Fijians indicate electoral support for Bainimarama
In the eight years since then, the government of Frank Bainimarama has been widely criticised, particularly by international observers.
But as Liam Fox found when he travelled to the Suva, there’s plenty of domestic support for Rear Admiral Bainimarama, his policies and his new political party, Fiji First.
Reporter: Liam Fox
Speakers: Peniasi Ranawai, Suva resident; Ilaisa Kaivei, Chairman, Raiwaqa Rugby Club; Akuila Yabaki, Citizens Constitutional Forum; Dr Jiko Luveni, Minister for Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation, and President of the Fiji First Party
(Sound of garden tools)
LIAM FOX: Gardeners still maintain the grounds around Fiji’s parliament in the capital Suva but the building has stood largely unused since the 2006 military coup.
That’s about to change with Fijians heading to the polls in September to elect a new government.
Since the coup the government of former military chief, now interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has ruled by decree.
It dissolved the constitution, replaced the judiciary, censored the media and sought to muzzle internal criticism.
Despite all of that, or because of it, many people expect his new political party, Fiji First, to win the election.
There’s plenty support for the government at Suva’s main market.
WOMAN AT MARKET: I support Bainimarama, too.
FOX: And why is that, why would you support him?
WOMAN AT MARKET: Because he’s doing good things for us in Fiji.
FOX: The stallholders say crime has decreased in recent years and they feel safe going about their business.
MAN AT MARKET: The present government is very much OK and good for Fiji. The laws they’re making are tightening things up. Before in Fiji anybody can assault you, now if assault anybody you’ll be taken into custody at the same time.
FOX: Every year people from rural areas move to the capital and end up living in one of the Suva’s sprawling squatter settlements.
PENIASI RANAWAI: Some of them were descendents of farmers. This was a farming community before. Some of the people living, they have been here way back in 1907 I think it was.
FOX: Despite the poverty in the settlements, many residents like Peniasi Ranawai support Commodore Bainimarama and his policies like free education and free bus rides for children.
RANAWAI: Here we have people like low-income earners and we’re really seeing the benefit of what the government’s been doing.
FOX: Over in the suburb of Raiwaqa, it’s training time at the local rugby club.
(Sounds of rugby training)
The Prime Minister grew up around here and when the club’s clubhouse was demolished the government paid for a new one to be built.
The club’s chairman Ilaisa Kaivei showed me around the new gym and the top floor.
ILAISA KAIVEI: On top here is a 42-inch flat screen. The flat screen together with the sound system was given as part of his donation to the club.
FOX: He says many people here will support Fiji First at the election.
KAIVEI: We’ve got a successful government that has gone through, you know, the infrastructure, the roads, the free school fees, things that have just come about in the last what seven or eight years.
FOX: Despite what appears to be widespread government support there are those who worry the elections won’t be free and fair.
AKUILA YABAKI: The reason why it’s not going to be free and fair, it’s not an equal playing field for all parties. The party that has not been registered is Bainimarama’s party but they’re already they’re doing money politics.
FOX: Reverend Akuila Yabaki from the Citizens Constitutional Forum believes the government’s breached it’s own electoral rules by campaigning before Fiji First’s been registered as a political party.
He’s worried that several decrees and a timid media have created an atmosphere favourable to the government.
Nevertheless Reverend Yabaki says it’s important the election goes ahead.
YABAKI: Democratic development is a long-term process and we’ve had a history of constitutional breakdowns, in say 1987 when the first coup took place. So we should look back into history and also look forward with a vision to make Fiji a better place.
JIKO LUVENI: I believe that this coming election is going to be one election that is going to be free and fair. In my opinion, if we don’t change the electoral process now then we will never achieve true democracy.
FOX: Dr Jiko Luveni is the Minister for Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation, and the President of Fiji First.
She denies the Prime Minister has breached rules governing campaigning.
LUVENI: From what I hear from the community he has not campaigned. He’s merely trying to get the signatures of the people and also answering questions by the people.
FOX: If Fiji First does form the next government Dr Luveni doesn’t think it’ll be difficult for the party to transition from military dictatorship to operating in a parliamentary democracy.
LUVENI: Although we have so many decrees, these decrees, before it goes to cabinet, it goes through a consultation process so all the stakeholders regarding that decree would have been consulted first.
FOX: Many Fijians who oppose the government are afraid to speak critically publicly for fear of reprisals by members of the military.
So while it looks like Frank Bainimarama’s grip on political power in Fiji will continue, many people are holding their tongues until polling day.