And now for Fiji First??

And now for Fiji First??

By Yellow Bucket
Saturday 24/02/2024
Photo:File

It seems strange but just over 12 months into the current parliamentary term, we need to remind ourselves that FijiFirst is still the largest single party (26 seats). We state the obvious because FF appear so tangled in the legal challenges facing their party leader and former General Secretary that they are clearly struggling to deliver as an opposition.

This inability to “move on” directly relates to the fact that despite the hoops and barriers they made all their opponents jump over and around, they’ve never really functioned as a political party. In preparing for this column, YB took the time to revisit FijiFirst’s constitution. As is typical of a document prepared by Mr Khaiyum, it is big on gloss, but beneath it all there is the usual lack of substance.

A couple of things struck us in our digging around. The first was obvious, the party website hasn’t been updated since pre the last elections. This looks strange one year on. Moving to the FijiFirst constitution where there doesn’t appear to be any requirements for the party members to meet. No annual conventions or general meetings and certainly no opportunity to vote for new office holders etc. The only mention is that the Party executive “may convene” a national congress. Its purpose being to “listen to the views of ordinary Fijians”.

The second striking feature is that all power within the party sits with a group who are called the “foundation members”. These are distinct from ordinary paid-up members who have no real voting rights at all. Foundation members in turn have membership “in perpetuity”, are permanent members of the Central Executive Committee and have the exclusive right to appoint the Committee and any new foundation members.

This explains why Mr Khaiyum can, having resigned as General Secretary, returned post medical care to the country and immediately called a media conference brushing all appointed office bearers aside. It also explains how he and Bainimarama retain control of the party. All very well if your goal is to retain power “in perpetuity” but not great if the party needs, as all political parties in functioning democracies must do from time to time, to refresh their leadership, allowing them to move on usually from electoral defeat.

Here lies the problem for FijiFirst. They built their win in 2014, close win in 2018 and their narrow loss in 2022 around three voting groups. At the core was enthusiastic Indo Fijian support motivated by self-interest and the fear, fanned enthusiastically by FijiFirst, of itaukei ethno-nationalism. Their second largest voter group were itaukei voters in the western division concerned presumably about disruption to the tourism sector (plus for some a deep-seated suspicion of Eastern politicians) and finally voters from the various disciplined forces.

This last group of voters is interesting. Voting booth records, for the 2022 election, from Prison facilities, Military Camps and Police stations were quite telling. Despite being overwhelmingly itaukei the Military and Prisons voted FijiFirst but the Police voting behaviour was quite the opposite.

The question for 2026 is how much of this support will remain? As the legal cases build and more and more damning secrets are revealed plus removal of the climate of fear and intimidation that motivated many to just vote for the safest option, it would seem unlikely that FijiFirst will retain much.

Based on the current status quo that assumes Frank Bainimarama and Khaiyum reemerge as candidates for the 2026 election, YB can see FijiFirst retaining 50% of the Indo Fijian vote (see NFP column) but to be honest not a lot else. That suggests maybe …….20% of the vote.

Bainimarama and Khaiyum share a charismatic aggressive style that wins some dedicated support but also creates a lot of enemies. However with legal cases building , YB understands another major one is about to break, their participation in 2026 would seem unlikely and that means the Party needs to MOVE ON from the Bainimarama and Khaiyum era. That requires both to truly retire from the political scene………hmmmmm ………. Unlikely.

Despite his resignation, initially from Parliament and then later as General Secretary, Khaiyum continues to play a domineering role in the Party. To the extent that last year he was seen at the FijiFirst parliamentary office during sessions to ‘assist’ the parliamentarians. This was reflected in the way a number of his disciples mimicked his combative tone and language minus his admitted public speaking ability.

This “combative” approach raises another dilemma for the party. In a political system where gaining an absolute majority is difficult, political parties need to be prepared to work in coalitions. A bit of a problem when you have spent the last 16 years abusing your opponents, leaving you alone and friendless i.e. FijiFirst and the 2022 elections.

So, could they move on? Well, to be honest there is not a lot of talent on the opposition benches to lead FijiFirst into a post Bainimarama/Khaiyum era. Opposition Leader Inia Seruiratu comes across as a nice enough person but does not have the charisma or the name recognition to win wide support, note he came in at number 25 on votes received in the last election, and there isn’t a lot else. Jone Usamate (position 33) is a possibility but remember they need to retain Indo Fijian votes so that means relying on people like Parveen Bala, who got the next highest votes after Khaiyum followed by Hem Chand (who??).

• And let’s not forget they were heavily in debt post 2022!

It would take a miracle ……… and miracles can happen which explains their continuing and fervent hope that somehow they can switch the SODELPA vote and get back into power. It really is their only hope for survival. As this fades we can only see the Party sinking deeper and deeper into a quagmire of their own making.

For more Yellow Bucket opinion pieces click: HERE

Opinion Note

Long time fijivillage users may remember the Yellow Bucket opinion column that ran in the years leading up to the 2006 coup. Well following the repeal of the MIDA Act we are delighted to announce that YB is back!

The Yellow Bucket is something of a Communications Fiji Ltd institution…. Yes it exists…. A real Yellow Bucket that the CFL team and visitors gather around after work to drink grog and discuss the day. Legend has it that every Fiji Prime Minister has at some stage enjoyed a bilo from the bucket.

The YB column ran from 2003 to early 2007 when it was shut down under extreme pressure from the military government. Later the MIDA Act specifically forbade any use of nom de plums or pseudonyms requiring every published article to have a named author.

So why the pseudonym. The YB column was and will continue to be a product of group thinking and discussion, so it would be impossible and a little unfair to attribute it to a single author.

It will continue to provide fact-based opinion offering context to the complex and constantly unfolding story, that is our home Fiji. We stress, FACT BASED…. No rush to judgement here ….. Our aim will be to run weekly but that could change depending on the situation.

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