Speculation Fiji’s military is considering forming political party
Former Fiji Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, says he doubts a new political party made up of members of the military regime, would attract much support among voters.
There’s increasing speculation in Fiji that members of the military will contest the elections planned for 2014.
Mr Qarase has told Pacific Beat he can’t see who would vote for them.
“I have a lot of doubts that a party dominated by the military hierarchy will get much support in this country because every aspect of life in Fiji has got worse so i don’t know where the support is going to come from,” he said.
Mr Qarase says anybody should be allowed to contest the general election, including military personnel, but in the mean time a civilian government should be put in place, in the run up to the vote.
Fiji concern over speculation of military political party
There’s increasing speculation in Fiji that members of the military regime are considering forming a political party to contest the promised 2014 election.
Former opposition leader, Mick Beddoes says if the speculation is true the members of the regime who are planning to stand in the election should they should leave their government posts in the lead up to the election.
Mr Beddoes has joined two other former leading politicians, Mahendra Chaudhry and Laisenia Qarase in calling for a fully civilian government to lead Fiji until 2014.
Speaker:Laisenia Qarase, former Fiji Prime Minister
QARASE: There have been strong rumours in the country that the military would be forming a political party, and that they would contest the 2014 elections.
COUTTS: Do you know where or what the source for the speculation is?
QARASE: All I know is that it is coming from within the regime as a reliable source, and apart from that I don’t know much else.
COUTTS: Have any member of the military regime come out and qualified whether that’s true or not? Has there been a response to the speculation?
QARASE: No not that I know of at this stage.
COUTTS: Do you know names, do you know who might be considering forming a political party made up of military personnel?
QARASE: No, not at this stage.
COUTTS: So do you think that it will happen?
QARASE: Under the current circumstances I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened. There is the mood I think within the regime to continue to run the country and if we are to have elections then of course they would want a political party, a new one, or else team up with somebody else.
COUTTS: Quite a few of the current government positions are staffed by military personnel, and the call is from Mick Beddoes that all that staff should leave those posts in the lead-up to the elections. Has that started to happen, is there any sign of that that might give credibility to this speculation?
QARASE: That is not happening at this stage, but I certainly endorse Mr Beddoes’ comment if the intention is to form a political party then they should start leaving the government. And somewhere along the line the regime should resign and install a civilian government with one mandate, and that mandate is to take the country to the elections.
COUTTS: And the current interim Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama has changed his mind a number of times. Shortly after the coup he said that people who had been in government weren’t going to be eligible to stand again, and that would include the current personnel and himself. He has since softened on that and said if the people want him of course he’ll run as prime minister. Do you know where he stands on that now because there’s been a bit of toing and froing on that issue as to whether people in current positions can stand?
QARASE: I think he has moved away from his original start position. Even people like me I think at the present time he seems to be saying that we can stand in the next election. But really nobody should be stopped from standing for a general election. There should be provision for qualifications for candidates in the constitution, whether the current constitution is used or there is a new one, there will always be qualification requirement. And if you are a citizen of Fiji and you qualify under those terms set out in the constitution, then nobody should be stopped from standing for election.
COUTTS: They’ve tried to make the claim that they’ve got to change the constitution because it has racist elements, but if there’s a whole party of military who would be made up of i-taaukei that’s sort of going back towards that racism that they’re trying to get rid of it, isn’t it? Or elitism for certain parts of the community?
QARASE: Well under the issue of racism I have always held the view that race is part and parcel of life. Nobody can remove race from any place. It is what God has given mankind, and the challenge for mankind is really to ensure that different ethnic communities live together in peace and prosperity. I think that we have overstated the issue of racism in this country to the point that a lot of people seem to believe that this is a very racist country. We are no better or no worse than any other country with multiracial elements within the community.
COUTTS: Like anywhere we know how much support a party is likely to get because of what they stand for. For instance the Greens we know, the environment and ally to the Labor Party and the various other parties that we have. What kind of a following and support do you think a new party made up of military personnel, how much support and what kind of support would it get?
QARASE: I have a lot of doubts that a party dominated by the military hierarchy will get much support in this country, judging from the reaction of people and what the military regime has done to this country because every aspect of life in Fiji has gone worse from what they were prior to the coup in 2006. So I don’t know where the support is going to come from. On the other hand the three main political parties, we are very confident of the support that we have from the general public, including military personnel.
COUTTS: Well sticking on that point of military personnel, have they said anything about their platforms or what the issues might be that they might campaign on?
QARASE: I really don’t know, all I know is that in the 2006 general election we had, my party. The SDL Party had 80 per cent from the military personnel. I don’t think that percentage has changed. If it has changed it has probably increased.
COUTTS: And the 64-thousand dollar question, and I think you probably already answered it, I asked you once before and you weren’t sure, are you going to run again?
QARASE: At this point the answer to that is yes.
COUTTS: Alright then and the military regime, I’ll ask you this again too, they haven’t responded, because I’m just wondering if they have these elections in 2014 and they want them free and fair, is this suggestion that the military might form their own party a fear that they’re going to lose control and it’s just one way of keeping their finger on the pulse of running the government after the 2014 elections?
QARASE: I suppose that is the intention because they have tasted power, they like it, they’re certainly enjoying the perks and I’m sure that some of them at the top would like to carry on within another democracy if we are going to have one.
COUTTS: And do you think that the elections are on track for 2014?
QARASE: There’s already delays, in the month of April they were supposed to have prepared material for what they call, civic education, and civic education should be starting now. I haven’t seen any sign of that yet, I haven’t seen any printed material. So they’re probably running behind time.
COUTTS: Did you have an interview with either Senator Bob Carr of Foreign Minister for New Zealand, Murray McCully in their recent visit?
QARASE: The three of us met them together, not individually; that’s Mr Chaudhry, Mr Beddoes and I. We had a meeting with the group for two hours.
COUTTS: Are you able to disclose any of the content of that conversation?
QARASE: Basically it is contained in the joint statement that we issued. I think the main issues that we talked about are covered in that joint statement. Of course the details are not there, and I think what we see in the statement would be sufficient.
COUTTS: Ok what was in the statement?
QARASE: Well we have covered quite a lot of important issues, particularly in relation to the constitutional process. One of the priority areas that we urged the group to consider and take action on is that we haven’t got complete freedom in Fiji, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of the media, freedom of speeches. They are very much restricted, and we insisted that if we are going to have a fair independent constitutional process, that is a pre-condition, we must have complete freedom.