Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Racial roulette

Racial Roulette
By Kamal IyerMonday, August 18, 2008
HUNDREDS of movies produced in Hollywood and Bollywood have depicted scenes of actors and actresses wandering aimlessly in the desert in their desperate effort to escape to safety.
As the intensity of their thirst from lack of water increases they start hallucinating.
Suddenly they start running or crawl in a different direction in the belief that they have seen an oasis an invaluable source of water that is priceless in the desert.
But they slump in dismay after discovering there is no oasis or water and they are still surrounded by miles and miles of sand.
The reality is that in the desert, the vision of an oasis is a mirage to a person suffering from excruciating thirst and hunger.
In the same way, the reality is that the dream of the National Council for Building a Better Fiji to achieve racial unity and harmony by proposing in the draft People's Charter to abolish the 46 communal seats and replace them with open constituencies is an hallucination.
It is like treating a deep wound with a band-aid when it actually requires stitches. And most important, the proposal is being advocated by a group in which a significant artist has a doctorate in preaching gutter-level inter and intra racism to achieve electoral success.
In other words, the current politicians mandated by their respective communities do not practise what they preach. They have called for consolidation of their respective communities for their political survival.
Removing communal seats will not prevent this.
It will make the racial campaign even stronger with the present breed of national political leadership. And this is reality because the racial divide between Fijians and Indo-Fijians have widened to such an extent that one wonders if the gulf will ever be bridged.
This is especially after the fourth coup of December 5, 2006.
The Fijian community rightly or wrongly perceives the removal of a government they voted into office as the hand-maiden of an Indo-Fijian leader Mahendra Chaudhry.
This perception has been strengthening by the day given the public utterances of Mr Chaudhry since he joined the interim regime in January 2007. He and interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum have been in the frontline, announcing major policy initiatives or making significant announcements.
Whether one is sympathetic to the regime or the regime itself like it or not, this is a unmistakable fact.
This perception, first made publicly last year by the former Vice-President, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, who was criticised by Mr Chaudhry through the media for pointing out the reality, is strikingly similar to the straining and widening of race relations following the introduction of Bill No. 1 of 2000 by the Labour party-led government with the intention of making changes to the 1997 Constitution.
While Mr Chaudhry claimed the changes were "minor and editorial in nature", Fijian politicians thought otherwise.
Emotions were whipped up and Fijians were being preached that their rights were being removed by an Indo-Fijian.
It was similar to the 1999 general election campaign practised by Mr Chaudhry and his political allies.
Indo-Fijians were told by Mr Chaudhry and his puppets that the National Federation Party had sold their rights, first by giving away a seat and second, by forming a coalition with Sitiveni Rabuka.
They were reminded of Mr Rabuka's coup and told to recall the atrocities committed against the Indo-Fijian community.
Indo-Fijian electorate forgot the fact it was FLP's support that made Mr Rabuka PM in 1992 and he had co-operated with Jai Ram Reddy to give them equal political rights.
The Fijian electorate's emotion was being whipped up with anti-Rabuka rhetoric by the likes of the Veitokani Lewenivanua Vakarisito Party (VLV), especially Poseci Bune.
Their minds were poisoned with statements such as Mr Rabuka had sold out the rights of Fijians to an Indo-Fijian.
Fijians forgot that Mr Rabuka would have remained prime minister had the NFP/SVT/UGP coalition won the election.
The 1999 racial roulette buried a genuine partnership promoting multiracialism, true nationhood and working together to overcome national concerns.
While it resulted in the massive electoral victory of the Labour party and its coalition partners through the ballot box, the early 2000 racial roulette against Mr Chaudhry's government intensified into protest marches and treason when his government was deposed in May 2000.
Supporters of the People's Charter will argue that racism was preached because of communal seats but the truth is the opposite.
The FLP won all 19 Indian communal seats in 1999. In total they won 37 seats, more than enough to govern on its own. In 1999, the FLP won 18 of the 25 open seats designed to strengthen racial harmony.
While seats with more Indo-Fijian voters were mostly won on the first count or second count under the alternative voting system, seats with more Fijian voters were also won on the third, fourth, fifth or at the end of the count when the process of elimination and pooling of votes in accordance with the preference takes place.
One can also argue that the FLP played its cards right by ranking radical and nationalist parties and candidates ahead of the NFP and SVT.
The fact that the constitution bashers and anti-Rabuka campaign convinced Fijians to vote in large numbers for candidates preaching rhetoric that eventually ended up as winning votes for FLP, shoots down the argument that all open constituencies will eradicate racism and the proportionate voting and common roll will prevent parties and candidates from practising racism. I reiterate that this is because of the ever-widening racial divide as a result of the coup and the hugely disproportionate population numbers.
Provisional census figures show Fijians outnumbering Indo-Fijians by more than 20 per cent.
Fijians comprise more than 57 per cent of the total population, Indo-Fijians a little over 37 per cent and declining and minorities comprise the rest. Racial harmony can only be achieved through sound and sensible leadership. Fiji is now more racially polarised than it was before Independence in 1970 because of our leaders' behaviour.
Instead of talking to each other, they have been talking at each other.
And now the talk has changed to imposition that is hardening attitudes.
This is the first result of hallucination.
Kamal Iyer is a former journalist and former administrator of the National Federation Party.

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