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Opinion, Opinion

Democracy And Chiefs Can Thrive In Their Own Spheres

Democracy And Chiefs Can Thrive In Their Own Spheres
SODELPA president and Tui Cakau Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu and Opposition Leader and Roko Tui Dreketi Ro Teimumu Kepa.
October 24
12:10 2015

Some including Fiji Sun letter writer Amenatave Yaconisau may have missed the point of my last analysis on democracy.
For the purpose of setting the record straight and bringing clarity to the issue, I will clarify a number of points raised by Mr Yaconisau.
I welcome his response and he is entitled to his opinion. I refute his assertions that my weekly articles “are calculated to undermine democracy.” (FS, 23/10/2015). Far from it, they are designed to help us practise democracy in its true spirit. Since 1987, we have tried to fashion our own style of democracy and the evidence is there for us all to see. We have gone through civil unrest and political instability. In the midst of all of these, we have had vain attempts at social, political and economic engineering in the hope of attaining lasting peace and prosperity.
They have failed. Our differences which were supposed to unite us failed the litmus test. Racial tension reached its peak not once but twice in 1987 and 2000 in the darkest periods of our history. Many people suffered physically, emotionally and financially. Some lost their lives. Many victims were driven out of this country, not only Indo-Fijians but iTaukei and other races also looking for hope and new opportunities in a more peaceful and stable environment. The loss to this country was incalculable in terms of human cost. Many professionals sought to ply their trade in countries where they were received with open arms.
Now the tide has begun to change. More and more Fijians who live overseas are returning to invest and retire here because they still call Fiji home. This is where they were born, raised, went to school, got their first job and raised their own families.
Irrespective of where we live, the priority in the shopping list when major decisions have to made about relocation is security and stability. Since 1987 we have been subjected to his roller-coaster ride.
For one year now we have been living in a new democracy where the voice of the majority in the true spirit of democracy is heard and respected. There is peace and stability now and many are enjoying their equal rights and freedoms. In the past the majority voice was overshadowed by the voices of the minorities, pressure groups and those with narrow political agendas and sectional interests. It happened in 1987 and 2000 with devastating impact on the economy and the people.
The concept of democracy was only acceptable if it fitted the politicians’ political agenda.
In 1987 some powerful politicians and chiefs backed by some businesses conspired to overthrow Dr Timoci Bavadra’s Fiji Labour Party and National Federation Party Coalition Government, using the military. This was followed by street demonstrations by the Taukei Movement against what it called an Indo-Fijian dominated Government.
They were used to the predominantly iTaukei Alliance Party running the government since Independence in 1970. When government changed hands through the democratic process they did not accept it.
Ironically, the Alliance MPs once laughed off a question by the late Arthur Jennings, a former Opposition MP about this very issue. He asked several years before 1987 whether there would be a coup if the NFP won a general election and formed a government.
In April 1977, the NFP won the general election. Internal power squabbling prevented the NFP from forming the government. When it finally settled for a ministerial lineup, the then Governor-General Ratu Sir George Cakobau used his executive power to announce a caretaker government led by defeated Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara because the prescribed period for the new Government to be named had expired. Ratu Sir Kamisese was returned to power in the fresh election in September. Some political observers claimed Ratu Sir George had acted prematurely but deliberately to prevent the NFP from forming the new government.
In 1987, the political agitation was used as an excuse to bring in the military into the picture to stage Fiji’s first military coup and reinstate the iTaukei leadership.
The 1970 Constitution which allowed voting on ethnic lines had polarised the iTaukei and Indo-Fijians. Despite the polarisation, there was a split in the iTaukei voters. Those who were members of the labour movement voted for Dr Bavadra’s coalition because they were unhappy with the Government. It was a repeat of 1977 when Sakeasi Butadroka’s Fiji Nationalist Party split the iTaukei votes.
At the height of the coup, the Great Council of Chiefs backed by the vanua played an important role as a power broker and mediator. iTaukei religious leaders were also involved.
The 1970 Constitution was abrogated. Three more Constitutions were drawn up. The fourth constitution which came into effect in 2013 was unqiue and different to other constitutions. It eliminated race-based electoral rolls, hereditary Great Council of Chiefs and an un-elected upper changer of Parliament called the Senate and constituencies.
History has clearly shown us that for democracy to succeed it must operate without the interference of other forces, the chiefs, vanua, religions and other vested interests. The voice of the majority must be paramount.
The chiefs have an important role to play, in the vanua. They need to get back to their traditional base where they are needed to give leadership and direction to their people. At the moment there are many vacant chiefly titles that must be filled to provide stability in the vanua. That is priority.
For those who venture into national politics they, the vanua and their people must accept the modern realities of politics and democracy which can be ugly and controversial at times. It is a level playing field where everyone is equal and freedom of expressions and choice is upheld. In the traditional setting it is different. It is hierarchical where leadership is hereditary. When the chief speaks, everyone listens and tows the line. This is the challenge in SODELPA where it has two high chiefs in leadership, Opposition leader Ro Teimumu Kepa and president Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu. Ro Teimumu is the Roko Tui Dreketi, the paramount chief of Rewa and Burebasaga. Ratu Naiqama is the Tui Cakau, paramount chief of Cakaudrove. Officials and MPs sometimes struggle to draw the line between the chief and politician. It hinders performance and progress.
Democracy and the chiefly system can thrive in their own spheres. Complications arise when they mix.

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