Monday, October 20, 2014

2014 Fiji Post Election - An Analysis by Steven Ratuva

Published in Pacific Scoop

A symbol of hope – reflections on the Fiji election

fiji Parliament-Meet-425wide Wansol
Fiji’s new parliamentarians … a reassuring image in the re-established democracy. Image: Wansolwara

Pacific Scoop:

Analysis – By Dr Steven Ratuva

One of the most reassuring sights in recent years was the group photo of parliamentarians in front of Fiji’s new Parliament building, standing shoulder to shoulder, with smiles glittering in the dry Suva sun.
These were the successful ones, those whose parties collected more than 5 percent of the votes and who were allocated seats according to their respective intra-party rankings.
Steve Ratuva (middle) in Fiji election panel
SODELPA fought a hard and enterprising battle but fell far short of victory. They were disadvantaged from the beginning by their ethno-nationalist ideological and political strategy aimed fundamentally at mobilising the Taukei who made up 297,818 (60 percent) of the total votes of 496,364.
This meant that they had to win at least 247,188 (83 percent) of Taukei votes to be able to win 25 seats (50 percent), the minimum threshold for any party to claim victory.
SODELPA versus Fiji First

Instead, SODELPA won 139,857 votes which translated into 47 percent of the total Taukei votes. But assuming that some Indo-Fijians and minorities voted for SODELPA also, the figure could come down a bit to around 46 percent Taukei votes.

This meant that about 54 percent of the Taukei votes were cast in favour of Fiji First and the other minor parties. This clear division in Taukei votes is reflective of the shifting nature of Taukei interests, expectations and political choices in a fast changing social, economic and political environment. This is a significant lesson for electoral strategising in the next election for political parties who hope to win Taukei votes.
In contrast, Fiji First had a lower level of difficulty because it had a more trans-ethnic appeal and thus only needed at least 50 percent of Taukei votes, 50 percent of Indo-Fijian votes and 50 percent of minority votes to win the 25 seats threshold. Their overwhelming 59.17 percent victory consisted of about 50 percent Taukei (the other 4 percent would have gone to minor parties) together with more than 70 percent of Indo-Fijian and more than 80 percent of minority group votes.
SODELPA had to work harder by 33 percent than Fiji First to achieve the 25 seats threshold. This disadvantage was clear from the beginning and the only way forward for SODELPA if it is to have a chance of winning the next election is to achieve the 83 percent Taukei votes, an impossible feat indeed given the shifting nature of Taukei votes as mentioned earlier.
Bainimarama-claims-victory RM Republika 425wide
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama claims victory in last month’s general election … “rock star” phenomenon. Image: Mads Anneberg/PMC
The other option is to use a trans-ethnic approach like Fiji First and hope to rope in other ethnic group support. This means a fundamental transformation in its ethnic and political ideology and position.
SODELPA’s strategy in carving up the single national constituency into 50 sub-constituencies as the focus of campaign for the 50 individual candidates was quite innovative and commendable because it won the party most of their seats.
My detailed study of the individual polling station results clearly showed that winning SODELPA candidates did well in their allocated local areas by taking advantage of kinship and other socio-cultural links within the local community.
The only SODELPA candidate who collected substantive votes across the sub-constituency boundaries was party leader Ro Temumu who collected a massive 49,485, light years ahead of Niko Nawaikula who came second with 7,348 votes.
Rural strategy

However, this strategy worked well in rural areas but not in the semi-urban and urban areas. These were Fiji First territories.

The Fiji First approach was in direct contrast to SODELPA. They used the “rock star” phenomenon very strategically by cleverly using the VFR principles (visibility, familiarity and relevance), which underpin the voter-politician relationship in an open Proportional Representation (PR) system.
The focus was on maximising the VFR of the already well-known party leader to draw votes for the party. This also worked well in the context of the number grid system used in the ballot paper where one just needed to remember and mark a number. Also, their presidential campaign style, their use of cargo cult politics (provision of development projects) and pro-poor manifesto, among others, helped to consolidate their dominance.
These achieved phenomenal results and destroyed every conceivable belief about the PR system which is often assumed to ameliorate disparities in vote as well as seat distribution. With 202,459 votes, Bainimarama’s massive victory, which was more than four times Ro Temumu’s votes and more than 70 percent of the total Fiji First votes, was unprecedented in the history of the PR system anywhere in the world that I am aware of.
Fiji First also had the advantage over other parties in terms of resources and the fact that they were in power in the form of the post-coup regime and had control over the political and coercive means to restrict the media and freedom of association and was in control of development projects which it marketed effectively to voters.
Eight years of authoritarian rule and unrivalled hegemony entrenched their visibility, familiarity and relevance in the consciousness of voters. If the election had taken place in 2009, Fiji First would have lost badly since the country was still going through a turbulent period and the party had very little to market to voters at that stage.
The different ideological positions between Fiji First and SODELPA were major subjects of political contestation. SODELPA’s vision of land, Great Council of Chiefs, identity and the secular state was on the protectionist, ethno-nationalistic and conservative end of the continuum while Fiji First was more towards the reformist, modernisation and multi-ethnic side.
Psychological coercion

Both parties used psychological coercion in the form of private and public fear-mongering. Rumours, conspiracy theories and hate stories were circulated widely by some parties using blog-sites, social networks and other conceivable means of modern and traditional communication.

This created a lot of tension and negative energy which thankfully slowly withered away after the election.
The stark demarcation provided voters with a clear choice. Indo-Fijians and minority groups found the Fiji First’s position more trans-ethnically embracing and in favour of their long term security in Fiji compared to the ethnically exclusive SODELPA position.
For the Taukei, the choice was between either SODELPA’s cultural preservation or Fiji First’s cultural transformation and socio-economic modernisation.
The patterns of Taukei support for both parties were apparent.
SODELPA had massive support in the eastern division polling stations in Lau, Kadavu and Lomaiviti as well as in Cakaudrove and Bua while Fiji First performed well in Vitilevu, especially in Nadroga, Nadi, Ba, Serua, Ra, Naitasiri and Tailevu.
Overwhelming support

For instance, Cuvu, Nadroga’s “capital,” was overwhelmingly Fiji First, despite the close traditional links between Cuvu and the SODELPA leader. In Tailevu the tussle was quite even but SODELPA had dominance in Rewa, home of the SODELPA leader.

Data from polling stations in urban areas such as Lami, Kinoya, Nausori, Nasinu, Raiwaqa, Nabua, USP, FNU, Suva Civic Centre, among others, showed that Fiji First had unsurpassed support. It appeared that support for SODELPA was strong amongst the more traditional and conservative members of the rural Taukei community while support for Fiji First was prominent among the more urban and also those who had direct benefit from the government’s development projects.
Development didn’t always work as party loyalty payoff. For instance, although a large number of aid projects in the form of roads and mining had taken place in Bua, Fiji First still performed very badly in many Bua polling stations.
In a Kadavu polling station, despite the provision of solar electricity to the villages concerned, only 2 voted for Fiji First out of a total of 77 voters.
The NFP and minority parties

The rejuvenated National Federation Party (NFP), like the other minority parties, was overshadowed by the two giants, Fiji First and SODELPA. Its attempt to become a multiracial and nationally appealing non-ethnic party did not resonate well with Indo-Fijian voters, the traditional supporters. They were hoping to capture the Indo-Fijian exodus from the Fiji Labour Party but failed as they marched right past towards the Fiji First camp.

As a result of the 1987 and 2000 coups, Indo-Fijians have been yearning for security and stability and they saw the Fiji First as the only party capable of providing these, not NFP or FLP.
Although the NFP attracted a lot of potential Indo-Fijian voters during the campaign, in the last two weeks before the election when the media popularity polls showed a sudden drop in Bainimarama’s poll rating, there was anxiety which spawned a massive drift towards Fiji First by Indo-Fijian voters who feared a defeat for Fiji First could also mean uncertainty for their future. In addition many were also attracted towards Fiji First’s multiracial appeal and development initiatives.
The loss of the FLP’s traditional cane-belt support and the leadership crisis now marks the end of a once vibrant party. The breakaway party, the Fiji Trade Union Congress (FTUC)- sanctioned People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had high hopes and expectations but failed to attract the workers’ votes, many of whom voted for Fiji First as shown by a detailed examination of the polling station votes.
For instance, at the Denarau Island polling station where a large number of hotel workers voted, Fiji First polled the most. The Fiji First manifesto which promised free electricity, free water and 99 year lease for squatters together with provision of other goodies such as free education and infrastructure appealed very well to urban workers.
The minority parties such as NFP, FLP, PDP, One Fiji and Fiji United Freedom Party, together with the other two independent candidates as a group, could have gained about 13 percent of the votes or 7 seats if they had formed a pre-election coalition. As it turned out, NFP won only 3 seats and the rest of the parties and independents wasted their votes and squandered 4 seats. Perhaps this is a lesson for minor parties in the next election.
The future

There are valuable lessons to be learnt by political parties from the 2014 election. All political parties I talked to before the election provided me with seat estimates which were excessive and totally incompatible with their capability.

For me as a voter and political analyst, it was probably the most memorable election because of the unprecedented high level of enthusiasm and expectation among political parties and voters.
The picture of the new parliamentarians posing in front of the Parliament house symbolises our new democracy, new hope, new identity and new spirit as a nation, as we optimistically embark on a new journey towards the future. Let’s keep this symbol alive and unblemished.
Dr Steven Ratuva, a political sociologist at the University of Auckland, has recently been appointed professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and director of the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Research at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. He was the election expert analyst for Fiji TV and other international media during the Fiji election and contributes frequently to Pacific  Media Centre Online and Pacific Scoop.

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