15 Aug 2012

Fiji political parties facing tests

5:20 pm on 15 August 2012

The SDL party of the deposed Fiji Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase, says it is more determined than ever to carry on with his legacy.

That's despite what it describes as efforts to paint the party as evil and intent on fomenting racial discord.

The party is one of the groups under attack by the regime, whose leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama, wants to create a multi racial Fiji, with a new constitution based on prescribed principles.

Sally Round reports.

Its leader is now in prison on corruption-related charges and the Commodore has given it a closure warning, but the SDL party says it will battle on.

"The incarceration of the party leader, Mr Qarase, has sort of made the party more stronger, more determined to carry on with the legacy he has left behind."

The SDL's Mesake Koroi says, fingers crossed, the SDL will be allowed to continue.

But like all Fiji's political parties it must wait for the regime's new criteria for political party registration still to be announced by authorities.

We don't even know whether we will be allowed to contest or not. There is still a feeling of uncertainty among our people and among the party officials as well but we will carry on regardless.

The party has hit back at reports it is the author of a submission to the Constitution Commission calling for a Christian state, and a level of ethnic-based voting, concepts which go against the regime's stipulated plans for Fiji.

The truth of the matter is the party is still collating all the facts before its final submission is made probably before the end of September or early October.

Mr Koroi says the party is watching to see how free the consultation process is before making its submission.

The General Secretary of the National Federation Party, Pramod Rae, says his party also won't be put off by the restrictive environment and the regime's insistence that submissions have to adhere to its rules.

You have a certain political philosophy, a certain ideology, certain aspirations and suddenly you say these things don't feature in your own aspirations anymore. That is somehow incompatible with developing a constitutional framework in a free and fair democratic way.

The regime has also criticised the views of some NGOs during the constitutional debate saying those that don't contribute positively are not important.

It has even banned prominent activist Shamima Ali from a role in the Constituent Assembly, which will debate the draft constitution.

Pramod Rae says sooner or later things will come unstuck.

I think eventually it will probably sink in, the government jumping in almost every second day, rubbishing certain organisations, the government jumping in saying you can't say this, you can't say that. In the end the submissions will not contain the quality desirable for this kind of process.

But the head of Development Studies at the University of the South Pacific, Professor Vijay Naidu, says political parties which have survived the coup and NGOs are standing up well to the challenges they are facing.

He says the constitution debate is an important testing ground for political parties' very survival and they can come up with strategies to deal with the so-called non-negotiables.

The current government is actively discrediting the older politicians and political leaders, urging them to face up to the fact that this is a new Fiji. There is a tension but it doesn't mean at all that the political parties themselves have been undermined in terms of their capability and mobilising their supporters.

Professor Naidu says he's encouraged by fresh faces coming forward.

One of the sad things about our politics in Fiji is that it has been dominated by men and mostly with perhaps one foot in the grave. Young people and women have generally been denied positions in decision making and I'm quite impressed by a group of young people who have emerged and are speaking on issues.

One fresh face is that of Nayagodamu Korovou, whose National Youth Party is keen to see Fiji's military continuing to play an important role post elections.

He says the party aims for a multi-racial Fiji, focusing on improving education, reducing unemployment and the cost of living but with the commander of Fiji's military as the country's Vice-President.

We want them to be involved in everything (to do with) the development of this country. They play a very important role in the security of this nation, since we want to move into getting people to be (as) one. That is a very hard thing to do so we need security to be there.

Meanwhile as political parties await criteria for their registration, Professor Naidu says they should also be consulted about the registration process.