Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Un-neighbourly Neighbours

South Pacific neighbours, Fiji and NZ, are separated by just three hours of direct flight by Air Pacific or Air New Zealand. Not only that, the New Zealand High Commissioner's home is just next door to Commodore Frank Bainimarama's home on Sukuna Road in Suva, separated only by a fence and ignorance of each other's presence.

read more | digg story

Friday, December 26, 2008

Fiji: The limits of sanctions

The vexed question of what to do about Fiji is likely to be a high priority for policy makers in Canberra, Wellington, and Pacific Island capitals when they return from a brief Christmas break. Pacific Islands Forum leaders are due to meet in Port Moresby on 27 January to discuss their next move in relation to Fiji.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Driving Fiji toward China

Winston Peters didn’t make a spectacular early mess as ‘Foreign Minister’, then won over the apprehensive Foreign Affairies by largely following their briefs and capped that by establishing a helpful relationship with the US.

read more | digg story

Fiji and New Zealand engage in ‘Diplomatic Suicide

Tensions between Fiji and New Zealand boiled over Tuesday when both countries kicked out each other’s chief diplomats.

read more | digg story

John McCain Escapes To Sunny Fiji.

UNITED States Senator John McCain and his family jetted into the country at the weekend to spend Christmas.

read more | digg story

Friday, December 12, 2008

Australia P.M, Kevin Rudd- Stubs His Toe Over Tiny Fiji.

Lowy Institute blog "The Interpreter" latest posting reviews the recent Ministerial contact group meeting.

Fiji's Interim Prime Minister, generic response to the Contact Group meeting, as reported by Radio NZ article.

Fiji’s interim Prime Minister says interim government won’t be deterred

Posted at 22:04 on 12 December, 2008 UTC

Fiji’s interim Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama says the government won’t be deterred, no matter how cruel travel sanctions might be to the country’s poor, the young and the innocent.

Fiji Live reports Commodore Bainimarama said his Government would continue its agenda to bring peace, durable stability and progress to Fiji.

He says the sanctions have been harsh on Fiji, and have restricted the participation in Government from the pool of competent and non-political, and non-Military, people.

Commodore Bainimarama says as a result, the nation as a whole is suffering and his government’s efforts at service delivery and removal of corruption are being hindered.

New Zealand’s foreign minister Murray McCully and his Australian counterpart Stephen Smith said before this week’s meeting of the Forum Ministerial contact group, that the policies of their respective countries remain.


Undeniably, the pressure may seem to be focused on Fiji; however, the real centroid of pressure is on the shoulders of both Trans-Tasman countries, whose leaders fear being viewed by their foreign counterparts; as pathetic and incompetent for their inability to corral tiny Fiji, in to their watering hole.

Fueled by the stigma of the Peter Principle, Rudd's frustration with Fiji, was buttressed by the disappointing outcome of the much hyped South Pacific Forum, Ministerial Contact Group meeting in Suva.



Rudd tells Fiji - get democratic

SMH-December 12, 2008 - 1:59PM

Further action will be taken as needed to press Fiji to return to democracy, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says.

Mr Rudd said Australia had taken a hard diplomatic line while Pacific Forum leaders made an unprecedented strong statement condemning Fiji at a meeting in Niue earlier this year.

He said their position had not changed.

"Subject to recent advice from the foreign minister you will see further action from Pacific Island forum countries on this matter in the period ahead," he told reporters.

"This government takes democracy in Pacific island countries seriously. It is not optional. It is what we do on in our part of the world."

Mr Rudd said Australia would not stand idly by.

"We have taken a hard diplomatic line on this. Further action as necessary will be taken," he said.

A delegation of Pacific dignitaries, including Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, on Thursday met Commodore Frank Bainimarama who has ruled Fiji since a bloodless coup in December 2006 that ousted then prime minister Laisenia Qarase.

Bainimarama last year promised to return his country to democratic rule by the end of March 2009.

© 2008 AAP


While Australia's Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was so eager to talk about democracy in Fiji, as if he or his Government was the sole judge of it in the region. One ageless quote from US President Teddy Roosevelt's 1901 speech comes to mind and the quote also used by 2008 Presidential candidate, John McCain:

“Speak softly and carry a big stick — you will go far.”

What Rudd had failed to comprehend, was that the diplomatic hard line against the Interim Government of Fiji, is analogous to; speaking loudly, whilst carrying a twig.

"This government takes democracy in Pacific island countries seriously. It is not optional. It is what we do on in our part of the world."

It is beyond a doubt, that Rudd has obfuscated the definition of democracy and the Australian Government has repeatedly demonstrated regional hegemony towards Fiji; it will be no surprise that Rudd will face the same disdain in the region like his predecessor, John Howard.

While Rudd, conveniently raised the issue of free media in Fiji, it is rather ironic to learn that Australia is proposing a national Internet filter. It is certainly appearing that, domestic resistance to the Rudd's Government Internet filtering proposal, is building exponentially; and if that trend continues unabated, the concern of Fiji's lethargic path to democracy, will be the very least of Rudd's problems.

Global Voices blogger, John Liebhardht's posting examines the heated reactions to the issue of filtering, in Australia's segment of the blogosphere.


It seems that in both the Internet filtering issue and Fiji's progress to democracy have a common thread, which is the double speak of the Australian PM.

Spiked-Online reviews the debate leading up to the proposal:
To oversimplify it somewhat, the Rudd government’s proposal is so broad that the only way in which it could be deployed would be along the lines of crude keyword/image filters used by countries such as China, Iran and Turkey.


Mandatory Internet Filtering explained on Channel 9 (posted below)









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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Throw The First Stone- Fiji's Beta Democracy.

The new US Ambassador, Steve McGann has been recently vocal about the status of democracy and in a Fiji Daily Post article said that Fiji was becoming increasingly isolated from the international community.

The excerpt of FDP aritcle:


US calling for early election
6-Dec-2008 09:49 AM

FIJI has become increasingly isolated from international community and its Pacific neighbours as foreign assistance to vital sectors is in doubt and the economic outlook remains uncertain.

These were the sentiments of US ambassador Steve McGann as Fiji commemorated the second anniversary of the military overthrow in 2006.

According to McGann, the United States Government has repeatedly condemned the military takeover and restated its call for the rapid restoration of a democratically elected government. “The interim Government has had sufficient time to announce an election date and make the appropriate preparations.”

McGann said the United States stands with the Pacific Islands Forum and other international partners calling for a timely return to democracy in Fiji in 2009.

“On the second anniversary of the coup, we call on the Interim Administration to hold elections and return Fiji to democratic governance without further delay,” he said.

McGann was present at the launching of the fund and Movement for Democracy in Fiji (MDF) held at the Fijian Teachers Association Hall yesterday.

What is at question, is the integrity of McGann to comment about human rights issues, being a representative of a state that is presently, abusing International Law.

Fiji Times article also quotes McGann. The excerpt of the FT article:


Democracy a must in protecting human rights
Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Update: 11:52AM The United States Ambassador Steven McGann says democracy is the only form of government capable of securing and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms over the long term.

Mr McGann was making his address on the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and International Human Rights Day, today.

He said the human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the UDHR are endowed at birth to all human beings.

"If the great promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is to be fulfilled, the international community and especially the world's democracies, cannot accept that any people in the world are condemned to live without dignity or under tyranny," he said.

"Democracy is a system of government of, by and for the people, based on the principle that human beings have the inherent right to shape their own future.

"But we humans are flawed creatures and therefore there must be built-in correctives and counterweights to democratic government, such as a robust civil society, a vibrant free media, a legislature and judiciary independent of the executive power, and a well established rule of law."


One should be reminded of the disastrous US track record of democracy and the rule of law, in the context of extraordinary rendition.

National Public Radio (NPR) web article describes one interesting case, that will be heard in a Federal Appeals court in New York, outlines the depravity and multitude of offenses carried out by the US Government agencies under the auspice of 'national security'.

The excerpt of the NPR article:



Court Weighs 'Extraordinary Rendition' Case
by Dina Temple-Raston
All Things Considered, December 9, 2008·


A federal appeals court in New York heard arguments Tuesday in the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was flown from the U.S. to Syria for interrogation in a case of "extraordinary rendition."

Arar wants to sue the U.S. government for violating his constitutional right to due process — something he has not been permitted to do thus far because the Bush administration has said to do so would imperil national security.

The facts of the case are not in dispute. In 2002, U.S. authorities detained Arar at John F. Kennedy airport in New York. He was suspected of terrorism ties and was sent to Syria for interrogation. Arar spent 10 months there in a cell he called the "grave." He says he was tortured.

Eventually, Arar was allowed to return to Canada and a Canadian commission cleared him of all charges. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has even said mistakes were made in Arar's case.

National Security Grounds

In court Tuesday, one of the 12 appeals court judges present grilled government attorney Jonathan Cohn on the government's national security contention.

"So the minute the executive raises the specter of foreign policy, national security, it is the government's position that is a license to torture anyone?" Judge Sonia Sotomayor said. "License meaning you can do so without any financial consequence. That's your position?"

"No. That is not our position," Cohn countered. "That is emphatically not our position."

Cohn said he thought the court should wait until Congress acted and found a new way to address these kinds of cases so that they could be tried but still protect national security interests. This was not a normal case, he said, because state secrets were at its root.

So far, two courts have blocked Arar's case from being heard, siding with the Bush administration that it could unintentionally reveal things that would hurt national security. That's why Tuesday's hearing was important and why all 12 judges on the court heard the arguments.

Something Fundamental At Stake

Maria LaHood of the Center for Constitutional Rights argued on behalf of Arar. She said the judges were weighing something fundamental. "What's at stake is whether our courts will uphold the law," LaHood said. "Whether they will say that, 'Yes, we will enforce the laws against torture in this country, we will enforce the laws that permit people to come into court, and we will uphold human rights.'"

While this was Arar's big day in court, he couldn't attend the hearing because he is still on a no-fly list and can't come to the United States.

Arar told NPR's Morning Edition that he was pursuing the case because no U.S. officials had been held to account for violating his human rights. "This needs to stop," he said. "Not only is it destroying the lives of innocent people, but it's not doing any good to the image of the United States."

It is unclear when the judges are expected to rule on his case.


New York Times article
Washington Independent article.
Globe and Mail article

Another shocker of a story covered by Press TV article, reports that an Italian court has suspended the trial of 25 CIA agents, allegedly involved in the act.

The excerpt of the Press TV article:


Italy to delay trial of CIA agents
Wed, 03 Dec 2008 19:26:05 GMT


Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia: A total of 25 agency operatives participated in the kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric.
Italy will delay the trial of 25 CIA agents and a US air force colonel involved in the 2003 kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric in Milan.

ASNA news agency reported Wednesday that an Italian judge had ruled for the trial of the kidnapping suspects to be delayed until May 18. Osama Mustafa Hassan, better known as Abu Omar, was snatched from a Milan street on February 17, 2003, in an "extraordinary rendition" operation coordinated between the CIA and Italian military intelligence.

The Egyptian cleric was then flown to his home country and was held in a high-security prison outside Cairo, where he says he was tortured. The case against the 26 Americans would be the first criminal trial in Europe over the secret US "extraordinary rendition".

The Italian government has rejected a request by Milan prosecutors to seek the extradition of the CIA agents and US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Romano.

Among the CIA agents awaiting trial are former CIA Milan station chief Robert Seldon Lady and Rome CIA Station chief Jeffery Castelli.

Another shrill for the hybrid democracy in Fiji, whose opinion article which was published in the Fiji Times, had the tone of selective amnesia.

Kotoisuva's article contained some interesting points, that don't' exactly square with the facts brought about by the victims of extraordinary rendition. Among these points are:

  • Human rights are international norms generally accepted as inherent in each person by virtue of their humanity. These norms help protect people everywhere from severe political, legal, and social abuses.
  • Examples of human rights are the right to freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial, the right not to be tortured and the right to engage in political activity (civil and political rights collectively).
  • These principles govern how the State and executive bodies relate to the citizens and how citizens relate to each other. You cannot compromise some rights for the achievement of others. Social, economic and cultural rights cannot exist without civil and political rights.

Sadly, it is now accepted worldwide that these egalitarian nations, who frequently preach about democratic principles are often the greatest abusers. Perhap's McGann's comment was selective to ignore US role in rendition and their subsequent isolation and ridicule for grand hypocrisy.

Kotoisuva's opening sentence:

WE live in a time when rhetoric is confused with action, and political semantics
confused with genuine achievements.

therefore holds true for the criminal actions perpetrated by the US and EU.










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Friday, December 05, 2008

Two Sides Of Every Coin-Fiji 2 Years After.

Two years down the road, Fiji is still moving towards democracy. Albeit, a work in progress for some. While democracy may be the ultimate objective, the debate in Fiji is how to get there and when.

Sadly, there have been the usual chorus of displeasure, from the proponents of instant gratification democracy. Among those, is the Fiji Times Editor; whose Editorial of Dec. 5th 2008 had no new ideas to propose, just more of the same whining.

The Fiji Times Editor, Netani Rika was also interviewed by Fiji TV regarding the relationship between Fiji's media and the Interim Government.

video

Rika, displaying his usual miscreance; downplayed the errors of the media and pointed fingers at the Interim Government's policies, like a person with an axe to grind. Not surprising for a person, awaiting the decision on contempt of court charges.

On the other hand, the Richard Naidu, Fiji Broadcasting Corporation's News Director was more objective and impartial.


The title of Fiji Sun's Editorial of Dec. 5th 2008, was a truculent at worst. At best, it was almost as if the publication was praying for a disaster and those opinions were almost equivalent to the ramblings of the Fiji Times editorial.
Both Editorials appear to echo the sentiments in several blogs, almost word for word.

The excerpt of Fiji Sun editorial:

We look forward to more bad news


Two years ago from today the nation awoke to a military regime. What will we find when we awake on the same day two years from now - December 6, 2010? The answer, unfortunately, seems to be: much the same and possibly even worse. There was a lot of hope on that day two years ago even though there was also widespread apprehension concerning the overthrow at gunpoint of an elected government. Corruption was to end once and for all. It hasn’t and probably never will.

There was finally to be transparency, accountability and good governance in the state of Fiji. There is if anything less of all three than there previously was. No member of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces was to benefit from this coup. They all have or are about to. We will produce incontrovertible evidence of corruption in the Qarase regime and we will produce it next week.

Two years on we are still waiting and probably will be two years from today. We will hold an auction of government vehicles. Where are those vehicles today and what condition are they in? And, of course, we will return the nation to democratic rule through an election no later than March 2009 and the military will accept the outcome no matter what. It is not going to happen.

The list could continue. But as the abandoned pledges mount, the military regime and its puppet cabinet have seen their support level plummet as even ardent coup supporters have turned away. The blatant overspending by the military and its shameless 2009 budget allocation at the expense of the service ministries have left the nation in shock. The draft People’s Charter “consultation” process has been a charade from the start and will not be taken seriously either at home or abroad.

The military and the interim government have made it abundantly clear that they neither need nor fear public opinion. They are in power, they have the guns and they ain’t moving. Their business class travels take them all over the globe in luxury hotels while the people they purport to serve and protect suffer as the national economy stumbles towards crisis.

And only yesterday what is tantamount to an admission of error in the removal of the then chief justice Daniel Fatiaki has cost those same suffering people a cool $275,000 - plus legal fees, of course. This has been a coup quite unlike those before it. The military is here to stay and its People’s Charter confirms that. Increasingly we see the signs of a divided nation - the newspeak of the National Council for Building a Better Fiji notwithstanding.

We have a sullen majority suffering in comparative silence while the overlords and their hangers-on have it all their own way. So, again, what will have changed two years from now? Very little, we fear. Who will ever be able to persuade the military to confront the fact that it has made a woeful mess of running the nation? No-one, we fear.

Will Fiji have even some semblance of an election before December 6, 2010? Not likely, we fear. Those who can are leaving while those who can’t shrug and get on with their lives as best they can. We have come a long way in the wrong direction since those glowing promises of December 6, 2006. In “moving the country forward” we have gone many miles backwards. Fiji did not deserve this.


However, the Pacific Beat's program- On the Mat,
Pacific Beat- On the Mat program, special edition (MP3) also reviewed the 2nd anniversary of Fiji's 2006 coup. Surprisingly, the On the Mat episode, did not paint a broad brush of negativity; which was used liberally by the Editorials of both publications.


Fiji TV news segment also reviewed the 2006 events. Video posted below.


video


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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A Beta-Democracy-Fiji's Great Awakening?

In a follow up to an earlier post, titled Old politics of Ethnicity In Fiji & & The Gauge of Democracy, it appears that a sense of change has now become a reality to most Taukei of the common stock; after a segment of chiefs publicly announced their boycott of the Interim Government's proposed meeting, as reported in a Fiji Times (FT) article.

The excerpt of the FT article:

Chiefs back boycott
By Sakiasi Nawaikama on Kadavu
Friday, November 28, 2008

THE Bose Vanua (provincial chiefs council) of Kadavu has agreed to support the call by the paramount chief of Burebasaga to boycott the Bose ni Turaga (traditional leaders meeting) convened for next month by the interim Government.

The stand by the Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Teimumu Kepa, was conveyed to the Kadavu Provincial Council on Wednesday night.

Ro Teimumu said earlier the Bose ni Turaga was unlawful and only a Bose Levu Vakaturaga (Great Council of Chiefs) could be called. The Burebasaga Confederacy recognises the BLV as the lawful and legislated body.

Yesterday, Ro Teimumu declined to comment on Kadavu's support and her call for a boycott.

The Kadavu Bose Vanua was told People's Charter teams that visited were accepted in the traditional manner but were told they stood by the resolve of the province and wouldn't accept the charter.

The meeting was told by a chief 80 per cent accepted the charter and he had no choice but to follow the will of his people. Another chief suggested the province review its stance and support the charter in the hope for a better future.

Tui Tavuki Ratu Narokete Waqanivavalgi, told the meeting that contrary to popular belief promoted by the NCBBF, he did not accept the charter. He said they accommodated NCBBF and government reps and stressed the province did not support the charter. He told the Bose Vanua this was misconstrued when the team returned to Suva.

Former Bose Vanua chairman Ratu Josateki Nawalowalo said on Wednesday the province should unite and support the Government through the charter process.

Bose Vanua chairman Ratu Varani Rayawa said he feared the charter would do more harm than good because it divided the province.

After this series of civil disobedience by the Chiefs, it would appear that a great democratic awakening has occurred among the indigenous populace, considering a recent letter to the editor by Koli Korovulavula, which was published by The Fiji Times.

The excerpt of FT Letter to the Editor:



Chiefs and democracy

There are provinces that will not support the interim Government. Some have gone so far as to forbid individuals from attending the Bose ni Turaga.

What will happen to the people who go anyway? Will these people be ostracised? Can the chiefs throw them out of their own land?

Legally, land is owned by mataqali, not by chiefs. But there is one even more intriguing question: Why is there a need for chiefs to meet about a return to democracy when their very existence goes against the ideals of democracy?

Do we want democracy and peace? Do we want economic progress?

Do we want chiefs, protocols, heritage, traditions, religion or eternity? Do we want multi-racialism, better land use, qoliqoli rights and total land rights?

Past governments tried to achieve co-existence for some or even all the above wants. But we have to start with needs first if we are to move anywhere.

I hope that one day any child of this nation, without fear of being ridiculed for a lack of blue blood, can lay a legitimate claim to our highest office through achievement, loyalty, dignity and merit.

Until then, the Fijian commoner remains a discriminated soul in his or her own land.

KOLI KOROVULAVULA
Nabua
In a Fiji Live article, which covered the Naitasiri Chief's demand for an apology; also contained comments from readers, who were profoundly against the chief's righteous indignation; while a few posters demanded their own apologies from the layer of chiefs who supported the 1987, 2000 coups and for the ripples of problems emanating from those events.

Excerpts of comments from the Fiji Live article:

Posted Comments
Posted By: david1005143 Posted On: Dec 02 2008
22:11:41

Comment: I think the chiefs should apologise to the people of Fiji for losing focus, sense of direction, corruption, and being counter productive. The monarchy has changed in England, how about you guys?

Posted By: brij Posted On: Dec 03 2008 00:18:40
Comment: People who want to invest in Fiji think twice when chiefs get involved in politics and government. Please let the commander do his job.

Posted By: Ula Nejad Posted On: Dec 03 2008 11:29:41
Comment: I agree that chiefs should apologise to the citizens of Fiji for their lack of integrity. Frank should let the chiefs know that he will explain himself at the meeting. That is as a military man he will stand by his regime as a native son of Fiji he will look to his excellency the President and chief to apologise to the people and chiefs alike when the time is appropriate. Nothing the chiefs can say now will have any effect. It seems they have lost their mana. They have to modernise the chiefly system if they have to stay alive. End of story.

Posted By: rommel Posted On: Dec 03 2008 01:12:00
Comment: This chief has the lunacy to lead their people, who continue to follow the trail of tears; which have left them disenfranchised and perpetually enslaved in poverty. It is without a doubt that most high chiefs (who attempt to keep their relevance in the socio-political arena without the mandate of the multi-racial society) are outdated in this era of high speed internet and 3G cell phones.
If they continue to demand respect without reciprocity, this will be the opening circle of their death spiral. The modern Taukei will move on with the times and will embrace change in technology, social progress and governance; with or without these chiefs. Lead, follow or just get out of the way.

Posted By: Temo Posted On: Dec 03 2008 01:49:54
Comment: Apologise for what? How about the chiefs apologising for the 1987 and 2000 coups ... hypocrisy!

Posted By: Ratu Kulati Posted On: Dec 03 2008 03:21:49
Comment: The days of our chiefly system are over. Would someone please wake up some of our stone aged chiefs from their deep slumber? Ratu Inoke, please join in the discussion or be left behind. It makes no difference to Bainimarama. He will achieve his objective with or without you.

Posted By: Jone Posted On: Dec 03 2008 03:25:06
Comment: Can we move the country forward without some of our disgruntled chiefs? I'm generally thinking what have they contributed to our country? Some have really been good role models to our nation/community. To the honourable chiefs, we as a country needs to move forward. We must make a choice in this 21st century we are living in, and I propose that the traditional chiefly system needs to be reviewed and probably reformed by the IG if they are to be part of the future arm of government. What would be the acceptable role of tradition in modern society?

Posted By: kradoak Posted On: Dec 03 2008 03:32:18
Comment: Fijian chiefs need to choose between democracy and the traditional Fijian autocracy. They cannot have both. Bainimarama does not owe an apology to the chiefs. It is the chiefs who owe apologies to the citizens of Fiji for letting them down.


Another interesting take on Fiji's politics was published in a blog from East-West center forum.

The excerpt:

The politics of constitutionalism in Fiji
Author: Scott MacWilliam

While much attention focuses on the legal principles involved in the 2008 High Court decision in Fiji, less public notice is directed at the 1997 Constitution and some of the laws which have flowed from this document. Lawyers in particular have a long history of regarding upholding the rule of law as an almost sacred principle, regardless of whether a law or Constitution is meritorious by other principles, such as whether the law is just or the Constitution democratic.

Nor are those who defend the rule of law always aware that for others, legalism can form the basis for a political strategy in support of unjust and/or undemocratic laws. This strategy is currently being pressed by the former government and its supporters, in Fiji and overseas. People who are anxious to resolve the current impasse in Fiji need to be wary of lending support to a Constitution and associated laws which do not form the basis for a just or democratic settlement.

In the case of the 1997 Fiji Constitution, there is sound reason for arguing that it is undemocratic and that the laws which follow from the Constitution should be subject to more scrutiny and less respect than it and they are sometimes given. The outcome of the Constitution-making process, whatever the intentions of the people who formulated the initial document, is a decidedly undemocratic framework for a modern society such as Fiji.

The basis of this conclusion rests on the following points:

a) Contrary to claims that the Constitution received widespread popular support in Fiji before being adopted, it did not. Little more than ruling elite opinion was ever sought by the Constitution drafters and the final document was a compromise among the parliamentary representatives of this elite.

b) Under the Constitution, the President is not an elected office-bearer but appointed.

c) The Great Council of Chiefs, which at best only claims to represent one part of the national population (ethnic Fijians), is not elected yet wields inordinate power, including in the appointment of the President. The widely-held view, including among many of those whom the GCC purports to represent, is that much of the membership of this body is less than august: one popular description of the GCC is `Great Council of Thieves’.

d) The Senate, or upper house of the Parliament, is not directly elected, but again appointed, consisting mainly of party loyalists chosen with little or no attempt made to gauge if they have any substantial popular support.

e) The lower House of Parliament, where the Government is formed, is elected on an electoral system which is grossly malapportioned toward the rural areas. A vote in some seats is worth many times what a vote is worth in others. That is, whether formed by an ethnic-Fijian led party or an Indo-Fijian led party, the government does not necessarily represent the views of the majority of the people as a result of holding the majority of seats from electorates which conform to anything near the one-vote one-value democratic principle. Fiji general elections are even worse in this respect than Australian Federal elections were until the 1974 reform in this country.

In short, defenders of the 1997 Constitution and laws which flow from it are arguing that a democracy which would not be acceptable to constitutionalists in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere should be upheld in Fiji. There is more than a slight degree of hypocrisy involved when it is suggested by implication that such `thin’ democracy is good enough for Fijians.

Instead of resorting to legalism as the basis for assessing the High Court decision, a political evaluation is required. The 1997 Constitution must be democratised, to move Fiji beyond being the thinnest of thin democracies Yet neither the ousted Laisenia Qarase-led government nor one led by any other party or party coalition elected on the existing electoral boundaries can be trusted to make the necessary reforms. While the capacity for reform may not lie with the military either, for the moment they hold the most important power and must be negotiated with, not treated as pariahs. It is to be hoped that political change in Australia and New Zealand will stimulate negotiations devoid of the moralistic and patronising preaching which has characterised much of both governments’ positions so far.

How soon political advance along these lines will occur depends to a certain extent, however, on whether the lawyers and some politicians have their way and the High Court decision is appealed. If this is done, it is highly likely that the military government in Fiji will become more and more intractable. It is to be hoped that instead of listening to the devotees of the rule of law principle, that the Australian, New Zealand and other governments recognise what is the central political as well as legal dilemma. How to reform a constitution by unconstitutional, deeply political means is the task which lies in front of all the parties.













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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Helen Clark's Political Demise- A Paradigm Shift For Kiwi Voters?


In a Fiji Times aritcle, T.R. Singh's analyzes the results from the 2008 New Zealand elections and describes how Helen Clark's ultimate election defeat, was a by-product of her sophmoric name-calling and the seismic shift of the East Indian electorate from Labour to the National party.


Notwithstanding the scorn developed from the not so smart-sanctions directed at the touring Fiji Soccer team, blurring the line between sports and politics; which inextricably morphed the once lovable Aunty Helen, into the wicked witch of the South.
Frank Bainimaram's call to ex-Fiji residents to vote Aunty Helen out, was the coup-de-grace; along with the ripple effects of the global credit crunch cum recession.



The curse of Bainimarama


By Thankur Ranjit Singh
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

T here is little love lost between former NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark and Fiji's Interim Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama.

Relations between the once friendly neighbours descended to all time low and called each other names like school kids. The sort of things Helen Clark called Bainimarama also hurt a large section of Fijians and Indo Fijians, if feedback from local ethnic station, Radio Tarana is anything to go by.



While all the niceties about democracy is well and good, the situation in Fiji has been complicated, and leadership in New Zealand was not prepared to appreciate the homegrown problems and complications that did not have clear cut answers.

The past elections in Fiji gave all the indications of a fully fledged democracy, but the aristocratic and ascribed chiefly system determined the winners, more often than not on a racially divisive politics where the Methodist Church also played a crucial part.

While all are jumping on the bandwagon to see elections in Fiji after USA and now, New Zealand elections, many supporters of democracy in Fiji wish to overlook the fact that elections by themselves do not deliver democracy.

This has been so in Fiji, where despite the catch-word of elections, Fiji had been quite far from a model of democracy that NZ and Australia thought it was during the past, supposedly democratic regime under Qarase.

To remove the pseudo democracy, Frank Baini-marama took an unprecedented action to charter a better future for Fiji which the shades and mirages of democracy could not deliver. The bad blood between Clark and Bainimarama appeared to have started when Helen Clark tried to become the peacemaker between Qarase and Baini-marama in Wellington in late 2006, and was very confident of reaching a solution.

However when Bainima-rama was meeting NZ delegation in Wellington, it is alleged certain diplomats were trying to urge the military to overthrow and arrest him when he returned.

Of course the peace deal never held, and Qarase was unceremoniously removed.

Many are of the view that Helen Clark's failure to tame Bainimarama has been the main course of her and her government's animosity towards Fiji.

It went to the extent that those wishing to enter NZ have to fill a form saying that they are not related to Bainimarama or any military personnel.

Of course we know what a farce it was as many people bumped into spouses and siblings of soldiers which comprised the netball team that played in New Zealand recently.

But it was poor Fiji soccer goalkeeper Tamanisau who paid the price for telling the truth and loving a soldier's daughter. He was denied a visa because his military father in law (apparently father of fiancÚe) was outlawed by NZ authorities.

In fact it was New Zealand which suffered the scorn of world soccer body FIFA and paid a heavier price of losing the right to host the games in NZ. Many Kiwis viewed this immigration requirement a vindictive action and saw it as a nonsensical requirement, unprecedented in NZ history.

The bad blood between the two leaders went to such an extent that Bainimarama last month called on Fijians and Indo Fijian voters through Radio Tarana in Auckland to oust Helen Clark in the election. Bainimarama is reported as saying that Helen Clark wished to be Queen of the Pacific and there was nothing worse for Fiji than her.

Of course my personal analysis and other indications had shown that there has been a dramatic shift of Indo Fijians from the NZ Labour Party which they worshipped during David Lange's tenor.

While Fiji's Daily Post newspaper, in an erroneous editorial slated Bainimarama for his call, and called him to be more courteous in international diplomacy, it ignored all the names Clark had called Bainimarama.

The paper also amplified its ignorance by quoting wrong statistics that Indo Fijians only comprised some 6000 voters, hence were no political force here. The Indian population in NZ exceeds 104,000 with some half of them being Indo Fijians.

Now, coming to the call from Bainimarama, did it really have an effect on Fijian voters?

While people were in a mood for change, my analysis shows that there has been a swing away from Labour, and you need not be a rocket scientist to determine that.

In Helen Clark's Mt Albert electorate, she polled 65 per cent of votes in 2005 election while this went down to 42 per cent in the election held this month. a drop of almost one third.

That shows that her personal preference with the voters has degenerated dramatically.

On the other hand National Party's electorate votes jumped from 19 to 36 per cent, showing a shift. With some 2800 fewer people voting this year, Clark's personal majority was reduced by just over 6000 votes, showing a clear shift of her personal voters of the past years.

However percentage of party votes in her constituency went up by four per cent showing that while people there have preference for Labour party, their personal preference for her went down decisively.

In other electorates of important Labour ministers, the results were inversely related to that of Clark.

There was marginal reduction in personal preferences while the preference for the party showed greater shift away from Labour to National.

The trend in the new Labour leader, Phil Goff's Mt Roskill electorate was with three per cent reduction in personal votes with seven per cent drop in party votes.

Similar margin and trend was also seen in David Cunliffe's New Lynn Electorate.

However, Chris Carter in my electorate of Te Atatu showed a greater margin of shift in party votes which went down by some 12 per cent while Carter personally was seen as a popular candidate.

What happens in such cases is that while voters tend to vote for their popular candidates for electoral votes, the larger chunk of Party votes went to National.

Similar trend in other electorates was what spelt disaster for Labour and a decisive win for the National Party.

People in Fiji and elsewhere need to appreciate that in New Zealand, we give two votes, one to the candidate in the constituency (they call it electorate here) and the other to the party.

Of 122 seats in NZ Parliament, only 70 are contested. The other 52 are given to list candidates depending on the percentage of party votes.

This system is well geared to Fiji and I will explain this in greater detail some other time, and show how ignorant politicians are hoodwinking Fiji people about the proposed change in the electoral system.

Can they explain how come NZ, with a population of over four million has two Indians in its Parliament?

Rotumans and for that matter Indo Fijians and other minorities have nothing to fear from the proposed changes which reflects the system that NZ has.

From migrants point of view, while treatment towards and relations with Fiji may have had marginal and even questionable effect on the voter preference, the biggest issues that determined voter preferences hinged on soft stance of Labour on law and order situation, the soft stance on dole bludgers and the nurturing of a welfare state and lack of encouragement and support for New Zealand's engine room, the small businesses.

In an economic slump, it appeared people banked on a self-made millionaire, John Key, to rescue the country from its economic crisis.

It is hoped the National government and its partners can live up to the hope people had placed on John Key who had been passed on as a relatively rookie party leader and politician.

Whether Bainimarama's call contributed to shift in voters is still questionable and debatable, but it is hoped the National-led government will take a more matured stance towards an important neighbour and engage Fiji in fruitful discussion to resolve its political impasse.

John Key has surprised all by brokering a politically expedient and nation-uniting gesture in bringing diametrically opposed Rodney Hide's ACT and Peter Sharples Maori Party in his fold. It is hoped Key will nurture and promote a similar conciliatory acumen towards Fiji which the Labour Government failed to achieve.

* Thakur Ranjit Singh is an Auckland-based third generation Indo Fijian migrant community worker, a commentator on Fiji affairs and a human rights activist.




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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Old Politics of Ethnicity In Fiji & The Gauge of Democracy.

Fiji Sun's Political Columnist, Maika Bolatiki has resumed the act of stoking the flames of ethnicity, coupled with the re-gifting of old fear politics; by sensationalizing native Fijian issues, in his recent piece.

The excerpt of the Bolatiki's article:

The fear of the Fijian people

11/19/2008


The power of the Indigenous Affairs Minister to overturn appointments made by the provincial councils is totally against the voice of the Fijian people.
We know that with the current interpretation of the Fijian Affairs Act by the interim government, the provincial council is an arm of the government.

We also know that the provincial council is where the voice of the Fijian people representing their districts is heard.

Now the government is in total control of all the provincial councils in Fiji.

With the reforms in the Fijian institutions, Fijians feel that their rights are under siege.

Former Vice President Turaga na Roko Tui Bau Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi in delivering the keynote address at the Fijian Teachers Association annual general meeting this year said: “There is a feeling among many Fijians that their rights as indigenous peoples are under siege.

Whether by the marginalisation of their elected representatives and preferred political party, the reversal of affirmative action programmes, arbitrary changes to Fijian institutions such as the Bose Levu Vakaturaga and the perceived targeting of the Fijian elite: ‘something is rotten in the state of Denmark,’ to quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. “

We know of the power conferred on the Minister for Indigenous Affairs in the new Fijian Affairs (Great Council of Chiefs) Regulations 2008.

And this new regulation will create more crises for the high Fijian institution.

This will be in regard to the appointment of its membership.

According to section 3 (5) of the new Regulations: “The Minister shall be the chairperson of the council.”

Section 3 (1) (a), (b), (c) and (d) deal with membership.

This particular section confers overall power of appointment on the Minister for Fijian Affairs.

S3 (1) (b) states: “the 42 persons who are prescribed by regulations 2 (b) of the Composition Regulations to be members representing the chiefs of the 14 provinces shall comprise of three chiefs from each of the 14 provinces, each of whom shall have demonstrated exemplary leadership in vanua and in the community at large, and shall be appointed by the minister.”

Section 6 deals with the disqualification of members.

It states: “A person shall not be eligible to be appointed as a member of the council under regulation (3) (1)


(b), (c) or (d) if the person: -

(a) is an undischarged bankrupt;

(b) is under a sentence of imprisonment (by whatever name called);

(c) has, within the 10 years immediately proceeding his appointment -

(i) been released from prison after serving a term of imprisonment of
more than six months, whether as an inmate or extra mural prisoner; or

(ii) completed serving/performing a community service order;

(d) has at any time during the immediately preceding 7 years, been,

(i) a member of the House of Representative (s); or

(ii) a Senator other than a Senator nominated from the Great Council of Chiefs;

(e) is the holder of a public office;

(f) has at any time during the immediately preceding 7 years been -

(i) a candidate for election to the House of
Representative; or

(ii)
an office bearer of a political party;


(g) is a person of unsound mind within the meaning of the Mental
Treatment Act (Cap 113); or

(h) is by virtue of his own act under any
acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a power or State outside Fiji, including being a citizen or resident of another country.


The new regulations have given the power to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs to discipline any member.

This power is also applicable to the provincial council memberships.

On 25th May the Permanent Secretary for Indigenous Affairs, Meli Bainimarama wrote a letter to the Roko Tui Rewa in regard to the membership of the Rewa Provincial Council.

The content of the letter is as follows: “I wish to advise you that the Prime Minister and Minister for Indigenous Affairs has appointed the following to the Rewa Provincial Council under the provisions of Regulations 3 of the Fijian Affairs (Provincial Councils) Regulations:-

i) Urban Mata - Reg 3 (i) - Ro Etuate Mataitini, Taniela Vueta, Pita
Tagicakiverata

ii) Women Mata - Reg 3(i) (d) - Ro Elenoa C Gonelevu

iii) Youth Mata - Reg 3 (i) (e) - Etika Senico

iv) Other Members
- Reg 3 (i) (f) - Ro Epeli Mataitini, Ro Viliame Logavatu, Ro Dona Takalaiyale,
Temesia Nacolarara, Vilimoni Rasigatale, Naibuka Navunisaravi.


These appointments are for three (3) years effective from 17 April 2008.


The appointment of Ro Filipe Tuisawau one of the four (4) recommended Urban Mata has been withdrawn by the Minister and you will need to submit another name, should you wish to do so.”

Ro Filipe was appointed not only because of his chiefly status in the province but also because of his good educational background.

The people of Rewa had nominated him to be one of the representatives of the urban area. Now their voices are not heard. The young Rewa chief had been informed of this development and was very disappointed.

He has written to the Fiji Human Rights Commission.

In his letter to FHRC and attention to Maciu Ratumaimuri, Ro Filipe aired his disappointment on the withdrawal of his appointment to the Rewa Provincial Council.

In the letter he said:

"You will notice that no reason is given but it is a well known fact that he had publicly announced that he would sack me due to my role in Rewa’s opposition to the People’s Charter.

“His actions are a breach of the 1997 Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression and freedom to express one’s political beliefs. These values are also enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I have been victimised for expressing my beliefs.

“I hereby formally lodge this complaint to you to address the breach of my fundamental human rights and that I be reinstated as a full member of the Rewa Provincial Council.

I have the fullest confidence that you will address this serious breach.”

We hope the FHRC will look into this matter.



The Rewa Provincial Council is in the dark on the reason for the revocation of the appointment.

Deputy chairman Pita Tagicakiverata told Fijilive the council was formally told of Ro Filipe’s removal at its two-day meeting in Lomanikoro last week.

“Before the meeting, Ro Filipe had actually told me what happened but we really don’t know the reasons behind this move as nothing was stated,” said Mr Tagicakiverata.

“He has accepted the letter (from the Fijian Affairs Board), but we really don’t know why this was done.”

Ro Filipe has been a very strong critic of the People’s Charter. Is the withdrawal of his appointment a pay back for this?

He had been using his right to freedom of expression when criticising the charter.

Below is Dr Brij Lal’s comments on the issue.

“There is a great deal of anxiety among the Fijian people. As they see it,
everything has gone wrong for them. Their cherished institutions have been hobbled and marginalised, such as the Great Council of Chiefs. Institutions to which they looked up for leadership and guidance have now been disabled.

And what is particularly perplexing for them is that all this is being done
by an institution, the military, which was supposed to be the guardian of their interests. So the Fijian peoples’ sense of fear and anxiety and powerlessness is real - and understandable.

“There will be little argument that some, and not only Fijian, institutions need reform to bring them into line with modern thinking. But this should be done through sensitive handling and in cooperation with the people whose lives will be affected by the reforms. Commodore Bainimarama may mean well, but he is going about things the wrong way.

He seems to prefer monologue to dialogue. Instead of winning the hearts and minds of his people for his reforms, he has alienated them, pushed them into a corner, and hardened their resolve not to cooperate, leading them to adopt stances which, in the normal course of events, they might not. The prospect for genuine dialogue is thereby dimmed. Sullen silence is not consent.”


To be fair to Ro Filipe and those who appointed him, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs should give the reason why his appointment has been withdrawn.

The indigenous people have this fear with them - “their rights have been under siege”.


While another Opinon article written by Swami. K. Maharaj, that was published in The Fiji Times, noted how several Fiji politicians (past and present) were overly eager to praise the election of Barack Obama, yet fail to understand the dichotomy in their entrenched positions.


The excerpt of the article:


Obama, democracy and Fiji


SWANI K MAHARAJ

Fiji Times Wednesday, November 19, 2008




Barack Obama's victory in the US presidential elections has been hailed all over the world.

In Fiji, political leaders of all leanings have used the victory to make pointed remarks at the interim Government, for example, Fiji should learn a lesson from it and return to democratic rule, Fiji is languishing in the clutches of the military and should return to democratic rule.


Some say the US army did not go about trying to sway the people as the RFMF did
before the 2006 election and others have remarked that the US army has not
interfered with the result of a fair and free election.


Quite rightly, people see Obama's victory as the power of the ballot box, a realisation of a change desired by the collective will of the American people, a democratic and
civilised acceptance of the verdict of the people.

A seeming impossibility has been made possible -- America has an Afro-American president, after 140 years of painful co-existence.
The inhumanity perpetrated on slaves is well documented in literature and history, as is their struggle for human rights and dignity and for identity in the face of the ideology white supremacy.

There are many similarities between the history of the US and that of Fiji, as well as
many notable differences.The ancestors of Afro-Americans were brought to
America as slaves, creating a multi-ethnic society unacceptable to the white
population. Similarly, indentured labourers (a fancy name for semi slaves)
were brought to Fiji to make it a viable economic asset for the British
Crown. Although the indentured labourers suffered terrible injustice and
physical torture, it was not as bad or as prolonged as that of slaves in
America.


But the notable difference is that while Afro-Americans today are
equal citizens of America, Indo-Fijians are still unequal in terms of
fundamental and political enfranchisement.

A victory over prejudice Obama's presidential victory is not the victory of an Afro-American in politics but it is in reality a victory of white Americans over their white
supremacist ideology.


Essentially, it is a victory over their own prejudice based on the colour of skin and ethnicity. It is a victory over vested self-interest that had rationalised and utilised racial prejudice to achieve privileges and retain power.


The many leaders in Fiji, who with great agility have jumped on the bandwagon of the democratic US election, need to look at Obama's victory in that light.


They need to look very incisively at their own concepts of democracy.
They will find that rather than being advocates of true democracy and human rights in Fiji, they are in reality advocating quite the reverse of what America has achieved.

They are advocating ethnic hegemony, inherent inequality based on birth and ethnicity and the denial of equal political rights to all Fiji citizens.
The 2008 US election results has a number of implications for Fiji as well as for the conclusions we draw from it.


The United States is a truly democratic nation. Each citizen who
qualifies to vote has equal value for his or her vote, regardless of the voter's
country of origin, ethnicity or religion. Every American's (yes, they are all
called Americans) vote, whether the person is of Hispanic, African, Chinese or
Indian origin, has equal value.


Every American who is eligible, has the right to vote for the president, albeit it is an indirect vote through the electoral college. No group is denied this fundamental and democratic right on the basis of ethnicity or any other criteria.

The democracy of the supporters of democracy Leaders in Fiji need to look at this aspect honestly and sincerely. While it is easy to criticise the interim Government, it is particularly difficult to do a self analysis and ask why they demand a quick
return to democracy.


Also, it is important to analyse the word democracy. Can the leaders honestly say Fiji is a democracy as the USA is?

Consider that some powerful groups who openly and adamantly support certain political parties are demanding that Fiji be made a Christian country.
Is this an example of democratic ideology?How democratic is it to give affirmative economic assistance based solely on ethnicity and not on an assessment of poverty and merit?


Other so-called leaders are similarly blinkered. They represent a segment of the population which, on the basis of ethnicity, has no right to contest for the presidency or vice-presidency of Fiji. Over and above this injustice they do not have the right to vote for these two important posts.


Yet, their leaders are calling for the restoration of democracy. Amazing.
Obama, even if he had lost, was entitled to contest the US election. But do all the citizens of Fiji have this right?
Some of us cannot contest certain positions because of ethnicity while others are barred on the grounds of birth. Both these conditions are absolutely
undemocratic.


Certainly, those singing the praises of the democratic process in the US are blissfully innocent of the fact that the Fiji Constitution denies 95 per cent of the population the right to contest the post of president or VP.


Those who have been beating their chests and screaming for the Constitution and constitutionality of every minor political incident over the past two years need to take an honest look at these constitutional provisions. It is amazing how so many political players and our democratic international friends are completely blind to the inherently undemocratic constitutional provisions in the 1997 Constitution.

When the Americans went to vote this year they had a black man against a white man. But was this the theme of Senator MCain's election campaign, his speeches or publicity material?


No, but in Fiji, the election rhetoric focuses solely on my party, my race/ethnic group.
America's political parties are called Democrats and Republicans. But study the names of the majority of political parties in Fiji.

How democratic are the names?Why do these parties have such names? And if
the parties are so named and their target group so delineated, what is the implication for democracy in Fiji?

When Mahendra Chaudhry became Fiji's prime minister, the media carried comments of many people who did not want an "idol worshipper" as PM.
A prominent leader called for all segments of Fiji's population to be converted (the call is echoed frequently, even today).


I rebutted the two undemocratic and bigoted views through The Fiji Times.
Do such people understand democracy?Take the opposition to the Prople's Charter. How many argue that it is undemocratic because the government promoting it is 'illegal'.

But what about the contents of the Charter, such as:

  • The abolition of the politics of race?
  • Giving affirmative action based on need, not ethnicity which is used to create and sustain vote banks?
  • Removing from the national psyche the ethnicity based injustices.

These people need to look into their hearts and see what is obvious - they are
blocking the Charter simply out of fear - the fear that if the 'ordinary' citizens will admire the ideals in the Charter.

Consequently, the leaders will not be able to exploit the common people and win votes on the basis of racism. And this they call democracy?


This is farcical!It is also ironic that those calling most vehemently for democracy are actively dictating that villages should bar the Charter teams. For this purpose, they are using the power of heredity position or religious status.

Is this democracy?Is this not rather schizophrenic and contradictory?


True Support of Democracy


True democratic representation is by every party, and for all the citizens.
It cannot be based on the colonial hangover of ethnic group voting
which is the antithesis of democracy. It is absurd to say that candidates
representing certain groups - and winning elections on in-group identification and solidarity - will work for all the citizens of the country.

They will not. They will protect their vote bank - and in order to do so they will
create inter-ethnic distrust. Those who profess to be ardent advocates of
democracy should work towards the Interim Government's proposed electoral
changes.


Fijians are now 57 per cent of the population - a very clear majority, favourable to SDL. One assumes that SDL would therefore agree to the proposal of one person one vote. Therefore SDL's insistence on retaining communal based voting is indeed a matter of grave concern.

FLP supports these electoral changes but NFP doesn't. What possible reason can NFP have for opposing common roll which is a fundamental ideal of the party, and which would guarantee true democratic rights to their supporters?

General Electors should not have any objection in accepting the above proposal.
The International community should also support this initiative of adult human suffrage.
Or they should emulate Fiji's race based system and implement it in their own
countries to show that this is truly democratic system and acceptable to
them. Some urgent and useful measures for the future are:

  • Race based political parties should be banned.
  • A Race Relations Bill should be
    enacted.
  • Legislation must be enacted to forbid the use of ethnicity,
    religion or racism to manipulate voters.

Apartheid has long been abolished in South Africa, why are we prolonging it in Fiji?
Those who truly support democracy should in all honesty contribute to the Political Forum to achieve resolutions beneficial to all Fiji citizens - and not only for their own ethnic group or for political survival.


These narrow concepts should be surmounted because in the ultimate analysis they are detrimental to the common good. I would like to point out that Obama did not become president on the basis of any special political privileges such as being a member of a minority or a disadvantaged group.


True democracy is not achieved simply by voting - it is achieved by contesting as equals for human equality, dignity and justice.


Swani K Maharaj is the acting president of the Fiji Chamber of
Commerce.


The views are the writer's own.




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