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Blocking Labour 'Tragedy' For Fiji, Warns Professo

September 2, 2001
Wansolwara Online (USP)

SUVA (Pasifik Nius): A leading political scientist today warned that any attempt to block the deposed Fiji Labour Party from forming a new government if it wins the largest number of seats when counting begins tomorrow will be a "tragedy" for the country.

"There is an enormous effort from the top down to do that," said Associate Professor Scott MacWilliam, of the University of the South Pacific's history/politics department.

"It is disappointing that the position was based upon the claim that there will be violence if the Labour Party wins.

"It simply means that a small number of thugs are holding the country to ransom and that's a tragedy in any country."

Prof MacWilliam's comments, made in a fullpage interview with Daily Post reporter Mithleshni Gurdayal published today, followed lobbying by a group of Fijian lawyers last week to orchestrate a pact between indigenous parties aimed at blocking Labour from forming a government.

Most political observers predict a Labour victory in the general election, in which the week-long voting ended yesterday. Police have set up tight security with razor wire barricades around the four counting centres in Suva.

According to Prof MacWilliam, an Australian: "It is likely that the Labour Party will win the most seats; it is less likely that they will win an absolute majority."

Asked whether the election would bring about stability for Fiji, he said the ballot had been conducted in exceptional circumstances and is was debatable about whether elections could ever bring stability by themselves.

"Did the last election in 1999 bring stability?" he asked.

"The [Labour-led] People's Coalition Government had an overwhelming majority of seats in Parliament and yet violence from outside the parliamentary arena eventuated in overthrowing the government.

"It seems that a lot of people take the rhetoric of elections as the way of solving crisis. Nowhere in the world have elections been the sole means of dealing with those matters.

"Elections have been accompanied by other things like presidential security guards and so forth.

"Elections alone don't solve anything."

Prof MacWilliam said it was an exceptional election in the sense that it was not within direct constitutional provisions.

There was also a question about whether the decision to hold an election itself was unconstitutional - "it still hangs in the air".

"What, for instance, has been the effect of all the intimidation, harassment and so forth?" he asked.

"When people talk about a free, fair and open election, it may be that the election process itself is fairly blemish-free or faultless, but what about the background to that?

"How have people been persuaded to vote by either bribes or by threats and fears?"

While Fiji had been undergoing a transition with urbanisation as elswhere in the world, "it's been urbanised in poverty".

Prof MacWilliam said the victory of Labour, which offered policies to address poverty, had been so substantial in 1999 that he had predicted then that the People's Coalition would win the next two elections.

"They had so far completely wiped out the Opposition. It would have taken something very dramatic for them to lose all that support as a result of last year," he said.

"In fact, you could say that there were things that have encouraged people to go to the Labour Party - the job losses and the kinds of appeals that the party had made like cutting off the value-added tax (VAT)," he said.

"Finding jobs would appeal to the poor people. It not only appealed to the Indo-Fijians, but many ethnic Fijians in the urban areas who have seen their living standards decline."

Prof MacWilliam said so much depended on what ethnic Fijians had done with their vote in the urban area.

"Urbanisation is a factor here," he said.

Earlier, in an interview with Wansolwara Online last week, Prof MacWilliam had said many politicians vying for seats in the election were not serious about addressing the need to improve living standards, create employment opportunities or attract international investment.

Instead, they had embarked on a "racialist" campaign similar to that in South Africa.


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