This past Wednesday (the 17th of September) Fiji had it’s first elections since 2006, when Frank (Voreqe) Bainimarama led a military coup to overthrow a democratically elected government. According to the current tally, Fiji has voted to keep Frank in office, with his party Fiji First gaining twice as many votes as runner-up SODELPA.
There seem to be two major reasons Frank has retained office despite his originally illegitimate means to gain it; inclusion, and social programs. Frank (an ethnic Fijian) has repeatedly reached out to the Indo-Fijian community (around a third of the population) and has proposed eliminating the term Indo-Fijian so as to call all Fijian nationals simply Fijian. Under Frank, the Great Council of Chiefs has been dissolved, after proving an obstacle to his agenda.
While I haven’t done sufficient research on the topic, the country has not fallen apart under Frank. Though sanctions from Australia and other neighboring countries led to price inflation in Fiji, people are employed, schools are running (though there was a mass firing two years ago), and things are working about as well as one can expect in a developing nation. In the neighboring town Nausori there are posters advocating buying Fijian made products – aimed at both Fijian pride and boosting the local economy, no doubt.
My father is a local SODELPA representative – my first night in the village, we were sitting around the kava bowl in the community hall, and he put on a campaign video by SODELPA. It started out with a line being drawn from Israel to Fiji, and then consisted of a video of a lecture by a man who would occasionally reference a slideshow, which alternated between bible quotes and sections of “Khaiyama’s thesis” (absolutely no idea what this was – a Master’s thesis in political science, maybe?). SODELPA’s argument has essentially been in defense of the indigenous Fijian community. They also called Fiji a “Christian country” while saying they would respect others – which likely didn’t help win many non-Christian voters. As an afterthought, SODELPA has called itself pro-women, because the party leader is a woman (their manifesto says that women are Fiji’s greatest untapped resource, something straight out of an NGO brochure, though undoubtedly true).
In the vote count so far, it seems more than half of indigenous Fijians voted for Fiji First – obviously, SODELPA’s arguments failed to sufficiently win over the majority ethnic group of Fiji.
Though international observers have given the election a clean bill of health, I have heard several rumors of fraud through my mother. One is of a container of pre-ticked ballots (checked for Frank) showing up at the port. The other is of a Fiji First minister stuffing ballots in his car. However, there has been no evidence to support such claims, say international observers. My mother also tells me that the head of the election commission has family members running on the Fiji First ballot. As well, there is a man named Sayed-Khaiyum, an Indo-Fijian businessman, whom has strong connections to Frank, and is rumored to benefit strongly from Frank’s rule.
The election has not been violent, and my father continues to drink grog and bus into Suva every day. It remains to be seen whether Frank will give a damn about the minority parties in Parliament though – he doesn’t have to, because he will have a majority in Parliament. So mostly, Frank just gained legitimacy in the eyes of international observers and opened some new economic doors for Fiji. Good luck, Fiji.