Thursday, August 21, 2008

A season for flip flops by Chaudhry

A season for flip flops
By MARGARET WISEThursday, August 21, 2008


IT was an unprecedented attention-grabbing phone call. The journalistic hunch jumped to one conclusion. Mahendra Chaudhry was leaving the interim regime.
Last Saturday Mr Chaudhry shocked staff at The Fiji Times office in Lautoka when he called to ask: "Was someone trying to reach me?"
It was a day before he dismembered his Fiji Labour Party from the organ of power. He was interim Finance Minister then and was still dancing around questions about his impending discharge from office.
That one phone call put a harsh spotlight on the former money man. For if history is any guide, then the media can now expect their phones to start ringing. Or at least answered.
It's a pattern that repeats itself. Mr Chaudhry has a love-hate relationship with the media depending on where he sits in the food chain. Mr Chaudhry's participation in the interim Government was thought to be one that would provide him his longest run in a position of power - since there was no indication on when democratic elections would take place. In 1987 he was finance minister for a month. Then he was prime minister for a year and a day, when the 2000 coup took place.
He was the darling of the media when he was a unionist and Opposition leader. But the honeymoon was over the moment he ascended to the fourth floor and became prime minister. He shunned the media and flatly refused to take calls or answer queries.
The media had no greater adversary than Mr Chaudhry in the past eighteen months. During his reign in the interim Government he was the media's biggest critic, largely ignoring all faxes and telephone calls made to him personally or to his office.
Last Sunday he left the impression that his work with the interim Government should function as a halo. But close inspection of his departing remarks about the elections and the People's Charter, it can be safely said that Mr Chaudhry's tongue is as forked as when he was in office as a politician. A model of consistency he is not - and for sure, the coming months will be a season for flip flops. We are already seeing tweaks, switches, backtracks, shifting and refining of positions. Brace yourselves for a reverse and u-turn on major issues but in the meantime, let's take a tour d'horizon of the before and after strategy and tactics of the FLP and its once straight talking and media savvy leader.
Sunday August 17th:
* The Fiji Times reports that FLP president Jokapeci sees no reason why Chaudhry and Co should resign as they were doing a good job in the interim. Lek Ram Vayeshnoi said the issue of stepping down was not even on the agenda.
Later that day Mr Chaudhry announces the resignation of three FLP members from the interim Government, saying it was a party decision and would allow them to concentrate on party affairs.
Monday, August 18:
* Media outlets report that Mr Chaudhry and FLP president Jokapeci Koroi saying it was hinted that "once the charter is ready we will step down".
* The FLP encouraged political dialogue with all relevant party representatives.
* The FLP wanted to effectively engage with the population on the draft charter.
* Mrs Koroi said the FLP was still consulting its electorate on the draft People's Charter and has yet to decide whether it will endorse the document. She said much of what was proposed in the draft People's Charter will need Constitutional and legislative amendments
* The FLP only joined the interim Government on the condition that executive authority was returned to the President.
* The FLP had joined the interim Government to save the nation from imminent financial and economic collapse.
* The FLP wanted the interim Government to set a firm timeline for general elections adding that any uncertainty to a date would be of "great detriment to the nation".
Wednesday, July 30:
* The Fiji Times reports Mr Chaudhry saying the economy had recovered - thanks to the coup.
Friday, July 25:
* Reports that Mr Chaudhry would be asked to step down began circulating. Observers noted that he was excluded from a meeting with bottling companies after Fiji Water stopped operations and sent more than 400 workers home.
Wednesday, July 23:
* The FLP website posted resolutions from the annual delegates conference leading with the party resolving "to support the Interim Government's initiative to adopt a People's Charter as the best way to move the nation forward."
Saturday, July 19:
* Mr Chaudhry told the FLP delegates conference the party made "strong submissions" to the NCBBF to bring in electoral reforms and legislation to make media accountable and responsible. He said the FLP had been given an opportunity to "right the wrongs" of the past and members should "put Fiji first".
FLP also agreed that the size of the civil service should be reduced saying it had become lazy and non responsive. The FLP said the members should support the Peoples Charter because it would ensure the military maintained oversight on matters that affect national security. Mrs Koroi said it was "in no hurry to see elections" till a review and reform of the electoral process was complete.
Saturday, April 5:
* The Fiji Times reports Chaudhry saying that elections should only happen after the People's Charter is formulated and finalised. He said that Australia and New Zealand need to understand that an election was not the solution to the problems Fiji continued to face.
January 9, 2007:
* Media outlets report that Mr Chaudhry clarified an earlier statement that he would not be part of an illegal regime. He said the interim Government was not illegal because it was acting under the orders of President Ratu Josefa Iloilo.

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