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be an ideal situation for a country where the political culture rests on the dictates of ethnic consciousness and demarcation.

While the proportional party list electoral system puts Fiji in good stead for the future, there are a number of shortcomings which need pointing out. The first shortcoming is that the recommended threshold is five per cent, which means that parties can only be allocated seats if they are able to win more than five per cent of the votes. Out of the total number of 50 seats, five per cent translates into 2.5 or at least two seats. This means that smaller parties and independent candidates vying for one or two seats can miss out on their opportunities. The second issue is in relation to the open party list system where the voters decide on the ranking of candidates. Because of the concern for women and minority representation, the Ghai draft recommended a closed list system where political parties choose and rank the candidates. By recommending the open list, the new constitution does not guarantee women and minority representation. It is entirely up to the voters to decide on the ranking of candidates. The constitution does not provide any specific form of open list system as this will be determined by the new electoral decree which still needs to be enacted.

So far, New Zealand, Australia and the European Union have provided some technical support for the election. While these are generous gestures, it would have made more sense if other developing countries in the Commonwealth with similar historical and ethno-political circumstances as Fiji engage directly in a “south-south” peer dialogue with Fiji to share experiences and how things can be improved. While developed countries have financial and technical resources the perception is that they tend to be patronizing and imposing and the unequal power relations could undermine genuine relationships. Four political parties have already been registered under the

2013 Political Parties Registration Decree (PPRD). These are the main Indo-Fijian dominated parties: the Fiji Labour Party (FLP); the National Federation Party (NFP) and the indigenous Fijian dominated Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), which changed its name from Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) to fulfil the requirements of the PPRD. The newest party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is trade union-based and is a breakaway from the FLP. Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the Prime Minister has indicated that his party will be formed next year.

The FLP, NFP and SODELPA are part of a United Front for a Democratic Fiji (UFDF) whose main aim is to provide common opposition to the regime. The Front is a loose collection of parties which have historically been antagonistic to each other but are now working together, although with some suspicion of each other, with the common aim of toppling Bainimarama in the next election. Because the three political parties are fundamentally ethnic in nature, they basically have two options if they are to build up a credible image in the new trans-ethnic electoral process and political order. The first is that they need to shed their ethnic images and somehow reinvent themselves as multi-ethnic parties. This is not so easy given their embedded ideological and political positions. The second is that they may need to form a coalition during the election to ensure that the front has the appearance of being multi-ethnic for broader appeal.

Despite the progressive attempt to constitutionalize multiculturalism through the electoral system, the vestiges of ethnic-based political culture of the past will still pose a major challenge to the political engineering process. For instance, while ethnic-based seats have been abolished in favour of open trans- ethnic voting, people’s sense of ethnic loyalty will still be a major determining factor in how they vote. This is especially so with the older generation

but the younger generation, whose voting power has been bolstered by the reduction in voting age from 21 to 18 in the new constitution, would be more in tune with the new multicultural socio-political transformation. Unleashing the voting power of the young will be a major determining factor in the results of the election, scheduled for September 2014.

The most probable post-election scenario would be a coalition between parties. This is one of the possible consequences of the proportional party list system. Coalition is nothing new in Fiji. In the past, parties with fundamentally different political ideologies have joined together in political matrimony. A coalition would be important for future stability.

Post-election scenario: Fiji and the world

Apart from reconfiguring the internal political institutions and dynamics, the next election will also be crucial in framing Fiji’s relationship within the Pacific region and the outside world generally. The election means a lot in terms of Fiji’s international image and reacceptance into the Commonwealth and Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), final lifting of sanctions and normalization of diplomatic relations with New Zealand and Australia as well as resumption of aid from IMF, Asian Development Bank and EU.

These are the possible post- election gains to Fiji. However, there are other “gains” which Fiji has achieved which have overshadowed the sanctions and suspension and which Fiji has used as leverage against those it saw as its tormentors. For instance, Fiji has used its newfound friendship with China as leverage against Australia and New Zealand.

This has raised concerns in Washington and as a result, the U.S. has re-engaged with the Pacific through its “pivot” doctrine to contain Chinese hegemony and “rebalance” the Asia-Pacific power dynamics. At the same time, Fiji has strengthened its grip within the Melanesian

Spearhead Group (MSG), weakened Australia’s influence in the MSG in the process and used the MSG as a battering ram against the bigger and more powerful neighbour. By forming the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF), as alternative to the PIF, Fiji hopes to weaken and possibly displace PIF which it sees as a neo-colonial bastion for Australia and New Zealand. Meanwhile, Fiji has used the situation to expand its global diplomatic links, joined the non-aligned movement to bolster its global support and become chair of the UN’s G77 plus China bloc. This new regional geo-political reconfiguration and alignment seems to be at odds with status quo political thinking. Thus the question is: will all these new configurations be undone if someone else, apart from Bainimarama wins the election? Will the PIDF be dissolved? Will Fiji re-join the PIF despite its ultimatum that it will only do so if Australia and New Zealand, Fiji’s chief tormentors, are removed from the organization? Will Fiji once again be part of the Pacific family and avoid accusing some small Pacific island neighbours of “betrayal” by siding with Australia and New Zealand? These questions are predicated on the results of the 2014 election.

The final question which some people in Fiji still suspiciously and pessimistically ask is: will the election actually take place in September 2014? The promise for the election has been broken twice or so already but that was when there were no concrete structures and systems in place to facilitate any electoral process. Now the process is so far advanced and the government has no other option. The election is the only exit strategy the coup leaders have, there’s no other. It is also a way of legitimizing their possible return to power. The immunity is in place in the new constitution and whether they win or lose the election, they now know they will be safe, unless of course there is legal challenge to the legitimacy of the new constitution. But that of course will be another story and certainly a long one too.

The Parliamentarian | 2013: Issue Three | 185

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