Inclusiveness key to Fiji govt's stability

Voreqe Bainimarama, who stormed to power in Fiji through a bloodless military coup in 2006, has returned to the helm in Fiji via a democratic election.

 His Fiji First Party secured a landslide victory in the general elections last week, winning almost 60 per cent of the vote. It will control 32 of 50 seats in parliament. This victory will give Bainimarama’s rule legitimacy. What makes his victory all the more significant is that independent observers have endorsed the election process as ‘credible.’ Besides, voter turnout was a remarkable 84 per cent. Bainimarama’s victory has been attributed to his performance at the helm over the past eight years. Following his power grab in 2006, Fiji was internationally isolated and subjected to economic sanctions. Its economy, already weak thanks to years of political turmoil and mismanagement, was tottering under the weight of sanctions. Bainimarama’s governance restored some stability and breathed new life into the economy. It impressed Fiji’s youth, who voted for him in large numbers. But it is Bainimarama’s effort to build a new inclusive Fiji that helped him attract votes across ethnic lines. For decades, Fiji was notorious for its deep divisions between indigenous Fijians and Fijians of ethnic Indian origin, who constitute over 40 per cent of the population. Ethnic Indians have not only been the target of violence in Fiji but also, on two occasions, governments they led were overthrown in coups.

When he ousted the government of Laisenia Qarase in 2006, Bainimarama claimed his coup was aimed at seeking to end ethnicised politics and anti-Indian prejudice.  He did take steps in this direction. The Constitution of 2013, for instance, gives ethnic Indians the same status as indigenous Fijians. Indeed, the just-concluded election was the first in Fiji where seats and the electoral register were not organised on the lines of race.As the head of a democratic government, Bainimarama is expected to continue his inclusive approach. Political stability in Fiji depends on inclusion of all communities and Bainimarama is aware of that. However, it is on the question of democratic functioning that doubts remain. Can Bainimarama shed his authoritarian style of functioning? He is accustomed to ruling by decree. Will he work according to the rules of a parliamentary democracy? And will he free the media and allow it to criticise his governance?  Importantly, Fiji’s democratic institutions are in a shambles. Will the new government act to build these institutions? Bainimarama must bear in mind that holding elections alone does not make a democracy. Neither does it make him a democratic leader.

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