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Commentary: Mouthfuls of promises in Fiji

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TOMASI RAIYAWA analyses the possibilities: August 23, 2001 Wansolwara Online (USP)

SUVA (Pasifik Nius): The people of Fiji are holding their breath as Election D-Day on Saturday looms closer.

The countdown is now a matter of hours away and not days to be precise. Rightfully, there is a need for voters to analyse how the election will proceed and possibly foresee the outcomes.

A profile of each party should analyse their objectives and promises which would in a way predict potential winners.

Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL): This is a new creation of caretaker Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, a nationalist who has attempted to unite all Fijians. To win the Fijian votes, the party promises to further advance representation of indigenous interests and promote their development.

This is wrapped up in the so-called blueprint which most opposition parties and individuals have branded as racist.

Fiji Labour Party (FLP): This party won the 1999 election with a landslide margin. Led by deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, an Indo-Fijian, it has the the support of trade unions, workers and grassroots people. If they regain power, they would set up an inquiry into the attempted coup of May 19 last year, compensate the victims, remove VAT and set a five-year plan to economic recovery.

Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei (SVT): Founded by 1987 coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka, this Fijian party is now led by another veteran politician, Filipe Bole. It is promising to increase the poverty alleviation fund, make education compulsory and to provide basic housing assistance.

New Labour Unity Party (NLUP): This is the party to watch. It is a breakaway party from the FLP, headed by former academic and deposed deputy Prime Minister in Chaudhry's Coalition government, Dr Tupeni Baba. Their manifesto is not much different from the FLP. Top of their list is good governance principles, which according to them, is an integral part of maintaining and sustaining strong economic growth.

On land issues, NLUP promises to renew all ALTA agricultural leases, including sugar cane with tenants to continue paying rent according to the pre-existing ALTA formula.

The landowners will also benefit from a promised 40 percent premium for leases renewed under ALTA. FLP would no doubt push for the Land Use Commission as a way to alleviate the conditions of the people, especially the indigenous population.

SDL on the other hand is committed to changing the ALTA to NLTA.

However, these promises to an extent are just mouthfuls. The promises are based not on what the voters want but what the parties think the voters want.

The total extra cost of all these promises, according to USP economist Dr Mahendra Reddy, could be between $70 and $123 million.

And what do the people want? The Fiji Times of August 15 cited a survey showing that voters were looking for stability.

Better education is another issue some individuals prioritised. To the grassroots people it is the removal of VAT from basic food items and land to build houses.

While assessing which party would deliver promises, FLP in their campaign messages have had a proven record.

The SDL has an advantage that while in power through its caretaker role it has offered handouts and certainly promised more to come. The NLUP after accusing Qarase for buying votes succumbed to the the temptations and did likewise.

If allowed to categorise the parties in terms of strength and popularity, the listed parties would fall into the "heavyweight "division whereas the Fijian Association Party (FAP), led Adi Kuini Vuikaba Speed, widow of the late Labour Prime Minister Dr Timoci Bavadra, deposed in the 1987 coup; National Federation Party (NFP); and Conservative Alliance are "lightweights".

Their manifestos are somewhat similar to those highlighted by the heavyweights but do not have the resources to follow them.

It is one thing to make promises and another to actually deliver.

Out of all the elections Fiji has gone through, this year's is totally different.

The campaigns are getting hostile as projected in the media. As a matter of fact it is war.

Unfortunately, like all wars people get hurt as combatants (election candidates) apply pressure and blows against their oppositions to inflict casualties and win victories at all cost.

Incredibly, after what has happened last year, and the hostility of party campaigns, the UN team of observers still find "credibility" in the way the election is organised.

While the heavyweights dominate the scene, others such as the PANU, Bai Kei Viti (BKV), Nationalist Vanua Tako Lavo Party (NVTLP), Christian Democratic Alliance (VLV), Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua (CAMV) and independents - who are the featherweights in our boxing metaphor - need not escape our attention because they are potential giantkillers.

In the last elections most unknown profiles won their seats by technicalities. Whatever the outcome, Labour will probably return to power because it has proven itself to the grassroots people who definitely have the numbers.


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