by Seni Nabou, NFP General Secretary.
Opinion piece published in the Fiji Times on:
28 May 2022
No wonder the field of politics is lumped with a less than sterling reputation.
It is because of the sweeping stereotype that everyone who "does" politics is cut-throat, immoral, ambitious, are compulsive liars, corrupt, slanderous, toxic, narcissistic, hypocritical, disruptive and scandalous.
But that is not entirely correct. Of course there are political characters who are drenched in these undesirable qualities. There are also others who believe in selfless service to others, patriotism, truth, honour, justice, human rights, democracy, fairness, consultation, equity, compromise and dignity.
This same criticism could be levelled at any profession, industry, religious or cultural grouping or sector. Politics, like any other grouping, involves people. Thus, human nature and all our follies will apply.
In this official campaign period however, never have we witnessed the stark desperation by scurrilous political types and their agents, executing aggressive plays, plots and ploys that undermine our rights as political parties to campaign, as set out in sections 116(1)(a) and (b) of the Electoral Act.
On Wednesday, 25 May 2022, the Electoral Commission in emailed guidance to all political parties, said at paragraph 3:
"The EC at this crucial time wishes to also inform political parties that correspondence made through media, social media or any other form aside from a formal letter or email will not be practical and will not be considered."
The very next morning of Thursday, 26 May 2022, the General Secretary of the ruling party takes to FBC News (of course), inappropriately wearing (one of many of) his hat/s as Minister responsible for Elections, while sanctimoniously finger-wagging that:
"every single dollar collected by a candidate or political party during a fundraiser must be accounted for.
The Minister was questioned about candidates and individuals who are fundraising without the logos of the party they support.
Sayed-Khaiyum confirmed that concern regarding this matter has been brought to his attention."
The NFP will not be lectured to, or threatened by another political party. All political party's stand on equal footing before our regulators, who are the Electoral Commission, the Registrar of Political Parties and the Supervisor of Elections.
Who is the General Secretary of the ruling party to dare reprimand us about campaign funds, when his own track record of kicking the nation off a cliff through an approximate $9Billion debt burden on all our heads, is concealed under vacuous words such as "smart borrowing"?
Who is the General Secretary of the ruling party to receive anonymous complaints and set a trial by media in motion, using the same old boring, re-runned Modus Operandi for anyone about to be FICAC-ed -- when the legal mandate to receive and act on political party complaints is solely the jurisdiction of the regulators of political parties?
In the same FBC story (the text of which has been conveniently and quickly edited, but we have screenshots), and as predicted, the news reporr further cited the General Secretary of the ruling party, as follows:
"Sayed-Khaiyum says political parties have been seen announcing what they will be doing but are not saying where they will get the funding from.
The Minister says this is a breach of the Financial Management Act.
He adds a study will be done and, if breaches are identified, legal options will be taken."
Laughable. While in one breath political parties have been hammered left, right and centre by the ruling party's usual sympathisers about not having policies, in the very next breath the General Secretary of the ruling party flexes some unknown liberty to do a study on proposals, and identify possible breaches, with legal penalties in mind?
Do we even need political party regulators such as the Electoral Commission, the Registrar of Political Parties or Supervisor of Elections if their legal role is being flagrantly usurped by a political party, that is also the ruling party?
Or must the rest of us politcal parties kneel in supplication, grovel and kowtow to a single individual egged on by an as vindictive side-kick, who both see themselves as judge, jury and executioner?
Ordinarily, an incident like this would have been a matter where political parties seek out the Electoral Commission to deliberate and rule on, in order to ensure that the elections process as a whole, is free, fair and credible and lessens the risk of low voter turnout.
Political parties have had no clear guidance from the regulators as to who manifesto proposals are to be directed to, by when, and what the feedback loop entails, so what are we to do? This same question has been shared on this column on numerous occasions.
But when the General Secretary of the ruling party jumps the gun, and publicly airs expansive allegations through the media, we are left with no choice but to respond accordingly.
The Electoral Commission has already given notice that it will not respond to comments made in public spaces where they are treated like a third party, and not the sole party adjudicating over these matters.
Last Wednesday, 18 May 2022, the General Secretary for the ruling party was spotted in Nadi in a white Kia private vehicle flanked by two "security" vehicles that the revised Electoral Act at section 113(4A) unsurprisingly allows for, as some obnoxious act of graciousness, in lieu of normal caretaker government protocols for elections.
The political grapevine was rife with whispers that the ruling party's mop-up sweep of the joint NFP and PA Party Leader's visit in the West, was preceded by a team of 20 "intelligence" sorts.
That same evening, the Party Leader's of NFP and PA held a joint public meeting at Korovutu college. At the college we further heard through the grapevine that the General Secretary of the ruling party, would also be having a meeting at the same venue, the very next day.
So it came as no surprise to us that there were unknown political party operatives present at our meeting, seemingly tasked with a specific brief to ask sensitive questions in an abrasive and high-handed manner, while badgering our Party Leader's into shame, or reactive anger, or to solicit answers that were at odds with each other, perhaps intended to start sowing fissures within our partnership.
How patronising of them to assume that basic subterfuge like this was not already pre-empted by our Leader's, and would not be knocked back accordingly and resoundingly?
How naive of them to assume that party supporters present were NOT getting warmed up to heckle and jeer these operatives out of the meeting, and send them out in disgrace while on candid camera?
However the choreography of the unknown political operatives was only momentarily flawless. Media sympathisers also present, were ready to "record", and camera swivels ready to capture the to-ing and fro-ing on video. We have records too.
One operative sat discreetly in the audience with a phone camera ready, recording with an inverted camera lens so as to confuse the viewer about the exact sitting location of recording, within that room in Korovutu college.
In no time, the spliced video was posted on a troll Facebook page with a skewed narrative, backed up by a front page headline of a "media" outlet, that had hurtled itself into the fray, head first.
By the time the weekend rolled around, allegations of unmasked individuals and plots were foiled on the social media pages of the intrepid, Mr Graham Davis, who is no stranger to the ruling party and himself a regular target of slanderous potshots from them.
That troll Facebook page on the verge of ascending with 50 likes, suddenly lost all of its administrators.
The Korovutu College saga was a complete clusterfrenzy of misguided assumptions and juvenile stunts by wanna be agent vinod's.
This recent chain of events relating to videos was uncannily like the fake news of amateurishly spliced videos, seeded by unknown political operatives to targeted audiences while under the radar of Facebook messenger during the blackout period of the 2018 elections, when it was plainly illegal to campaign. This time around, we are once bitten and twice shy.
Still, those social media incidents during the 2018 elections did not escape the eyes of the 2018 Election Multinational Observer Group (MOG) report. On page 23, they did underscore their concerns about proliferated misinformation on social media.
Sow & Reap
It is almost karmic how their puerile schemes, become their own undoing. Whatever is sown, will be reaped.
The ruling party has simply not learned from 2018. While the left hand magnanimously hands out cash grants, the right hand snatches it right back with interest, with the ever increasing cost of living. The ruling party simply amplifies the hardship, sadness and fed-upness of the electorate.
We fully expect ugly political persecution related to manifesto policies and/or campaign funds, and other requirements in the amended laws.
In fact the General Secretary of the ruling party, speaking as the Attorney General at the Parliamentary sitting of 11 May 2022, "reminded" Hon Bill Gavoka as a Party Leader about the new requirements based on the changes to the Financial Management Act, regarding his party's proposal for free university education.
We know that the political drama will be stepped up once the Writ is issued.
Section 59 of the Constiution says a Writ should be issued within 7 days of the dissolution of Parliament by HE The President. Then the clock starts ticking against the activities and timelines set out from sections 19 to 107, of the Electoral Act.
Are all these political risks worth it?
In order for us to give all our generations to come a fighting chance, Yes.
We can, we will and we must prevail.
But it is you, the voter, who has the power to change the script and determine a new destiny for Fiji.
Seni Nabou is the General Secretary of the National Federation Party