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Fiji poll: Challenges and opportunities

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This post is part of the The Lowy Institute's Fiji Poll debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

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7 September 2011 10:15


This post is part of the The Lowy Institute's Fiji Poll debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

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.

Bainimarama should be pleased with 66% approval ratings and the 65% of people who think things in Fiji are going in the right direction. But he should be concerned that 53% or less think the government is doing a good job with their preparations for a return to democracy and that 98% think the right to vote in national elections and have freedom of expression is important to them. If he has these levels of support, why not seek a proper mandate through an election?

The Australian Government can take heart from the Fiji people recording very warm feelings about Australia and very strong support for a good official relationship between the Australian and Fiji governments. But should it worry that 63% of Fiji people disagree with the Australian approach to Fiji and that 81% think the Australian Government should lift its travel sanctions and re-establish normal relations with Fiji.

At the risk of sounding like a Treasurer promoting the government's budget, there is something in this poll for everyone. The Fiji Government and the international community alike need to listen to what the Fiji people want. The data from this poll gives them valuable insights into how the people of Fiji are feeling and thinking about their situation today. There is a danger that policy will become entrenched and not reflect the changing circumstances in Fiji that this poll demonstrates.

Some of the most interesting findings were*:

  • The Fiji people recorded warm feelings towards Australia (74°) and New Zealand (72°) but relatively cool feelings towards their Pacific Island neighbours (50° to 55°).
  • China attracted fairly warm feelings (64°) from the Fiji people and 60% of people strongly agreed with the importance of a good official relationship between Fiji and China.
  • 79% disagreed with Fiji's suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum and 76% disagreed with Fiji's suspension from the Commonwealth.
  • 83% thought foreign countries should let Fiji sort out its return to democracy on its own.
  • Despite Fiji's suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum, 77% believed Fiji's leadership role in the Pacific was either the same or stronger than it was five years ago.
  • 51% said the Pacific Islands Forum was more important to Fiji than the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), while only 16% said the MSG was more important.
  • 61% thought the Government was doing a good job of listening to the people.
  • The Fiji Government's delivery of basic services attracted strong support (for example, 82% thought the Fiji Government was doing a good job delivering education).
  • 67% said the Fiji Government was doing a good job ending racial divisions.
  • A slight majority (53%) said democracy was the preferred form of government but:
    • 98% said the right to freely vote in national elections, the right to freely express yourself and the right to a fair trial was important to them.
    • 96% said the right to a media free from censorship was important to them.
  • The poll coincided with Bainimarama's recent bans on Methodist Church activities but 66% said the Church should not be involved at all in politics.
  • 68% approved of the Fiji military's role in politics at the moment but approval for a permanent role for the military slipped back to 53%.

* The figures with ° indicate where participants were asked to nominate their feeling, with 100 meaning a very warm, favourable feeling and 0 meaning a very cold, unfavourable feeling. 

Photo by Flickr user yuko_ppp2501.

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