The Contemporary Pacific 14.1 (2002) 257-261
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Fiji before the Storm: Elections and the Politics of Development
Fiji before the Storm: Elections and the Politics of Development, edited by Brij V Lal. Canberra: Asia Pacific Press at the Australian National University, 2000. ISBN 0-7315-3650-9; xii + 205 pages, tables, figures, map, glossary, notes, references, index. A$32; US$30.
The contributions to this collection were for the most part written in the aftermath of the 1999 Fiji general election (which brought the People's Coalition led by Mahendra Chaudhry to power) and before the coup attempt of May 2000. Half the chapters deal with the election or with political developments leading up to that election; the other half are studies of economic development in Fiji, with one that offers an analysis of women's roles in politics. The volume was completed and published in the months following the political upheaval of May 2000. The opening and closing chapters, both written by the editor (Professor Brij Lal of the Australian National University), thus incorporate some analysis of the crisis and its long-term implications for Fiji.
This is a volume that traverses the highs and lows, the promise and despair, of Fiji in the last decade of the twentieth century. Appropriately, the first substantive chapter is by Sitiveni Rabuka, the man who did so much to define Fiji's politics in that decade. In a personal memoir, Rabuka reflects on his political convictions and the factors that impelled him along the path he took, from "soldier to military ruler, politician to practitioner of democracy," and (at the time of writing) Commonwealth mediator and peacemaker in Solomon Islands.
Inevitably one looks for clues as [End Page 257] to whether or not Rabuka anticipated (if not colluded in) the insurrection of May 2000. However, apart from briefly mentioning the disaffection of defeated Fijian candidates after the 1999 election, Rabuka does not dwell on his loss, or its possible consequences. Instead he emphasizes his ready acceptance of the election result and, more important, his continued support for the 1997 constitution. He describes as "poetic irony" the fact that the two main architects of that constitution (himself and Jai Ram Reddy) were "essentially rejected by the voters." In his view, the voters also rejected the multiracial vision embedded in the constitution.
How and why voters behaved the way they did in the election of 1999 is the subject of the next two chapters. Brij Lal's analysis of the election campaign and the subsequent results notes the importance for parties of an active grassroots network and strong party structure. The defeat of both the ruling Soqosoqo ni vakavulewa ni taukei (SVT) party of Rabuka and the National Federation Party (NFP) of Jai Ram Reddy may be attributed in part to the dormant or moribund structures of both parties, and to the more effective networks of the opposition parties, especially Labor. Both parties also failed to articulate and convey policies that appealed to the voters, unlike their opposition. Lal also draws attention to the perennial dilemma of parties that "court moderation in a multiethnic society." They often fall victim to more extremist and racialist parties.
The impact of the 1997 constitution, in particular the electoral system, on the election result continues to attract controversy, especially in the lead-up to a new general election under the same electoral system. Both Lal and Robert Norton analyze the provisions of the new constitution, with Norton closely scrutinizing the workings of the preferential or alternative voting system, which he shows to have had the most effect in the Fijian communal seats, where exchange of preferences between a number of Fijian parties sealed the fate of the SVT. If a first-past-the-post system had been used, that party would have ended up with 18 instead of 8 seats in parliament and would have been the second largest party, behind Labor.
The increasing political fragmentation of indigenous Fijian voters, evidenced by the eight different political parties that fielded candidates in the 1999...