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The Battle For iTaukei Votes

The Battle For iTaukei Votes
The landing barge Kaiwai.
September 04
10:56 2014

Fierce and intense battles for iTaukei votes are raging in the villages and rural settlements.

The villagers are being bombarded with all kinds of political propaganda making some  confused and others switch allegiances several times. The race and religious cards are being played out by politicians and political parties in a desperate bid to sway voters away from FijiFirst which has been advocating equal citizenry, secular state and common identity.

SODELPA tactic

Leading the charge against FijiFirst is the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA).

SODELPA knows that to have a sniff of winning this election, it must secure a majority iTaukei support. Then it hopes that the National Federation Party, the Fiji Labour Party and the People’s Democratic Party will split the Indo-Fijian votes to deny FijiFirst the numbers it requires to win this election.

It’s highly unlikely SODELPA will attract non-iTaukei votes because of its discriminatory policies. SODELPA strategists realise that they cannot match  FijiFirst in the open public meetings where FijiFirst is well organized and far superior in attracting crowds.

So they have come up with a new tactic – small pocket meetings where the voice of dissent is minimal. In big meetings, their discriminatory and racial policies can be easily challenged from the floor or not fully understood by the intended target group.

Pocket meetings

In the smaller, pocket meetings, politicians find it more effective where they can candidly express themselves without the scrutiny and glare of the news media and other political parties. As a result, not many parties and politicians are telling the media where they are gathering or meeting.

In the battle for the iTaukei votes there is lot of misinformation, distortion and lies being spread to create fear and uncertainty in the minds of the iTaukei. This style is divisive and aims to stoke racial feelings and polarise races. It appeals to the base instincts of the iTaukei or Indo-Fijians for that matter. The perpetrators know what is dear to the hearts of the iTaukei.

It is their land and resources, religion and culture.

Wrong questions

Questions like “How come Muslims hold most of the top jobs?” That question is really being targeted at the Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum who is a Muslim. The insinuation is that the A-G had a hand in it.

The fact is that at a time when these vacancies needed to be filled, not many people came forward to apply for them because they were wary of the travel sanctions imposed by Australia and New Zealand. It also explains why some military officers occupied some top civil service posts.

Ask Parmesh Chand what he went through when he was appointed permanent secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office. Because of the sanctions, he could not travel to New Zealand for at least three years to visit his two daughters who were studying in Auckland and his wife who was working and looking after the girls. It was a big sacrifice on his part. But not many were prepared to make that sacrifice.

But the appointments were made on merit

Other questions are: Are the iTaukei customs and culture, land and ownership rights under threat?  Is the chiefly system in danger after the abolition of the Great Council Chiefs. Are the indigenous rights and interests being ignored?” Are all these part of an insidious or dubious plan of  ethnic cleansing?

These issues have been implied in campaign talks and are causing havoc in the minds of the rural iTaukei.

 Law guarantee

The preamble of the Constitution clearly recognises “the indigenous people or the iTaukei, their ownership of iTaukei lands, their unique culture, customs, traditions and language.”

Then in section 28 of the Constitution, it says: “The ownership of all iTaukei land shall remain with the customary owners of that land and iTaukei land shall not be permanently alienated, whether by sale, grant,transfer or exchange, except to the State in accordance with section 27.

Any iTaukei land acquired by the State for a public purpose after the commencement of this Constitution under section 27 or under any written law shall revert to the customary owners if the land is no longer required by the State.”

If this is not protection of land, then what is? To change this law it requires 75 per cent vote in Parliament and 75 per cent vote in a national referendum. Mathematically, it is difficult to do it. The safety valve here is that even if politicians vote yes, the people have the power to veto it. And that’s the beauty about this Constitution, it gives back the power to the people on constitutional changes.

Past constitutions gave all the power to the politicians in the lower house and the senators in the upper house. When you look at them closely they are cut from the same cloth. While the House of Representatives passed laws the Senate merely rubber stamped them.

The unelected senators were nominees of the Government and the Opposition and the Great Council of Chiefs. They towed their masters’ lines. When they enacted the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Ordinance, there was minimal discussion with the landowners. Later when it was amended to Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act, again the same thing happened.

 Power focus

The concentration of power in the hands of a few to decide the future of a people and their resources was highlighted by firebrand nationalist politician Sakeasi Buadroka who had championed indigenous interests. He questioned the role of chiefs in politics and advocated separation of power. He had suggested that chiefs should remain in their traditional role. He said as participants in politics, chiefs could get hurt and humiliated in the mudslinging.

The national referendum provision answers what the nationalist movement pioneer raised during his time.

Although the people will give the mandate to 50 men and wonen to run the country via Parliament, they still reserve the right to have the final say on critical issues.

This election should not be about race or religion. It should be about issues that bring about unity, tolerance, economic prosperity, stability, peace and hope for the future. This Constitution provides the basis for all these to be achieved.

John F Kennedy once said: “Do not vote for me because of my religion. Vote for me because of the issues I stand for.”

To borrow Barrack Obama’s words: “In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?”

It’s food for thought for those who are pushing the race and religious card

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

 

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