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The challenges for Fiji in 2008

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9 April 2008 10:32

Guest blogger: Sanjay Ramesh, who teaches at the University of Technology, Sydney, is Senior Political Editor at the Sydney Fiji Times and Adjunct Fellow at the University of Fiji.

The Pacific Islands Forum Ministers meeting in Auckland on 26 March 2008 has unequivocally called on Fiji authorities to come up with a plan for general elections for the country by April 2008. Growing suspicions about the commitment of the interim government in Fiji to holding elections in March 2009 are well founded. There have been murmurs among Fiji’s interim government members that the election was not a priority because there were more pressing issues, such as implementing the Peoples’ Charter for Change and electoral reforms.

The military commander and interim Prime Minister of Fiji, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, has reiterated on many occasions that the Peoples’ Charter will provide guidance to future elected governments on their approach to public policy. The deposed government has rejected such an idea as a recipe for continued military intervention in politics. Minor political parties, including the National Federation Party and the United General Party, and six indigenous Fijian provincial councils have refused to participate in discussions on the Charter, arguing that the process was undemocratic.

Some important issues require greater discussion and attention in both Fiji and abroad this year, including:

  • The effectiveness of the Peoples’ Charter for Change when a number of influential groups have refrained from participating, arguing that the process is implemented by undemocratic means
  • The utility of having a single common roll system of voting, as suggested by the Fiji Labour Party, in a country with a history of communal and racial voting behaviour
  • And most importantly, the absence of institutional structures to manage competition for political power ahead of the proposed March 2009 general election.

Working towards the establishment of a Government of National Unity after the March 2009 elections may be one way Fiji could be encouraged to address the demands of the Pacific Islands Forum to hold elections, while securing time after elections to allow political parties to tackle the complexities of Fiji’s internal divisions with a multiparty cabinet. A Government of National Unity could also continue work on the People’s Charter and consider better voting systems to assist in stabilizing Fiji.

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