March 29, 2014 06:48:31 PM
Former Fijian Vice President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi says there is no guarantee that ethnic differences won’t arise in the upcoming elections.
Speaking at the National Federation Party’s annual congress in Nadi today, Ratu Joni said eight years was not enough to eradicate the issue of race.
“Eight years is a relatively short time in which to expect monumental changes in voting patterns i.e. as in an end to ethnic voting. However, the stars appear to be favourable.”
He said the 2014 general election is a significant milestone for a number of reasons.
“Firstly, it will be our first election in over eight years since the previous government was removed by force. Second, it will be the first non-racial election in our history, although there is no guarantee that ethnic considerations will be absent from how the electorate decides to vote,” Ratu Joni said.
He said the natural targets would be youths as in those under 35 years of age and the iTaukei together with members of other communities; each has its own set of peculiarities and the NFP has to consider, within an overarching set of principles which the NFP stands for.
“It is not an exercise in double standards or a matter of appealing to sectarian sentiments, although there is often a fine line distinguishing the recognition of special interests and seeking to play on the fears of a particular interest group. It is recognition that in our society there are common interests which bind all of us as in our love of country, and particular factors that smaller numbers may identify with as in ethnicity, religion, age group, institution or other criteria.”
“To them the message must be the NFP’s willingness to embrace a more inclusive and non-racial type of politics that is more substantial than merely having an iTaukei of renown as president of the Party,” he said.
Ratu Joni told NFP that they needed to convince iTaukei people that the party was more than just that of Fijians with Indian descendants.
“I am aware the Party was founded by AD Patel and Swami Rudrananda as a secular political organisation based in the cane belt. But that is neither here nor there, because perceptions are everything in our society. For most iTaukei of a particular age, the NFP is an Indo Fijian party and nothing anyone could say would change that perspective. How does one go about changing that? Several means come to mind.”
“The most obvious is recruiting more iTaukei to NFP ranks. If at all possible, it should be in numbers. A critical mass allows positive reinforcement and encouragement. It lessens the sense of isolation or being cut adrift from ones moorings. What it also does is encourage others because of the security derived from the group. To do this, one has to mitigate the strong sense of group identity that they have.”
“It is a feeling of connectedness if you will. That is achieved in part by giving them a sense of reassurance: validating what they esteem i.e. their land, culture, religion and identity. Further, that this identity is co-extensive with their citizenship of this country and not mutually exclusive.”
Meanwhile, former USP academic and long serving NFP member Professor Biman Prasad was elected the party leader this morning while Suva lawyer Tupou Draunidalo replaces Raman Pratap Singh as the party president.
By Vuniwaqa Bola-Bari