20 Nov 2018

FijiFirst facing 'more effective' opposition

5:02 pm on 20 November 2018

Frank Bainimarama's FijiFirst party is facing a stronger and more experienced opposition as it prepares for another four years in power, an academic says.

Frank Bainimarama

Frank Bainimarama Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

FijiFirst lost five seats to the opposition which has some fresh faces including women who were strong advocates on gender and environmental issues outside parliament, according to the University of the South Pacific's Professor Vijay Naidu.

"People like Lenora Qereqeretabua, I have a feeling that they would be able to scrutinise government policies and draft legislation perhaps more effectively than the previous opposition," Professor Naidu said.

He said SODELPA's Sitiveni Rabuka would also bring experience to the debating chamber.

FijiFirst's share of the national vote was a hair's breadth over the half way mark - 50.02 percent.

This was down from 59 percent in 2014 and translates to 27 seats in parliament against the opposition's 24.

In Fiji people vote for one candidate and seats are worked out according to the total number of ballots cast for each party.

A typical street scene in Nadi, Fiji

A typical street scene in Nadi, Fiji Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

Mr Bainimarama was the people's favourite with a massive 36.92 percent of the vote, down from over 40 percent four years ago.

Mr Bainimarama put the loss of votes down to the lower turnout due to heavy rain, and Professor Naidu did not dismiss this as a reason for his reduced support.

"Many of the beneficiaries of funding for flood damage, for micro-enterprises etc could have been people in the lower income brackets who probably were not able to come in the numbers because of adverse weather."

The FijiFirst government's policies had generally failed to deal with issues around ethnic disadvantage especially those affecting indigenous Fijians, he said.

Support had been affected too by the government not budging on the minimum wage and civil service reform which put all government workers on contract, Professor Naidu said.

"This has certainly affected support of public servants and extended to teachers and people in the medical professions," he said.

Friendlier parliament possible

Professor Naidu said the swing could affect the atmosphere in the next parliament, despite ruffled feathers after a hard-fought election.

"The government was very condescending and antagonistic to the opposition throughout the last four years and that was accompanied by an arrogance that derived from the very large majority they had.

"This time around their numbers have dwindled down but there is a possibility of greater cooperation and perhaps a friendlier environment in the precincts of the parliament."

Sitiveni Rabuka

Sitiveni Rabuka Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Kelvin Anthony

Three parties did not get over the the five percent threshold for a seat in parliament.

This was despite strong leaders like Tupou Draunidalo and Savenaca Narube and would give food for thought for the next election, Professor Naidu said.

A larger opposition would not translate into a less restricted parliament, according to Biman Prasad, leader of the National Federation Party (NFP).

Restrictive laws and the rules of parliament which had been amended in the last term denied participation by the opposition, he said.

"Nothing has changed. No law has changed," he said.

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