Petty-minded agitators – Treating democracy with disdain and contempt

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The People’s Alliance party celebrate at the head office in Suva last month. Picture: ATU RASEA

Late Thursday evening, through an extraordinary Gazette notice, Speaker of Parliament Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu notified the people of Fiji that the FijiFirst parliamentary Opposition member Dr Mahendra Reddy’s seat was now vacant.

Dr Reddy resigned only four days after standing shoulder-toshoulder with former Attorney- General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum while he dished out one of his usual monologues to the media.

It brought to an end eight years in which the former minister, first of Education and then of Agriculture, never failed to entertain the people – even if he didn’t mean to.

To be fair to Dr Reddy, he looked thoroughly disinterested in what was being dished out – that too from someone who had managed to unceremoniously Youth members of the  disqualify himself as a member of Parliament only a few days before.

It now means that two of Fiji- First’s 26 MPs elected in the 2022 General Election having either lost or vacated their seats – even before Parliament sits properly for the first time on February 3.

And that too from a party that seemingly cannot digest the fundamental truth that Fiji now has a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Three of its members – FijiFirst leader Voreqe Bainimarama, Aiyaz SayedKhaiyum and Mosese Bulitavu – are behaving like petty-minded agitators, fighting over stolen lollipops.

The lollipop factor

On December 3, 2021, Mr Bainimarama accused National Federation Party leader Professor Biman Prasad of trying to get in to government at any cost. He also mocked Prof Prasad about corruption and USP. “I am desperate to enter government. I will say anything to get there,” said of him. He also tried to ridicule the NFP leader who had earlier asked the then PM to answer if he would accept the election results if he lost power. “He talked about what we are going to do if we lose the elections, as if we are going to do anything other than step down”, Mr Bainimarama said. But after losing power to the coalition Government, FFP’s two leaders have tried everything to shoot down the coalition. The result! A coalition government moving full-steam ahead with empathy, care and compassion towards the people in five weeks while the new opposition behaves like headless chickens, fluttering aimlessly in the way that was the hallmark and legacy of their governance for the last 16 years.

One shoe size doesn’t fit all

Soon after New Year, Mr Bainimarama described the new government as “oppressive and repressive”, claiming it was undermining rights and freedoms under the 2013 Constitution. In fact, the very opposite is the truth. Almost 58 per cent of voters cast their ballots against Voreqe Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed- Khaiyum, and emphatically ended their 16 years in government. The euphoria of the nation was visible when the new government was formed. Why? One simple but most important word – freedom. Freedom has been a fundamental right that the people of Fiji haven’t enjoyed for 16 years. They were bound by fear – fear of laws, fear of persecution, losing their jobs and victimisation. To be critical and be criticised without fear of recrimination or to be associated and encour- The euphoria of the nation was visible when the new government was formed. Why? One simple but most important word – freedom. Freedom has been a fundamental right that the people of Fiji haven’t enjoyed for 16 years. They were bound by fear – fear of laws, fear of persecution, losing their jobs and victimisation – Kamal Iyer age others to join a cause for national interest, isn’t a crime. To wholeheartedly allow and welcome Prof Brij Vilash Lal home after 12 years in exile, to the land of his birth and to his home in Tabia as his final resting place, isn’t a threat to national security. To restore millions of dollars of outstanding grants to the University of the South Pacific and allow USP vice-chancellor Pal Ahluwalia to return to the Laucala Campus after his forced midnight exit, is not oppressive or repressive. To provide $200 to each child in a poor family, from early childhood education up to Year 13 as a back to school grant, is an act of relief and compassion to the people who have for long endured very high cost of living. To re-introduce Ratu Sukuna Day as a public holiday isn’t oppressive or unconstitutional. What was oppressive and regressive was the decision by the Bainimarama led government to scrap it as a holiday. To announce a Girmit Day holiday is momentous, burying the lip-service paid to the legacy of the girmitiya by the FijiFirst government that rejected a plea to declare a one-off holiday on November 11, 2016 to mark the centenary of the arrival of the last ship to transport indentured labourers to Fiji. So why are the above announcements by the coalition Government being viewed as regressive, oppressive and curtailing the freedoms of people?

Who has breached the Constitution?

It is ludicrous for FijiFirst to accuse the coalition Government of breaching the Constitution. For Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka to announce the maintaining of a register in each minister’s office to record gifts, no matter how small, to be primarily used by the State, is an example of transparency. Unlike FijiFirst, that miserably failed to enact the Code of Conduct and establish the Accountability and Transparency Commission for more than nine years, despite being legislated in the Constitution. To change Standing Orders to effectively make Parliamentary governance a rubber-stamp breaches every proper constitutional principle. To legislate one’s salary, perks and privileges through a Decree three days before Parliament in October 2014, only to later exorbitantly increase overseas travel allowances of up to $3000 a day, is violation of authority and trust.

The flight of fear

Fear-mongering and the politics of connivance, deceit and treachery, have become things of the past. Shameful indeed! Forgiven but not forgotten. Voreqe Bainimarama has become the first-ever defeated PM not to have vacated his official residence for a month, taking advantage instead of PM Rabuka’s generosity in giving him time to leave. He has become the first politically vanquished PM not to have conceded defeat. Not to be outdone, Mr Sayed- Khaiyum has naturally joined the bandwagon. A chief legal officer of the State for 16 years, the former A-G dumped himself from Parliament by appointing himself to the Constitutional Offices Commission under his own Constitution. When the FijiFirst party ruled, the Constitution was perfect. Now they are out, they say the Constitution is breached. Both should grasp reality, having embraced an ally in Mosese Bulitavu, the man they attacked as a racist three years ago and suddenly co-opted into their party in their desperation. Unashamed, unprincipled and uncaring people, who cannot digest the loss of their autocratic rule, having wielded the sword of Damocles over Fiji. Get ready for the sword of Excalibur instead!

• KAMAL IYER is a former journalist and member of the National Federation Party. The views expressed are his and not necessarily of this newspaper