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Warning Over 'Racial Tone' Of Fiji Politics

Professor Warns Over 'Racial Tone' Of Fiji Politics

By JO YAYA: August 28, 2001 Wansolwara Online (USP)

SUVA: Politicians vying for seats in the Fiji general election are not serious about addressing the need to improve living standards, create employment opportunities or attract international investment, says a professor.

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

Associate Professor Scott MacWilliam, of the University of the South Pacific's history/politics department, told Wansolwara Online yesterday that the "tone" of racial appeals made by politicians had become stronger since the 1999 general elections.

"I've seen elections in Australia, Britain, Canada, Kenya, Papua New Guinea and the United States during critical times and I've never encountered a racialist election."

"There are obvious differences with South Africa, but there are also some really depressing similarities."

Professor MacWilliam said caretaker Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's deliberate racist remarks in the Fijian language on Fiji Television last week during an English language leaders debate was an example.

"I was later told by people who know Fijian that he (Qarase) made some very offensive remarks, broke right away from what he had said in English and made a directly racialist appeal."

He said party leaders lacked the ability for political debate and solutions on how to improve the unemployment and poverty situation.

Instead, they focused their campaign on "racial enclaves".

"Mr Qarase says that the way to improve living standards is to preserve his race, as if Fijians are some kind of dinosaurs that should be put in a museum and kept there," he said.

Prof MacWilliam said Sitiveni Rabuka's SVT coalition with the National Federation Party in the 1999 elections campaigned towards multi-racialism by introducing the 1997 Constitution and identified a clear economic direction by encouraging private enterprise and privatisation.

He said the Labour Party coalition which won the 1999 elections played a more prominent role in alleviating the plight of the poor and assistance in key areas of the economy.

"So there was a clear sense of dispute between the two strategies employed by these parties," he said.

"This time, while everybody knows that Mr Qarase is a private sector person, he doesn't make that his appeal but rather makes his appeal to a race as the champion of preserving a race."

Prof MacWilliam said Mahendra Chaudhry's Labour Party was more moderate in its approach and was not as radical as Qarase's SDL or the Fijian Conservative Alliance, led by former Fiji Intelligence Service boss Metuisela Mua.

"You would put them (Labour) somewhere on the left social-democratic spectrum internationally. Sometimes they talk agrarian social democracy, other times they talk industrial social democracy, but it's a moderate party internationally."

He added that the real cause of division in Fiji was not between ethnic Fijians and Indo-Fijians, but the way the rural electoral arrangements (seats) dominated the urban ones.

He said the socio-political changes taking place world-wide was the move from rural areas to urban centres and that the political philosophy employed by Qarase to preserve the Fijian race by calling them a "rural people" could take the country backwards.

"The electoral arrangements in Fiji are grossly unbalanced towards rural areas and part of the racialist line Mr Qarase and the Conservative Alliance have been putting is to urge for more rural seats."

He said rural areas were already up to 50 percent smaller in population compared to urban seats.

"Qarase sounds very much like the British Governor Gordon of the 19th Century who thought he could preserve the Fijian race by keeping them as a rural people."

+++niuswire


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