Fiji’s Biman Prasad calls out ‘dire straits’ Bainimarama government

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National Federation Party leader Dr Biman Prasad
Fiji's opposition National Federation Party leader Dr Biman Prasad ... “Fiji’s Constitution is draconian.” Image: Indian Newslink

By Venkat Raman in Auckland

Fiji’s National Federation Party leader and Member of Parliament Dr Biman Prasad is confident that the incumbent Voreqe Bainimarama government will be defeated in this year’s general election, because — as he says — “People have had enough; they want a change”.

Speaking to the media in Auckland on Wednesday, he said Fiji was suffering from an economic downturn, inept policies and an unfriendly government.

“Bainimarama does not hold any hope for our people. His government has been in power since December 5, 2006, when he ousted a democratically elected coalition government,” he said.

“Since then, Fiji has been sliding on the economic scale. We are in dire straits.”

Describing the Constitution of Fiji, adopted in 2013 as “draconian”, he said that several provisions of the document were detrimental to human rights and freedom of speech.

“There are human rights breaches, media cannot operate freely and even the Opposition is also not allowed to function as per democratic standards,” he said.

Fiji’s electoral system
Fiji follows a single, nationwide constituency method of electing members to its Parliament through the open list proportion with an electoral threshold of 5 percent.

The House has 50 seats allocated using the D’Hondt method. Also known as the “Jefferson Method” or the “Greatest Divisors Method”. This allows for the allocation of seats in Parliament among federal states or in the party-list proportional representation system.

It belongs to the class of highest average methods.

The method was first described in 1772 by future US President Thomas Jefferson and was reinvented in 1878 by Belgian mathematician Victor D’Hont — hence the name.

The Election Office in Fiji has not set the date for this year’s election but said in an announcement on March 17, 2022, that it would be held during November this year.

Candidates can begin campaigning on April 26, 2022, but must conclude two days before the polling date.

The first general election was held in September 2014 with the Parliamentary term set at four years. Bainimarama and his close friend, Attoney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, established the FijiFirst Party, which won 32 seats, followed by the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) (15 seats) and NFP (3).

However, in the 2018 election, FijiFirst won only 27 seats, with SODELPA gaining 21 seats, while NFP retained its three seats in the 51-Member House.

Dr Biman Prasad with (from left) panellists David Robie and others
Dr Biman Prasad with (from left) panellists Asia Pacific Report editor professor David Robie, West Papuan student leader Laurens Ikinia and Green MP Teanau Tuiono at a media conference at the Whānau Hub in Auckland on Wednesday. Image: Indian Newslnk

An accomplished academic
Dr Prasad, who served the University of South Pacific as a lecturer and professor for 28 years, gave up his academic career to enter politics. He was the associate editor of the Journal of Fijian Studies and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Pacific Studies, the head of the School of Economics and later dean of the Faculty of Business and Economics.

He said that the Fijian economy suffered from mismanagement and wasteful expenditure.

“Poverty, which was placed at 29 percent of the population in 2019, has risen sharply since the covid-19 pandemic hit the country. Today another 20 percent of our people are on the margin of poverty. The government received budget support of F$300 million from Australia and New Zealand,” Dr Prasad said.

“The total amount obtained in the last two years from various sources is F$1.3 billion. Covid has exposed the extent of mismanagement. Our growth has been negative for the past three years.

“The agriculture and sugarcane sectors have been neglected and all the money has been spent on tourism. Our infrastructure is in a pathetic state.”

IMF expects contraction
According to the December 2021 report of the International Monetary Fund, Fiji’s real gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by an estimated 15.7 percent in 2021 and is projected to contract by another 4 percent in the fiscal year 20211-2022 in the wake of the delta variant covid outbreak.

“The fiscal deficit reached a record 13.1 percent of GDP in the fiscal year 2020-2021 with an accompanying rise in public debt to 89.8 percent of the GDP by March 2022. Year-on-year consumer price inflation reached -2.8 percent at the end of 2020.

“Increases in international commodity prices and local food prices are expected to drive consumer price inflation to 1.4 percent by end of 2021.

“Both lending and deposit rates have decreased, and private sector credit contracted by 3.1 percent in 2020 and is expected to shrink by a further 3.6 percent by the end of the 2021 financial year. Non-performing loans have risen to record levels,” the IMF report said.

Pact with Rabuka
Dr Prasad said that NFP would work with People’s Alliance party leader Sitiveni Rabuka, who is expected to emerge strongly in the 2022 election, saying that he had changed and favoured inclusive politics.

“We will restore the rights of the people, including freedom of speech, and freedom of the media and repeal the draconian laws within the first 100 days in office. We will have a strong focus on social welfare and improve the availability of healthcare and medicines,” Dr Prasad said.

“Fiji wants a free government. As a politician, I was arrested more than once for speaking out against the Constitution.”

He is confident that the people of Fiji will elect the opposition parties to form the government later this year.

“Our people want a good, accountable and transparent government. Our Constitution does not allow a coalition government but we are confident of reaching an agreement with other parties. We have plenty of work to do,” he said.

Dr Prasad ruled out another coup saying, “Fijians will not tolerate any more of them”.

Earlier, New Zealand Green Party MP Teanau Tuiono spoke about the plight of West Papuan students who have been facing hardship since the Indonesian government stopped funding their scholarships at the beginning of this year.

He said that he had written to the Labour government asking for urgent financial support through the Scholarship Fund and including the affected students in the “2021 Pathway to Residency Programme”.

Venkat Raman is editor and general manager of Indian Newslink. Republished with permission.

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