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The Lowy Institute's Fiji Poll

7 Sep 2011 10:15

The Lowy Institute launches its first ever Fiji Poll, Fiji at Home and in the World, today in Auckland, New Zealand. We commissioned the poll to give a voice to the Fiji people, whose thinking about their own government and their relations with the world are not properly understood by either the Fiji Government or the international community.

The poll's results present some complex challenges for countries and non-government organisations seeking to influence change in Fiji. While some of the results provide comfort to the Fiji Government, they also indicate that Bainimarama has not really convinced the people that he is managing Fiji's international relationships well, or that he has done enough work to demonstrate he is serious about the transition to democracy in 2014.

COMMENTS

12 Sep 2011 08:45

Politicians and political parties the world over dismiss opinion polls when the results are inconvenient and embrace them when the results show support for their policies. So I wasn't surprised to see some of the reactions to the results of the Lowy Institute's Fiji Poll.

I was personally dismayed to see so many Fiji people support the performance of Commodore Bainimarama and the direction Fiji is on. Before the results came in, I was hoping the Fiji people would record overwhelming dissatisfaction with Bainimarama. But that was not the reality. 

Faced with these results, the Lowy Institute had two choices – publish or decline to publish. 

We are an independent international policy think tank so we did not have a vested interest either way. If we declined to publish and thereby reveal the opinions of the Fiji people, would we be any better than the Fiji Government, which denies the Fiji people the right to express their opinions or to have their opinions aired in the public domain?

COMMENTS

4 Oct 2011 17:22

Commodore Frank Bainimarama once famously told an Australian journalist that he did not trust the Fiji people. Apparently the Australian government doesn't trust them either.

The Fiji people currently have no forum in which to have their voice heard, but on the one occasion they have been given an opportunity to express themselves, they are ridiculed for it by the very government apparently committed to fighting for their freedom.

Opinion polling is a common feature of political life in Western democracies. In Australia, political parties and journalists live for the results of fortnightly opinion polls. It also used to be a common feature of Fiji's political life. Conducted by Tebbutt Research and published by the Fiji Times, opinion polls continued through stable and unstable times in Fiji, under democratic leaders and during coups, under the rule of Colonel Rabuka and even under Bainimarama himself.

COMMENTS

6 Oct 2011 09:38

My colleague Jenny Hayward-Jones has rightly called out Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, over his attempt to discredit an opinion poll we conducted in Fiji. But, for a different reason, I am glad he made the comments, because they highlight the fact polling in other countries is very rarely used by Australian foreign-policy-makers. By contrast, the US, Japan and others are longtime and clever users of these polls. 

As Jenny points out, it is a bit disingenuous of Marles to question our polling methodology. It is hard to believe that, as a politician, Marles is unable to tell a quality poll from a rubbish poll, and the methodology for the Fiji poll was independently reviewed by one of Australia's leading pollsters.

COMMENTS

11 Nov 2011 11:26

Iris Wielders is a freelance conflict prevention and peace building specialist. She lived in Fiji in 2007 and 2008.

The Lowy Institute's work on Fiji has sparked some interesting debates in recent times.

Reactions to the policy brief by Jenny Hayward-Jones have been polarised. The results of Lowy's poll also confounded. Many dismissed its results, arguing that a poll held in a country where there is this much repression could not possibly yield a 66% approval rating for Bainimarama. Perhaps even more confusing, the poll also showed high support for some of the basic tenets of democracy. How can people support Bainimarama whilst simultaneously supporting democracy?

The polarised view, and the for/against dichotomy it sets up, obscures the complexity of the situation for many Fijians. A more nuanced view can both help explain the poll results, and point to a way forward in engagement with Fiji.

COMMENTS

14 Nov 2011 15:30

Rowan Barnsley responds to Iris Wielders' post arguing for engagement with Fiji:

I normally do not comment on such matters however I am becoming increasingly disillusioned with articles which appear to be attempting to legitimise a military junta. People like you may say that 'arguments for re-engagement do not equal agreement with a military dictatorship'. The reality is that they do. Even more disturbing is that the military dictatorship will leverage from such naivety. They did this with the Lowy survey, disappointingly undertaken by a known sympathiser of the military junta. Even more alarming in my view was how the survey was funded.

Before any engagement can take place in Fiji surely there must be a number of minimum pre-conditions. Firstly, the military must return to the barracks and a proper interim government put in place. Secondly, the engagement and dialogue must be with all parties and stakeholders, not just those benefiting from and supporting the military junta. Thirdly, the rule of law must be restored and all those involved in treasonous acts and human rights abuses since the illegal overthrow of the legitimate government in 2006 must be brought before an independent judiciary.

COMMENTS

14 Nov 2011 15:35

Rowan Barnsley, in his Reader Riposte, claims the Lowy Institute's Fiji poll was 'undertaken by a known sympathiser of the military junta. Even more alarming in my view was how the survey was funded.'

The Lowy Institute first considered commissioning a public opinion poll in Fiji two years ago. We were disappointed that one consequence of the Fiji Government's imposition of media censorship was that the Fiji Times would no longer publish the results of opinion polls the newspaper had conducted in conjunction with Tebbutt Research for almost 20 years. We thought a valuable source of information about the Fiji people's thinking would be lost, and in an environment where debate was not only censored in Fiji but becoming highly polarised and led by elites, we were concerned at the decline in Fiji data available to researchers. 

COMMENTS