September 10

Fiji poll points to re-appraisal – claim PM Bainimarama more popular than PM Gillard


The respected Australian think tank Lowy Institute conducted under the direction of Jenny Hayward-Jones, says that a poll it recently conducted in Fiji shows Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama enjoys the support of 66 per cent of the people of Fiji.

A higher percentage of Indo-Fijians (75%) approved of Commodore Bainimarama’s performance than did iTaukei (indigenous Fijians) (60%).

The ABC’s Radio Australia reports (8/9) that Fiji's Ministry of Information Permanent Secretary, Sharon Smith-Johns, said the poll showed the Fijian Prime Minister three times more popular among Fijians than  Prime Minister Julia Gillard is among Australians.

This finding was reached through the poll of 1032 Fijians. A similar number, 65 per cent, said Fiji was heading in the right direction. 

A clear majority (63 per cent) disagree with Australia's response to the 2006 coup. On the specific issue of the sanctions against the regime, 81 per cent believe that Australia should "lift all sanctions and re-establish normal relations".

 Fijians have a very high regard for Australia and New Zealand and disagree with their Prime Minister as to whether these countries should be meber sof the Pacific Islands Forum.

…integrity of the poll… 

But the national secretary of the Fiji Trades Union Congress, Felix Anthony, told Radio Australia he did not think the people who answered the survey questions were being honest.

"This poll, I think at best would only indicate how intimidated people are," he said.

The president of  the International Commission of Jurists in Australia, former judge John Dowd, told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat that Fiji was operating under an illegal constitution and that the legal fraternity was powerless to take action.

"You'd have to say they are intimidated," he said.

"They can see the writing on the wall, they know that if any of them speak out in Fiji they will be targeted themselves and I perfectly understand the fear that there must be in the legal profession." 

The Lowy Institute says the poll was conducted in the same method as other opinion polls in Fiji have been and on a confidential basis.

 It says the poll results tend to suggest that the Fiji people did not feel inhibited answering the survey. Details about the poll appear below and there are more in the report.

An executive summary appears below after the following comment on Australian and New Zealand policy.

…need for re-appraisal of Australian, NZ policy…..  

Fiji should in my view return to democracy as soon as possible, and be restored to its place in the Commonwealth. After a return to the Commonwealth,  and with the approval of The Queen of Fiji, the monarchy – which is very popular in the country – should be restored.

Australian and New Zealand have been successful in having Fiji suspended from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum. This has been counter productive.

The campaigns have only succeeded in driving Fiji closer to the Chinese government which in no way practices the standards of governance about which the Australian and New Zealand foreign offices lecture the Fijians.

Both Australia and New Zealand have applied standards to Fiji which they would not dare to apply to, say, China.  Fiji is not a colony and should not be treated  this way.

From comments made by some of the other leaders at the recent Pacific Forum, it would seem that they no longer share the views of the Australian and New Zealand governments and would prefer to see Fiji restored to these bodies.

The quite vindictive campaign that Fiji should take no further part in international peacekeeping efforts – where she has made a remarkable contribution and seems particularly suited, should in my view be abandoned. 

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama says that  a new constitution will be in place in 2013 and that elections will be held in 2014. He claims that the measures he has taken are there to ensure that racist elements do not again take over the government and discriminate against Fijian Indians.   

….Executive Summary…

The Lowy Institute Fiji Poll reports the results of a face-to-face opinion survey conducted in Fiji between 19 and 21 August 2011 using a sample of 1,032 adults randomly selected from the major urban and peri-urban areas of Viti Levu (the main island of Fiji).

…..Fiji and the World….

Most Fiji people were positive about the importance of maintaining good foreign relationships, particularly with traditional partners such as Australia, New Zealand, the United States and United Kingdom.

They also recognised the value of relationships with Asian economic powers –China, Japan and India.

Although the Fiji government has worked hard on its relationships with fellow Melanesian countries, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, the Fiji people were less enthusiastic about the value of these relationships to Fiji.

The Pacific Islands Forum was regarded as the most important regional organisation for Fiji, and 79% disapproved of Fiji’s suspension from the Forum.

 A large majority also disagreed with Fiji’s suspension from the Commonwealth.

While Fiji has been isolated from the Pacific Islands region’s premier institution as a result of the 2006 coup, 77% of Fiji people said Fiji’s traditional leadership role in the region was the same or stronger since the coup.

The majority of Fiji people said Fiji should be left alone to sort out its return to democracy, expressing opposition to international pressure on the Fiji government.

 While Australia was the foreign country Fiji people regarded most warmly, 81% said Australia should lift all sanctions and re-establish normal relations with Fiji.

….Fiji at Home….

The people of Fiji registered a strong approval rating of 66% for the performance of Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama as Prime Minister.

A similar number (65%) said Fiji was heading in the right direction.

A majority said the Fiji government was doing a good job at listening to the views of the Fiji people and in delivering key social services such as health, education and transport.

 The government’s performance on reducing racial inequalities also rated highly at 67%. A smaller majority (59%) said the government was improving the economy and increasingemployment opportunities.

A slim majority (53%) of Fiji people said democracy was preferable to any other form of government.

Fifty-three per cent said the Fiji government was doing a good job preparing to draft a new constitution, 52% said the government was doing a good job making progress towards elections and51% said the government was doing a good job reforming the electoral system.

A significant majority (66%) of Fiji people said the Church should not be involved in politics.

While overall approval for the current key role of the Fiji military was high at 68%, support for a long-term role for the military in Fiji’s politics was lower at 52%.

There was near universal support in Fiji for some of the basic tenets of democracy, with over 95% overall support for the importance of the right to free expression, the right to vote in national elections, the right to a fair trial, and a media free from censorship.    …Lowy’s interpretation  of the opinion on democracy….

  The discrepancy between the high number of people who either strongly or partly agreed that core human and democratic rights were important for them personally and the much lower number of people who said democracy was preferable to any other kind of government is difficult to interpret.

If 98% of the Fiji people strongly or partly agree with the right to freely vote in national elections, why do only 53% say democracy is preferable to any other kind of government?

Why do 66% of Fiji people say Commodore Bainimarama is doing a very good or good job as Prime Minister when his government has denied the people democratic rights they say are important to them?

The Fiji people may associate democracy with a system of government rather than as a set of processes and rights.

This system of government has effectively broken down four times through two military coups led by Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka in 1987, the George Speight-led coup in 2000 and the Bainimarama coup in 2006, and therefore has perhaps been tarnished in the eyes of the Fiji people.

The fact that basic democratic rights such as the right to freely vote in national elections and the right to freely express yourself have so much support, together with the outcome that fewer people agree that the military should play a permanent role in politics than those who approve of the military’s current role, suggest the Fiji people do expect that a future government will deliver more democratic rights to the people.

… …Recent history….     On 5 December 2006 Fiji military commander, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama deposed Laisenia Qarase, the elected Prime Minister of Fiji, in a military coup. The coup followed a sustained period of discord between the government and the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, led by Bainimarama, overthree contentious parliamentary bills – the Reconciliation Tolerance and Unity Bill, the Qoliqoli Bill and the Land Tribunal Bill. Bainimarama issued an ultimatum to the government to agree to a series of demands or resign.

When the government did not meet all the military’s demands,Bainimarama seized power and assumed the position of Prime Minister, which he has maintained to date.

He promised to engage in a clean-up campaign to rid Fiji of corruption and to eliminate racial inequalities in Fiji. Bainimarama said elections would be held when the country was stable and whenappropriate electoral reforms were implemented.

The coup attracted international condemnation. Australia,New Zealand, the United States, United Kingdom, theEuropean Union and Japan all condemned the coup andcalled for a swift return to democracy.

 Australia and New Zealand imposed travel sanctions on members of the militaryregime. Other nations imposed a variety of limited sanctions.

Fiji was suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum in May 2009 when Bainimarama failed to demonstrate he could meet an earlier undertaking to hold elections in 2009.

The Commonwealth also suspended Fiji when it did not deliver onits promises to hold democratic dialogue that would lead toelections in 2010.

In April 2009, following a landmark Court of Appeal decision that the coup had been illegal, Fiji’s President Iloilo abrogated the constitution and appointed Bainimarama as interim PrimeMinister.

The Fiji government imposed the Public Emergency Regulation which restricted freedom of assembly and imposed censorship of the media. The President also appointed a newjudiciary. The Governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji was sacked and replaced by his deputy.

In July 2009, Bainimarama gave a speech to the nation entitled ‘A strategic framework for change’. In this speech heannounced that elections would be held in 2014 and a newconstitution would be in place by 2013.

He promised major pro-growth and pro-poor economic reforms and new laws that would address Fiji’s social problems.

 He also committed to engagement with the international community.

Bainimarama has sought to reduce the influence of the Methodist Church in Fiji politics. He has banned the annual conference of the Methodist Church three times.

Bainimarama has also reduced the powers of Fiji’s chiefs, substantially diminishingtheir influence on the nation.

The media’s freedom was removed first by the Public Emergency Regulation, which alsocontinues to restrict freedom of assembly, and then by theMedia Industry Development Decree 2010.

Reports of intimidation have increased, with Fiji’s trade unions appealing for international action to address intimidatory tactics used by the Fiji military-led government.

Supporters of the Bainimarama government point to its pro-poor policies and commitment to liberal economic reforms as evidence of positive progress in Fiji.

 Detractors argue that media censorship, acts of intimidation and lacklustre implementation of promised reforms are proof that Bainimarama is not serious about reform or returning thecountry to democracy.

Bainimarama has openly argued with the Australian and New Zealand governments and committed Fiji to a ‘look north’ policy, involving closer ties with Asian partners such as China,India and Indonesia and with the emerging economic powers of Brazil and South Africa.

….opinion polling in Fiji…

Opinion polling has a long history in Fiji. The Fiji Times launched the first Tebbutt Times Poll in 1992 and opinion polling has been a regular feature of public debate in Fiji since then.

This opinion poll, however, is the first since the imposition of the Public Emergency Regulation in April 2009 and the introduction of the Fiji Media Industry Development Decree in June 2010.

 It is also the first to canvas, in a substantial way, the opinions of Fiji people about the world.

The poll was conducted in the same method as other opinion polls in Fiji have been and on a confidential basis.

 Further information on the poll’s methodology is available at the end of the  publication.

The poll results tend to suggest that the Fiji people did not feel inhibited answering the survey. For example, the fact that a third of Fiji people were prepared to say that Bainimarama was doing either an average, fairly poor or very poor job as Prime Minister suggests that they felt sufficiently free to voice an opinion in a confidential survey.



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