Fiji is holding its first elections today since the coup in 2006, with voters urged to embrace democracy after decades of ethnic tensions and military involvement in civil affairs. This election means that a new political platform can be introduced to Fiji. It also means racial tension in Fiji can be resolved (or alleviated).
In a report the Lowy Institute, urges Australia to work with the new Fijian Government to promote inter-parliamentary and inter-governmental links. This would help Fijian politicians learn both positive and negative stories from their Australian counterparts. More importantly, the Lowy Institute promotes political collaborations among NGOs, civil society organisations and inter-Governmental organisations in the region to promote an independent judiciary and transparency in the new Fiji.
The two strong contenders in this coming election include Fiji First and SODELPA. Fiji First is led by Frank Bainimarama who is currently the head of state.
Fiji First Party is widely considered the favourite to win the Fiji elections. First of all, Bainimarama and his long-term power in the country can easily influence Fijians to vote for his party. Second, Fiji First's candidates are largely composed of cabinet ministers and officials from the current Government. The can access local leaders in different villages and islands. The key campaigns of Fiji First promote the achievements of the Bainimarama regime. They include delivery of free education, development of road and other infrastructures, and actions for racial equality (mainly Indian and Indigenous).
The Lowy Institute agrees that Fiji First benefits not only from incumbency but higher visibility, better funding, a timid media and greater campaigning opportunities compared with other parties in Fiji.
The second strong contender in this election is the Social Democratic Liberal Party or SODELPA. It is the successor party to the SDL party that held Government prior to the 2006 Fiji military coup.
SODELPA is led by Ro Teimumu Kepa, the only woman who leads political party in this election. In its policies, SODELPA focuses on Christian values, which is largely an appeal to i-Taukei (indigenous Fijian) voters. It runs on a platform of promising to restore pre-2006 Fijian democracy and institutions, poverty alleviation and development.
The combats between Fiji first and SODELPA are on various issues and policies. Some interesting issues include Land USE DECREE 2006 and land development, water and electricity, education and health policies. For instance, in its policies, Fiji first promises that they will set aside $10 million to help the i-Taukei develop their lands for sub-division and development. Bainimarama also argues that SODELPA purports to argue that the Prime Minister has the absolute power to make decisions on the utilization of native land without any consultation with the landowners.
Racial issues and equity are prominent in Fiji. Both parties need to consolidate these issues very seriously. It is hoped that this election can nurture social policies that promote equity among Fijians of different races and ethnicities.
SODELPA may win the majority of i-Taukei voters, due to its nationalistic approach. However, strong policies on economic and infrastructure development from Fiji First can be attractive for the majority. Remember, Fiji has long suffered poverty and lack of basic services such as education and health. Nearly half the population of Fiji lives below the poverty line.
Come what may in Fiji, this election is a good sign for Fiji and Fijians. The process confirms the restoration of democratic system in the country. It also can affect policies and practices on racial issues, land and endowment ownership among Fijians, the development of infrastructure and basic education, and political participation among people of Fiji.
This election will also influence the relationship between Australia and Fiji. In late 2013, the Australian government announced a new policy of enhanced engagement with Fiji centred on increased cooperation in political and economic relations. It is expected that the outcome of the election will promote more trade, and economic and military co-operation between Australia and Fiji.
If the polls are declared free and fair by international observers, diplomatic and military ties will be restored and Fiji's suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum will be lifted.
Last but not least, we understand that the new Government will need to be proactive in the promotion of collaborations among civil society organisations, media, independent judiciary, local community, business organisations and inter-Governmental organisations in Fiji. This action will promote long-term democracy in Fiji.