarding elite. They must be able to know and to judge not only past events but also look with a clear vision towards the future. No compulsion, no deviousness, no application of double-standards must taint their sense of mission. They should in addition be accountable for any use of taxpayer and public funds with full transparency. A fastidious explanation of their task must bear witness to its merit for Fijian generations yet unborn: for all shall bear witness in the fullness of time.

The tone of a document says much of its merit. The clarity in which it is couched and its capacity to reflect the views of those who freely submitted. Submissions have been made in good faith at considerable personal cost to many. No one shall have the temerity to betray this good faith. No one.
Military Thugs said…
The real problem in Fiji is the military. These poorly led thugs with guns are destroying the nation. They must go.
siti4 said…
what we do know is thet what you refer to as the educated middle class is small in fiji and will have little influence on events. What we also know is thet whatetver the military decides on what they will be inclined to accept in the new constitution, irrespective of what a constituent assembly proposes, Croz will fall over himself to defend and support, becasue he presumes that fijian could not possibly make any decision contrary to the military regime without being ignorant or easily manipulated by 'dark hands at work'.(pardon the pun)
Crosbie Walsh said…
@ siti4 ... In the Fiji context, as a rough and approximate guide, I would call middle class anyone with sixth form education or more (or similar) who has a full time and reasonably well paid job. Think Bavadra, Rabuka, Baba, Chaudhry, Speight, Qarase, most NGO and, employer and union leaders, teachers, university lecturers, lawyers and other professional people, most middle level and senior civil servants and military officers, most church leaders, most people who publish blogs or read them... and so on. Little influence? They are the movers and shakers. There is, however, a difference between middle class and what I've called "middle Fiji." Most middle Fiji are middle class but they are also generally more thoughtful and analytical in their interpretation of events.
siti4 said…
I think views from the 'rump' of fijian voters are no less entrenched than they were and i see nothing to dispute this. Perhaps the regime would authorise marches in support and lets see what support base they have from those who are otherwise not directed to support them, such as public servants and military. The issue is exactly how many middle class there are and whether are influential. How many formed a view early on then changed it, then changed back.
Cin Cin said…
'....The Chaudhry's will take advantage of every opportunity to cast doubt about government's intentions. They have to if they want to return Fiji to the way they liked it. Middle Fiji should not forget how it was then.'

And the last 6 years have been an outstanding triumph of good governance, transparancy and accountability, economic growth, and cultural and social development? Most of the 'middle class' and 'middle' Fijians I know have problems distingishing between pre and post 2006.


rusi said…
I think the regime tends to believe their own misinformation and marketing. They have somewhat committed themselves to a process that they have found they cannot control, so they try to domninate, intimidate and bastardise it to get what they want.Even Croz doesn't even bother to think about what if the constituent asseembly comes up with proposal that the military cannot stomach and where he thinks we go from that point. He appears to imply that we had just better go along with immunity and some other farcical provisions or else...and mirror the threats from the regime about what they will not tolerate. Seems then rather a waste of time to bother convening a group of people to ask what they think?? Will he finally accept that free thinking people in the assembly will come up with what they think is best for Fiji and that doesn't include an ever dominant military refusing any civilian direction and financial oversight?
Anonymous said…
Croz, I still think the Military is in charge.. and they will get things done their way. The gins are still with them. I dont think the any hero is going to risk their neck to kick the king out. As for credibility, time will tell. There are many things that were not done in the correct way. I think the power holders tried to open up the system and wanted someone who could be trusted to get the draft done. The down side is that now they will make-sure everything is done in a much more restricted environment. Ghai could have been a bridge. instead it seems all this draft will become just a starting reference point and it may go similar to the Reeve's report. In fact this could also delay the election timetable too!
Anonymous said…
Croz I think Yash Ghai was recognizing where power sits globally and where he wants recognition, rewards and credibility. It is not in little Fiji with its tiny government, and it is not with AG or PM. It is with the big European and American states and allies including NZ/Aus so he simply decided to be pragmatic about his support. He didn't really examine the harm done to us by colonial institutions like the GCC or the neo colonial puppets like the NGO's who will sell their souls to whoever is waving a bank note. He has given these undemocratic institutions more power than they deserve in a democracy. Or even than they get in their mother ships in Europe and the american states.
Anonymous said…
@ military thugs
The real problem in Fiji is racism and greed. Look at the anger generated by the suggestion that the itaukei might have Tamil origins. And look at the anger generated by the loss of affirmative action for the already privileged. Those who had their noses in the trough on the basis of their race and status are squealing at the loss of the privilege formerly given to them by the military. No wonder the military is seen as problematic.
Anonymous said…
@ anonymous
It seems very simple. The military woke up to the fact that they and the commoner itaukei were exploited by an elite group of businessmen, nouveau rich and chiefs over three coups and they decided to right some old wrongs. I suppose they felt that since they had installed the old groups of politicians they had the moral right to uninstall them. Just my assessment.
Anonymous said…
@ rusi

How many 'free-thinking' people would you now estimate are left in the Wasteland of Fiji? Self-actualised persons who read, reflect daily upon what they have read or re-read? How many good bookshops exist in Fiji other than in two tertiary Institutions (USP and FNU) which at last are making an effort? How many of the alleged 300 persons who have applied for the Constituent Assembly will think for themselves? How many will be craven or beholden individuals thinking only of tomorrow? Sir Karl Popper might promote his "Poverty of Historicism" to them (written in New Zealand during World War Two)but, even so, would they read or study it? Our grandfathers and our fathers fought for the liberty of these citizens to ensure they did not succumb to a daily diet of speaking Japanese or German. Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna no less went into the French Foreign Legion when no other allied force would have him. We shall never succumb to an enforced outcome when Liberty and Freedom have been long-ago paid for by the blood and effort of our ancestors.
rusi said…
@Anon12:01, precisely. it appears, there is just one.The Constituent Assembly will be chosen by Bainimarama just like Ghai and the other commissioners were and look how he managed to lose control of three people who decised to think for themselves!! Perhaps you will be the swinging voter.
Anonymous said…
Decided to think for themselves? Or too weak to stand up to the pressure of the power groups in Fiji, who have been displaced by 2006? They were in the middle of old power and new power, and they should have been unswayed by both. But Prof Ghai succumbed, and the others were too weak to stand up to him.
Anonymous said…
But you appear perfectly satisfied with the 'new power' of a military that steps in whenever it feels like it, suspends the constitution(the next one) and makes up decrees to suit their own interests and power. Oh yea, a marvellous development for a mature nation.All you have done is exchange one paternalism for another, one corruption for another and one pack of hypcrates for another. Hooray!!
Anonymous said…
Eh? Disapproving of Ghai's goings on does not read support for a military government! Surely a man can disapprove of both? Anon 3.25 Jan 8 needs lessons in logic.
Anonymous said…
Well perhaps I am acutley aware of the bemusing 'evenhanded' critcism dished out by Croz where he even blames victims of military and police beatings for exagerating their injuries. He seems to go to bizarre lengths to find the upside to all goon activities. I also recal his support for the formewr police commission on the christian crusade and decalring a crime free fiji !!??' I really don't know where your loyalties are, but assumed it was in the 'whatever the miliary goons do and say, it was worse under Qarase' camp of thinking, like Croz.

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