And you have to stay there

And you have to stay there

By Yellow Bucket
Thursday 11/01/2024

With New Year resolutions out of the way and year TWO of a four-year term underway it is time for our various political players to take a moment …… breathe…….and review strategy.

2023 can only be described as tumultuous and it is still seeming a little extraordinary that life in Fiji could have changed quite so dramatically in 12 months.

But now isn’t the time to look back, in fact, it is time for the Coalition Government to recognise that their lengthy “honeymoon” is now over. So, no more whining about the previous Government. Even those who were interested have moved on and anything pre-Christmas 2022 is rapidly fading. A little unfair considering the scale of the destruction but that is the harsh reality for the Coalition Government. But as we will discover in the coming weeks, it is a reality that is just as harsh for the opposition.

Over the next few weeks, YB will review the state of our various political parties and the challenges they need to tackle in 2024. We start with the People’s Alliance (PA). The party formed in something of a rush following the rejection by SODELPA of Sitiveni Rabuka as the leader to take them into the 2022 elections.

The push for his return to leadership came from a group of technocrats and politicians who could see they needed his name recognition and brand to get them across the line. That didn’t mean that many were particularly thrilled about backing our founding coup leader, but they could see that TO WIN under the current electoral system, they needed a leader who the majority iTaukei electorate recognised and supported. Now, before you go off screaming “racist”, TO WIN you need support of the majority and pure demographics (more on this later), determines the need for iTaukei support and Rabuka had proved his ability in the 2018 elections.

It also helped that he had embarked on a twenty-year campaign (that is as far back as YB can remember) apologising for his “misdeeds” in 1987. He accentuated that by continuously reaching out to the other communities through his campaign. Finally, he was of an age and character that meant he wasn’t intimidated by the regime.

So, after the rejection of Rabuka by SODELPA, by the narrowest of margins, his backers turned to Plan B, forming the People’s Alliance. BUT, and there was a big “BUT,” the deal was win power, reestablish democracy and a list of other prerequisites like the GCC and then prepare succession. As one PA founder put it to YB, “Rabuka and Bainimarama are joined at the hip. We needed one to get rid of the other but they both should step out of politics so Fiji can put our coup culture behind us.”

One year on and the pressure is starting to mount. It was interesting to note the Prime Minister hinting at succession in some of his end of year messages. Fortunately, PA has some able talent in its ranks starting with DPM Manoa Kamikamica who has taken on a large range of portfolios. He left an impressive private sector career to step into his father’s political footsteps. At the time, YB had no doubt he had the intelligence and leadership experience but did wonder if he had the political skills to take on the big job. One year on, he has worked hard on his politicking skills and has a style that is a refreshing change to the TAGANE approach we are getting a little tired of.

He isn’t alone, some in PA might prefer slightly younger figures like Filimoni Vosarogo (bit blemished following the AG fiasco) or a proven vote getter like Lynda Tabuya, but YB suspects they are for a later day.

However, all of this is dependent on the PM staying focused on the plan to “hang his boots” and that is not guaranteed. Three years is a long time and history is littered with transition plans scuppered by a reluctance of “old warriors” to retire.

More immediately, the People’s Alliance needs to think back to its electorate and what is required to maintain and if possible, boost their vote in 2026. That starts with understanding the rapidly changing dynamics of the Fiji electorate. The last two elections showed the emergence of two large voting blocks and one smaller grouping.

The first an iTaukei voter block based in Fiji’s central, eastern, and northern divisions - traditional in its thinking, strongly backing issues like the return of the GCC etc. They voted PA and to a lesser extent SODELPA. The second, a grouping of Indo Fijian and Western division iTaukei voters who voted for FijiFirst. Some of this was driven by a fear especially amongst Indo Fijians, enthusiastically fanned by FijiFirst, of a return to iTaukei ethno-nationalist politics. Some of the support, especially in the West, YB suspects, was driven by a desire to maintain the status quo. Finally, there is a grouping of multiracial westernised educated voters mostly Suva based who voted NFP and for parties like Unity Fiji.

Demographic shifts would suggest that the iTaukei proportion of the vote will continue to grow. Truth is PA does not, currently, face a lot of competition for its core vote. We will discuss SODELPA’s prospects in a later column. However, while we believe there was “fear’ based voting for FijiFirst, it could equally be said that PA attracted a lot of voters motivated purely because they wanted change. These aren’t loyalist supporters.

IF it can display competence in Government, PA could retain this “swing “ support and it could grow its western iTaukei vote motivated by economic issues. Having removed the “climate of fear” the Indo Fijian vote could start to shift, but not to PA especially if Rabuka remains as a leader (more on this in future columns).

Simply put, 2026, as hopefully Fiji’s first truly “free” election could see some big shifts and politicians on all sides should not be taking anything for granted.

These ‘political’ issues need to be top of mind when the People’s Alliance sit down to review strategy and as the incumbent Government, it really is all in their hands.

As discussed PRIORITY ONE shows a clear harmonious line of succession. If they blow this, it could be ugly.

PRIORITY TWO…… COMPETENCE. The People’s Alliance and the Coalition Government will be judged by swinging voters on delivery in the following key areas.

The economy: That comes down to JOBS and COST OF LIVING. No shortage of jobs but cost of living is an issue incumbent Governments all over the world are grappling with and a lot of this relates to a “perception” of cost of living. Managing this message is critical and not something the Coalition Government has proved very adept at.

Fixing our broken healthcare system. Tough challenge considering the exodus of healthcare workers and the physical state of many of our facilities.

Fixing our broken Education system. Lots of work to do here once again for similar reasons as Health.Water and Power: Some hope for Suva with a long-awaited reservoir about to open but lots of work to be done around the country.

Power, that starts with a change in leadership at EFL and recent announcements on changes to the board is a start. Expect action especially on renewable energy soon.Fixing the Civil Service: This starts, as one Cabinet minister put it, with the basics, ANSWER YOUR PHONE AND REPLY TO EMAILS! More importantly building a culture of solving problems not creating new ones. Towards the end of the year as a follow up to the fiscal review process, Government launched a number of advisory committees, comprising high powered private sector leaders, designed to support the Civil Service in bringing change. This is a clever idea that faces some resistance, but it needs to be boosted.

Fixing the Legal system: This is where the Government and PA appear the most incompetent! It is no secret that urgent repair is required on many fronts. Focus must be building NEW for the 21st century not restoring OLD familiar systems and processes.

This starts with putting the past to rest. Nearly a year on and there is still no promised tribunal to investigate DPP Christopher Pryde and Police Commissioner Qiliho. Pryde was told to take up outstanding leave that covered him until December and presumably he remains on the payroll. Qiliho has been acquitted for one charge by the court, and this has been appealed by the DPP. He is being questioned by Police regarding another allegation.

The one tribunal that was about to get moving was to review former Chief Justice Kumar, but he passed away. This leads to the looming appointment of a new Chief Justice. This will be the first test of whether the Government intends to progress forward or go in reverse. There is a push for current Acting Chief Justice Temo to be appointed but this is meeting fierce resistance from the legal fraternity, led by the Fiji Law Society, who are FED UP with the inaction.

To be seen as COMPETENT you cannot make rookie mistakes and then back track with excuses. Many of the “blunders” in the last year centred around poor legal advice and amateurish communication management. This starts with those managing the Prime Minister’s Office. It is strange that legitimate well-meaning organisations struggle to get through the barriers that surround him yet various dodgy investors can parade photos of meetings to boost their schemes that come back to bite.

And the list could go on ……… From a strategic perspective, IF the People’s Alliance is going to build on their 2022 performance, then they need to focus on appointing and then enabling COMPETENT leaders across Government and the community. Enough of rewarding ageing loyalists. Now they must deliver, and if that means making appointments outside of their support base, so be it. Oh, and sometimes that may require appointing expatriate talent! OH, and an increasing female presence in leadership appointments might be a good move as well.

Early on, the Coalition Government showed a refreshing inclusive approach to Government absorbing criticism and inviting participation from critics. YB hopes this will continue as they mature in office, but history shows time in power usually “thins” the political skin.

It has got to be all about DELIVERY……… failure could come at a heavy price ……TICK TOK TICK TOK.

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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