30 Oct 2018

Campaigning heats up for Fiji election

10:42 am on 30 October 2018

Campaigning is heating up in Fiji with just over two weeks to go before the Fiji election.

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Photo: RNZ / Philippa Tolley

In village halls, on social media and in Suva radio studios, party leaders are vying for the vote on 14 November.

It's just the second election in 12 years following sweeping changes to the electoral system under a new constitution brought in by the Bainimarama-led government.

The former military commander was elected decisively to power in 2014 at the helm of his FijiFirst party after seizing power in 2006.

Frank Bainimarama is again up against the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) and the National Federation Party (NFP) who gained a third of the seats between them in the last parliament - SODELPA 15 to NFP's three.

HOPE, Unity and the Labour Party are the other parties fielding candidates for the 51 seat parliament.

FijiFirst has been rallying voters with its "family fun days" where, amid bright blue bunting, T-shirted leaders push the party message of stability, equality and the ability to keep on delivering economic growth .

The party has painted its opponents as shambolic, racist and liars who are intent on taking Fiji back to dark days of the past.

The NFP leader Biman Prasad said the incumbent government was lashing out at him and his party in desperation, for fear of losing power.

He said FijiFirst leaders are the ones raising the race card, a hot button issue in mutli-ethnic Fiji.

The NFP is pledging a fair living wage, zero sales tax on basic food items, and higher cane payments for struggling farmers in the backbone sugar industry.

Voters queue at John Wesley College in Fiji

Queues during Fiji's last election Photo: RNZ / Philippa Tolley

The slogan of the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) is "leadership that listens", focusing on unity and consultation as it tries to dispel perceptions that it only represents Fiji's indigenous people.

Its leader Sitiveni Rabuka, fresh from his acquittal on Friday of charges of electoral fraud, presented the party's manifesto to the Vanua Levu town of Labasa on Saturday.

Anti-corruption authorities wasted no time in appealing and Mr Rabuka could yet be convicted which would see him out of the race.

Unity Fiji led by the former Fiji Reserve Bank Governor Savenaca Narube has put forward its manifesto, entitled a "Roadmap to Peace and Happiness".

Among its aims is to "heal the wounds of the past" including addressing "the injustices of the 1987, 2000, and 2006 coups".

Tupou Draunidalo, who jumped ship from the NFP to set up the HOPE party, is fielding a strongly female line-up of candidates, offering an up to four fold increase in the minimum wage, sector by sector, and in consultation with industry.

Minimum wage hogs election debate

The national minimum wage debate has hogged the headlines so far with several parties promising to raise it from the $US1.25 an hour at present, prompting an outcry from local industry.

With 28 percent of people officially below the poverty line and many more just on it, parties' other pledges include lowering food costs, extending free education, improving health care and raising the retirement age for civil servants.

"People-centred" policies are what the Labour Party is pushing, according to its parliamentary leader Aman Ravindra-Singh, including scrapping civil servants' "draconian" contracts and diverting funds from infrastructure to health.

Fiji Elections Supervisor Mohammed Saneem announces candidates for 2018 election

Fiji Elections Supervisor Mohammed Saneem announces candidates for 2018 election Photo: RNZ

The human rights lawyer also stressed the need to retrain security forces to get rid of a culture of violence as well as establishing an independent police oversight committee.

He told local radio the biggest objective for all opposition parties was to implement change "which the people are crying out for".

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