Chaudhry, Qarase union = Mutually Assured Destruction By GRAHAM DAVIS (Fiji born and educated Mr Davis is an international award-winning Australian journalist. He blogs at grubsheet.com.au) There have been few
28 May 2012 08:51

Chaudhry, Qarase union = Mutually Assured Destruction


(Fiji born and educated Mr Davis is an international award-winning Australian journalist. He blogs at grubsheet.com.au)

There have been few things more startling in recent weeks than the prospect of a political union between the party of indigenous supremacists in Fiji and the only Indo-Fijian ever to become the country’s prime minister.
That union would see Laisenia Qarase’s SDL Party in some form of association with Mahendra Chaudhry’s Labour Party to try to thwart any plan by Frank Bainimarama to morph into a democratically-elected prime minister at the promised elections in 2014.
Both men have spoken publicly about working together to find common ground to contest the elections. And while they haven’t yet defined the precise nature of any alliance, it’s clear from those comments that the proposal is being seriously considered.


It was the wily Mr Chaudhry who got the ball rolling, saying that despite their deep differences in the past, he saw nothing strange in Labour uniting with a rival political party to “salvage the country from a despotic government”.
Mr Qarase stunned everyone by describing it as “a very good idea. I think it is important that we find some common grounds and fight the next election on those common grounds”, he said.
Quite where any discussion between the two has got isn’t clear. Yet even by the byzantine standards of Fiji politics, the prospect of these two old warhorses in passionate embrace is an extraordinary one.
It represents a triumph of the age-old truism that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. Their mutual hatred of Voreqe Bainimarama evidently far eclipses their own dislike and distrust for each other. But why would the country turn to these two again? There’s evidence aplenty that both Mr Chaudhry and Mr Qarase treated the electorate with disdain during their respective periods in government. Both of them certainly overplayed their hands.
For all his undoubted political strengths, Chaudhry as prime minister was dogged by perceptions of arrogance. Certainly, any sensible Indo-Fijian assuming the country’s leadership for the first time would have made managing indigenous sensibilities their first priority.


But, alas, Chaudhry did nothing of the sort and arguably sowed many of the seeds of his own destruction in the disastrous George Speight coup of 2000.
For his part, Laisenia Qarase – having gained power in the wake of that coup – overplayed his hand by trying to free Speight and his gang and by pushing through legislation to promote the indigenous cause against the wishes of the man who’d installed him as prime minister – Voreqe Bainimarama. For months, the military commander demanded that Qarase back off. He didn’t and guaranteed his own downfall in the subsequent takeover of 2006.
The notion that Mr Qarase and Mr Chaudhry can now work together is both mad –  as in deranged – and MAD – as in ensuring Mutually Assured Destruction.  Does anyone else in Fiji seriously think that these two failed leaders can forge their vastly opposing political forces into some kind of tilt at government in 2014?
One – Mr Qarase – stands for the paramountcy of one race, the iTaukei, over all others and actively worked in government to disadvantage other races through the Qoliqoli or coastal resources bill and the proposed changes to land title. The other – Mr Chaudhry – heads an ostensibly multiracial party in Labour but with a high Indo-Fijian component who still see themselves as having been the targets of Mr Qarase’s programme. The idea of any form of union not only reeks of an ill-considered marriage of convenience for short-term political gain but makes no practical sense whatsoever.
How on earth could the SDL’s hardline indigenous supremacists work with the Indo-Fijians they habitually describe as vulagi-visitors to Fiji – rather than equal citizens? How on earth could members of the Labour Party – and especially Indo-Fijians – work with those they regard as the architects of their demise in 2000 and their political disadvantage since?


For Mr Chaudhry and Mr Qarase, Mutually Assured Destruction would surely come at the polls as their traditional supporters find the whole crazy notion simply too hard to stomach.
All of which suggests that Voreqe Bainimarama must be rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect of an alliance of his political enemies.
He knows they won’t be able to share the same bed for long and already has strong evidence from the Lowy Institute opinion poll that he would romp home at the head of a multiracial party and become elected prime minister in his own right.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed.  As they say, a week is a long time in politics so the two years and four months to September 2014 is an eternity.  But will these “blasts from the past” even be contesting the next election?
Laisenia Qarase is currently facing corruption charges that carry a jail sentence and – if convicted – a permanent ban from standing for public office.
And there’s serious doubt that the SDL will ever be able to meet the regime’s stipulation that only multiracial parties can contest the 2014 poll.  For his part, Mr Chaudhry will also have to explain to voters where substantial sums of money from Indian donors ended up.
In the meantime, both Mr Qarase and Mr Chaudhry have regained their political voice – thanks to the lifting of censorship – and are actively positioning themselves for whatever happens after the Constitutional Commission completes its work.
Their idea to join forces is just plain dumb.

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