Opinion Piece by Leba Seni Nabou - And now we wait
Published in the Fiji Times Saturday 24 September 2022
On Friday, September 2, 2022, the Speaker adjourned Parliament “sine die”, or indefinitely.
A “sine die” adjournment does not mean that Parliament has been dissolved. It means that no more parliamentary sittings have been scheduled, unless of course a situation crops up before elections.
In August 2018, after being adjourned “sine die” in July, Parliament had to be reconvened for a special sitting to re-appoint the then President, Major-General (Ret’d) Jioji Konusi Konrote.
In comparison to 2018, the “sine die” or “indefinite” adjournment motion language for the last Parliament sitting of Friday, September 2, 2022, seemed sombre and clinical.
Compared with the 2018 “sine die” adjournment motion narrative, there were no thanks offered to the Speaker for his leadership and wisdom in Parliament from 2018 to 2022, by the leader of the Government in Parliament when moving the adjournment motion.
Neither were there advance Christmas tidings, or “happy elections” wishes to the rest of the House in 2022, by the seconder of the “sine die” motion from the Government side.
It was almost as if the FFP side felt that it would be their final exit from the hallowed chamber.
Yet, the nation remains in the dark as to when the Government intends to hold elections.
Granted that it is the prerogative of the Government to choose the election date most (politically) advantageous to them. This time around the uncertainties and unknowns looming large on the horizon could be causing major insomnia for two people.
The only non-clue of possible election dates offered by the Prime Minister while meeting former residents in San Francisco on August 5, 2022, was that elections would be held this year.
"WHEELS UP" MODE What we can surmise is that the official dissolution of Parliament and issue of the Writ for elections will not happen in September.
And we believe this from the “chockablock” travel commitments of the Prime Minister for the rest of this month.
From the funeral of the late Queen Elizabeth II in London, the PM popped up in New York for side events of the UN General Assembly.
From New York, the Prime Minister looks likely to remain in “wheels up” mode (collecting his average $3000 per day allowance) next week with a meeting in Washington from September 28-29, where US President Joseph Biden will host leaders of the Pacific.
Then we’re more or less into the month of October.
If the Writ is issued on any date between 1st to 16th October, the main polling day, by law, of “writ plus 44 days” will fall between 14th to 30th November.
So for example if the Writ is issued on 1 October, the main election day will be 44 days after that, which is 14th November.
If the possible Writ date falls on the latter half of the month of October from the 17th onwards, then adding 44 days, makes the main election day fall on the month of December.
The last possible date that the Writ can be issued is 26 November, and 44 days after that makes the main polling day, 09 January 2023.
Another travel commitment that the FijiFirst party could also be considering is the climate change COP-27 to be held in Egypt from 6-18 November.
THE X FACTORS In order to arrive at some logical conclusions, it is important to consider some key motivations.
Chief among this is the will of the people, and their impatient desire to express that at the ballot box.
In our assessment, never has there been a more overwhelming intention for the electorate to choose new leaders, than right now. Of course the FFP knows this full well also, from their “intelligence” sweeps.
However, as has been detailed before in my columns, the startling and near-doubling of low voter turnout numbers from the past elections of 2014 and 2018, should be a logical point of common concern for all parties.
To recap the low voter turnout numbers again: • in the 2014 elections 91,023 people who were supposed to vote, did not.
• in the 2018 elections 178,995 people who were supposed to vote, did not.
Could the low voter turnout scenario, if heightened even, actually be advantageous to any political party? Then of course the weather, and the season (for natural disasters) on which election day falls presents more X-factors, as we witnessed in 2018, where rain and flash flooding dampened the enthusiasm of voters to go out and perform their civic duty.
Further “threats” to elections as detailed by the Fiji Elections Office to political parties at its meeting of September 14 include possible COVID-19 lockdowns in isolated areas, where postal voting options for these communities would need to be triggered.
Of course such an obscure scenario in the current “COVID-19 free, back-to-business” situation in Fiji would need careful consultation with political parties.
THE MONEY “MADUA SITUATION” Added to the growing list of uncertainties being bought to bear here, will be the state of the global economy.
Winter in Europe which may affect global oil prices, supply chains and of course the shackling high cost of living (and stagflation) is affecting every single nation right now.
The World Bank released a brief on September 15 asking the question, “Is a global recession imminent?”
As a follow-up to that report, The Economist magazine further suggests in a media report that a global manufacturing slowdown heralds that worse is to come.
Is it any wonder that ANZ Pacific economist Dr Kishti Sen suprisingly sounded an alarm in a media report of September 12 that the Government should not be running the economy like a Department of Finance, and that according to their assessment Fiji’s inflation is higher than what official estimates suggest.
Here at home, the slight relief in month-to-month reductions in domestic fuel prices, flour and milk look to be highly temporary, and the assistance (and timing) of the saqamoli $180 “inflation mitigation package” assistance, will surely be weighed up against the shifts in global economic trends.
This is a wildcard X-factor that the ruling FFP will also be weighing up, against possible election dates.
Because no matter how glossy their optics and no matter how fine their words are, the ruling FFP will bear the electorate’s brunt of blame and shame, when people’s wallets, purses, and bank accounts become anorexic.
Even though the FFP ratchets up cajoling of manifesto policy debates among political parties like an obsession, voters will be reminded daily about the four year “manifesto” of FFP that they are living under. That is the FFP’s sole burden to bear.
Other options that the FFP will be assessing for their advantage in deciding the election date will be public holidays, school holidays, and Christmas festivities.
FFP CANDIDATES The most telling signal of the election dates of course will be the announcement of the FFP candidates.
In between the rabid castigation of opposition parties via press conference, the FFP general secretary (and minister for everything else) said 200 individuals had applied to contest the elections under their banner.
While he rattled on about being “buoyed” by the interest of individuals who applied to align with their party philosophy, his body language and stiff smile was a dead giveaway as to the real extent of that “buoyancy”.
The FFP candidates announcements closer to the Writ date will have them at a distinct disadvantage, compared with other political parties who have made phased announcements of their candidates.
Unless the candidates are sitting MPs, new FFP candidates will have less public airtime in which to promote themselves for votes, in this unrealistic single constituency landscape.
If their candidates are saddled with the usual party edict of solely campaigning for their party leader’s number, which some notorious individuals bowed to without realising their self-sacrifice, then it’s a shortlived political journey for them through no fault of their own.
After all, these are FFP’s very own laws, for an unsustainable electoral system that is leader-centric.
The electoral system puts a heavy burden on the party leader to do the heavy lifting and draw such huge numbers for themselves, so that as “magnets” their vote numbers lift other candidates with good vote numbers.
The challenge for FFP’s incumbency and electoral system at this point, is that the veil has been lifted and the main attraction no longer has that appeal so wildly boasted about in previous election years.
THE CHALLENGE FOR OPPOSITION PARTIES At the current rate, opposition parties may become gold medalist bearers of electoral breaches.
Once again, despite the self-righteous bluster from the FFP secretary, it circles right back to their fast-tracking of laws in Parliament, abusing the privilege of Standing Orders 51.
When key players like political parties are not properly consulted on laws concerning them, then it stands to reason that there will not be a shared understanding of these laws in effect.
That is why NFP has three classifications for all our candidates.
Once the party approves candidacy, we are all called “proposed candidates”.
If, as proposed candidates we make it through the oppressive politicking by FFP through to the nomination process, we become known to ourselves as “provisional candidates”.
Only upon the party sailing through the 14-day nomination process without being de-registered, and candidates finally being assigned a number, does that individual become a bona fide candidate in our books. This is our reality of the matter.
So when is the election date? As political punters many of us are watching the tea leaves.
With unpredictable factors weighing writ large on the FFP, the window closes quickly and really gives them less room to move.
• Seni Nabou is the general secretary of the National Federation Party. The views in this article are hers and not necessarily shared by this newspaper.
#NFPintheNews - As published in the Fiji Times - Saturday 24 September 2022