Fiji Divided Along Race in May 2006 Elections

Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase holds a press conference after being officially sworn in for another term. (Photo: Bruce Southwick / AFP-Getty Images)

Fijians went to the polls this month to elect a government under an electoral system that it was hoped would move the island nation from runaway communalism to inter-communal bargaining and coalitions. However, unlike the previous two general elections, the 2006 elections will go down as the most divisive as various ethnic groups rallied behind their own communal parties. Indo-Fijians were solidly behind the Fiji Labor Party (F.L.P.) whereas indigenous Fijians voted in large numbers for Soqosoqo ni Duavata ni Lewenivanua (S.D.L.). The New Alliance Party of Fiji (N.A.P.F.) and the National Federation Party (N.F.P.), which advocated policies that were in between those of F.L.P. and S.D.L., failed to win a single seat.

The 2006 Fiji general election has further raised the utility of Alternative Vote (A.V.) as a means of promoting centrist policies and moderate political parties in deeply divided communities. Political theorist Arend Liphardt argued that A.V. and constitutional rules on compulsory multiparty government have led to disaster in Fiji. After all, it is argued, A.V. is a majoritarian system. Jon Fraenkel, who is an electoral specialist at the University of the South Pacific (U.S.P.) concurs and argues for a mixed member proportional system used in countries like New Zealand and Germany. Fiji's voting system, it is often argued, is too complex. Before the election, political sociologist Steven Ratuva called for an immediate reform of the ballot paper, which was at best "confusing."

Political Campaign

The political campaign of the various parties reflected the ethnic polarization that eventually was reflected in the final results.

There were a number of parties contesting the elections. among them S.D.L., F.L.P., N.F.P., N.A.P.F., Girmit Heritage Party (G.H.P.), Soqosoqo ni Valevulewa ni Taukei Party (S.V.T.), Party of Truth (P.OT.), Freedom and Justice Party (F.J.P.), Nationalist Vanua Tako Lavu Party (N.V.T.L.P.), Coalition of Independent Nationals (C.O.I.N.), and Coalition of Independent Conservatives (C.O.I.C.).

The manifestos of the two major parties, S.D.L. and F.L.P., appear below.


The S.D.L.'s manifesto took the following message to the voters of Fiji under the theme "Secure our Future."

S.D.L. officials on the last day of polling.

The Sugar Industry: The Next Five Years

  • Completion of all reforms. Production of quality cane and sugar for more efficient milling and farming.
  • Improved income for farmers through higher productivity and expanded crops.
  • Fiji Sugar Corporation to become producer of energy, as well as sugar, to lift its income.
  • Alternative Livelihood Project for farmers, villagers and others in the cane areas.
  • Continuation of assistance schemes for incoming and outgoing farmers in cane regions.
  • Flood protection through land drainage, river dredging and retention dams.

Affirmative Action: The Next Five Years

  • Affirmative action is not meant to be permanent. It will continue until discrimination is removed, equality of opportunity achieved, and the burden of poverty for the disadvantaged lessened.
  • We believe it will take at least 20 years to close the gap between the Fijians and the rest of the population.
  • Our plans to expand the economy and ensure development is spread throughout the country will help affirmative action to meet its goals.

Housing: The Next Five Years

  • A new Housing Authority target of financing 3000 low-cost homes annually in different parts of the country.
  • Increased funding for squatter resettlement at least $5 million a year to assist approximately 1000 families.
  • Complete review of squatter policies.
  • Continuation of Rural Housing Scheme.

Poverty: The Next Five Years

  • Continuation of efforts to reduce poverty.
  • Support for income ventures, housing, youth projects, ex-prisoners.
  • Improving the economy.

Law and Order: The Next Five Years

  • Continuation of major projects for reform and modernisation, including acquisition of additional specialist support.

Education: The Next Five Years

  • Possible subsidy for cost of text books, work books and reducing school bus fees.
  • Partnership with European Union to improve rural education.
  • 300 schools to be upgraded.
  • Continuing development of teacher and leadership training.
  • Developing curriculum to reflect needs of multicultural nation.
  • Celebration of national education week.

Health Services: The Next Five Years

  • New hospital for Ba and Nausori.
  • Completion of extension at Labasa hospital.
  • Extension of Korovou hospital.
  • New health centres and nursing stations.
  • Renewed effort to lift customer service standards and reduce delays.
  • More active approach in primary and preventive health care.
  • Funding to combat AIDS/H.I.V.
  • Encouragement of more private sector investment in health.


The F.L.P.'s manifesto was titled "Change the Future."

Fiji Labor Party poster at the entrance of Nadi Town.

It vowed to:

  • Tackle poverty head on by creating a socially just and prosperous society through jobs, social welfare and education. Labor promised to introduce old age pension for those over 60, introduce Medicare — a national health insurance plan to enable the poor to access quality healthcare; review the state welfare allowance payment criteria and increase the rates of allowance; provide state assisted housing to the poorest sections of society; step up price surveillance on essential consumer items; and create income earning opportunities by developing cottage industries in the rural and per-urban areas through micro-finance schemes.

  • Labor believes that Fijian citizens deserve high quality health care. Labor promised to implement a Medicare plan through the Fiji National Provident Fund (F.N.P.F.); put hospital management under a public-private partnership arrangement; fix the doctor shortage by working in consultation with donor countries like Australia, New Zealand, India and the United States; prevent lifestyle diseases by raising public awareness on healthy living practices; improve patient data collection by introducing a computerized patient record system; and promote annual health check ups for all.

  • Education for Fiji's Future — Labor pledged to restore and raise the per capita grant; introduce an annual back to school allowance of $70 per child in primary school and $120 per child in secondary schools; provide fee-free education to all Form 7 students; reduce the cost of text books by implementing a text book hire scheme; reduce school bus fares; restore student loan scheme; focus on helping indigenous Fijian students via a special unit in the Ministry of Education to assist indigenous Fijian attain high academic results; and review the scaling of marks for external exams.

  • Sugar Industry — Labor planned to maintain the incomes of the farmers through a productive based incentive scheme against cane price reductions; lower the cost of farm inputs such as fertilisers, chemicals and farm machinery; initiate crop rehabilitation and development programs; pay resettlement grants to farmers whose leases are not renewed; ensure a quality cane payment system; abolish the sugar export tax; undertake a comprehensive study of the current harvesting and transportation system; reform the Sugar Cane Growers Council; re-examine the current industry restructure plans; and use the Alternative Livelihood Program to develop new industries in rural areas.

  • Agriculture — Labor sought to invest in agriculture infrastructure such as irrigation and drainage systems; promote agricultural exports across a wide range of products; establish industry bodies with strong farmer participation to expand exports of dalo, yagona, fruits and vegetables; encourage expansion in beef production particularly in the coastal areas of Vanua Levu.

  • Supporting indigenous heritage — Labor believes that the problems of the indigenous community have to be addressed through an integrated approach in each of the following socioeconomic sectors: education, tourism, rural development, economy and natural resources; F.L.P. will endeavour to bring Fijians into the mainstream of commerce through sustainable development of their resources.

Voting Week

Fiji's citizens went to the polls May 6 to May 13. There were 2000 election official posted in the Western Division with a little over 325 officials sent to Bua. The supervisor of elections, Semesa Karavaki, warned voters on May 5 to refrain from engaging in any unlawful activities during the election process (Fiji Daily Post, May 6). The commissioner central, Inoke Devo, confirmed that citizens with disability were permitted to cast their votes within the 50-meter perimeter of the polling area.

Despite the supervisor of elections having informed the nation that the Elections Office was ready on Fiji One Television on the 6:00 p.m. news, May 6 turned out to be a disaster. A large army of voters waited from 7:00 a.m. in the morning around various polling stations as the Elections Office scrambled to get organized. At Sabeto Primary School in Nadi, the election officials did not arrive until 10:30 a.m. and at Kalabu Fijian School near Suva, voters had to wait until 1 p.m. In 32 polling stations in Suva and Lautoka, polling was delayed by as much as six hours because there was no ballot papers and when the papers finally arrived, not all were there (The Sunday Times, May 7).

Karavaki was grilled on Fiji One Television on May 7 for the "disastrous" start to the polling. Karavaki assured the nation that there would be no more problems. The U.S. ambassador to Fiji, Larry Dinger, raised concern over registered (Fiji Daily Post, May 9).

In response, the returning officer western, Savenaca Kaunisela, assured that all eligible voters could cast their votes even though their names did not appear on the main roll. However, more voters were forced to return home May 8. At the Dilkusha polling station, presiding officer Peniasi Naqau had to turn away some 15 percent of the voters (The Fiji Times, May 9).

The F.L.P. and the United Peoples' Party (U.P.P.) accused the Elections Office of fraud after Labor leader Mahendra Chaudhry alleged that additional ballot papers were printed for certain constituencies including the one he was contesting — Ba Open. Chaudhry alleged that more than 9000 ballot papers were produced in excess. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Laisania Qarase acknowledged that the Elections Office was inadequately resourced.

The F.L.P. went on the offensive and called on the supervisor of elections to resign. Among other things, he was accused of employing more indigenous Fijian polling agents and failing to provide the appropriate level of staffing and resources at some polling stations. To add to the frustration of the Elections Office, it was revealed on May 10 that ballot boxes were transported without proper police supervision in direct contravention of electoral law (Fiji Sun, May 10).

On the fifth day of polling, five disgruntled voters staged their own mini protest outside a polling station in Ba. The five supporters of the F.L.P. marched along a public road, carrying party banners. All of the protestors were later charged with unlawful assembly (Fiji Daily Post, May 12) . A Fiji Sun editorial remarked that there was something deeply distasteful about an organized public protest against an individual and blamed F.L.P. for orchestrating the protest. Meanwhile, police started their investigations into the disappearance of 200 ballot papers destined for Nadi from the Elections Office. (Fiji Sun, May 12)

On the final day of voting on May 13, it was clear that indigenous Fijians had come out in full force to vote. Fijian voters in rural areas turned up to vote in unprecedented numbers compared to previous general elections, according to the presiding officer at Waisasavu polling station. (Fiji Times, May 13) It was reported that voter turnout was better than the 2001 elections.

By the time the polls closed, the Elections Office said that some 60 percent of voters had cast their votes. But this figure was a preliminary one and the final result indicated that Fiji's citizens took seriously the number of advertisements on television, radio and newspapers requesting voters to exercise their democratic right. A three second advertisement on Fiji One Television advised voters on how to vote in what often is seen as a "complicated" voting system. Each individual voter has two votes — one for the communal and the other for open constituency and a valid ballot requires voters to either vote "above the line" or "below" but not both. All political parties at their party sheds near polling stations advised voters to vote above the line, thus locking the voter in to the party's preference arrangement.

Comparative Voter Turnout in Fiji Elections

(Source: Fiji's Elections Office)

Election Result

On May 14, various verification officers started work on verifying postal ballots. The task was supposed to start at 10:00 a.m. at various counting stations but long delays were encountered. At Natabua in Lautoka, the postal ballot count did not start until 8:00 p.m.. Meanwhile, police and the military were closely monitoring the situation in the country and military spokesperson, Capitan Neumi Leweni confirmed that soldiers were on a standby to help police (The Fiji Times, May 14).

The count of the votes started slowly on May 15 and was concluded on May 17. Communal allegiance dominated the result with indigenous Fijians voting in favour of S.D.L. while Indo-Fijians chose the F.L.P.

The final results were as follows:

Table 1.

Compared with the 2001 general elections, the F.L.P. improved its percentage of total seats from 39 percent to 44 percent. S.D.L. also improved its overall standing from the previous election from 45 percent to 51 percent.

Indo-Fijian Communal Seats

The F.L.P. dominated Indo-Fijian communal constituencies polling on average 81 pe cent of Indo-Fijian votes. Its closest rival, the N.F.P., polled an average of 15.1 percent. Compared with 1999, 2001 and 2006, the N.F.P.'s share of Indo-Fijian votes continued to decline, despite fielding well known candidates such as the soccer star Farook Janeman in Ba West Communal and Sushila Rameshwar in Nadi Urban.

Table 2.

A closer analysis indicates that the N.F.P.'s support remained steady only in Nadroga and the F.L.P. increased its support among Indo-Fijians in all communal seats, with the highest swing recorded in Ba West Indian. The average overall gain for the F.L.P. was 6.8 percent with the N.F.P. reporting a decline of 7. 2 percent over the 2001 result. S.D.L. support in the Indo-Fijian communal seat was 2.1 percent, with the highest proportion of votes received for S.D.L. was 5.3 percent for Nadroga Indian seat.

Indigenous Fijian Communal Seats

In the 2001 general elections, the Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua (C.A.M.V.) and the S.V.T. provided strong competition to S.D.L. in a number of communal seats. However, with the amalgamation of the C.A.M.V. with S.D.L. and the disappearance of the S.V.T. from the indigenous communal scene, S.D.L. increased its support among the indigenous Fijians from 54.9 percent in 2001 to 80.3 percent in 2006.

Table 3.

S.D.L. increased its share of indigenous Fijian votes across the board with the highest wing recorded in Cakaudrove West Fijian, which was held by C.A.M.V. candidate Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure in the 2001 general elections. The nationalist Vanua Tako Lavu Party and independent indigenous candidates failed to win any seats.

F.L.P. support in the indigenous Fijian communal seat was on average 7.5 percent, with the highest percentage of F.L.P. votes recorded for the Nadroga Navosa Fijian communal seat at 17 percent.

Open Seats

Fiji's 25 open seats were hotly contested by both the S.D.L. and the F.L.P. S.V.T. had only one candidate, Arvind Deo Singh, contesting the Nadi Open seat, which was won by the N.F.P. in 2001. In 2006, the N.F.P. chose to mix and match its preference allocations. In most open seats, like Nadi, it chose independents over S.D.L. and the F.L.P. while in others its preferences went to the Fijian nationalist party (Fiji Village News, April 21). The result was that both S.D.L. and the F.L.P. criticised the N.F.P. and voters too saw the N.F.P. as a "confused" party uncertain about its political affiliation.

National Federation Party banner attached to a coconut tree.

In total, S.D.L. received 44.9 percent of the total votes in open seats whereas the F.L.P. got 42.6 percent. Nine of the 25 open seats were determined by preferences and two of these, Suva City and Laucala Open, were won by S.D.L. with a margin less than 2 percent.

Table 4.

S.D.L. won 13 open seats (52 percent) and the F.L.P. won 12 seats (48 percent). The F.L.P. quickly challenged some of the results including the Laucala open seat won by S.D.L. by 0.1 percent of the votes.

By May 18, Laisenia Qarase was returned as prime minister of Fiji. He had the support of two independent candidates: George Konrote of the Rotuma Communal constituency and Robin Irwin of North Eastern General. On the same day, Qarase invited the F.L.P. to join his cabinet in a multiparty government.

Multiparty Government

Multiparty governance as stipulated in Fiji's 1997 Constitution has been in limbo since the general elections of 2001. The leader of S.D.L., Laisenia Qarase, has repeatedly said that the "forced" marriage of parties under section 99 of the Constitution is "unworkable." Following the 2001 general election, the F.L.P. took the matter to the Supreme Court of Fiji which upheld the constitutional provision of multiparty governance based on a 10 percent national seat threshold in the House of Representatives. Following the 2003 judgment, Qarase offered "meaningless' portfolios to the F.L.P. and the F.L.P. chose to sit in opposition.

This time around, Qarase demonstrated better national leadership by offering the F.L.P. significant cabinet portfolios in Agriculture, Energy, Environment, Local Government, Commerce, Health and Mineral Resources. After initially protesting the offer, Chaudhry accepted the prime minister's invitation to join a multiparty cabinet. (Fijilive, May 19)

Will Multiparty Work?

The question in the mind of many Fiji analysts is whether a multiparty government, as required by Fiji's 1997 Constitution, will work in reality. In 1999, the Peoples' Coalition Government attempted to progress an uneasy multiparty government, which quickly became undone due to communal pressure. This time around, Prime Minister Qarase has indicated that he wants F.L.P. cabinet members to support the qoliqoli Bill (indigenous customary fishing rights bill) and the restructured Racial Tolerance and Unity bill (R.T.U.).

The R.T.U. bill has been a source of contention from day one and has caused more division in Fiji than any other legislation in the history of the nation. One of the reasons given by Qarase for not including the F.L.P. in the cabinet before was the apparent differences between party policies. However at a closer look, it becomes clear that both S.D.L. and the F.L.P. agree on a number of issues. However, the methods for achieving specific outcomes are different.

In countries such as Suriname a Joint Multiparty Committee is established to look at public policy.

Shane Martin, a post doctoral fellow at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, supports a strong committee system as a rational solution to the principal to agent delegation inherent in a multiparty government. Martin's argument highlights the previously under-explored role of legislative institutions in facilitating coalition governments comprising of parties with divergent policy preferences. Arco Timmermans at the University of Twente in Netherlands provide two options to the multiparty participants: Parties in a multiparty government make commitments that are as detailed and binding as possible or to forego clear commitments and keep policy options open.

Fijian Prime Minister Qarase sees elections within a winner-loser power matrix and as such he acknowledged on Radio Navtarang on May 17 that he hoped that the F.L.P. rejects his offer and sits in opposition. Considering the racially charged and divisive 2006 general elections, both Qarase and Chaudhry must start consensus building at the leadership level for a start, otherwise, Fiji risks slipping further into the abyss of racial hate and discrimination.

Joint Multiparty Committee on Policy

Undoubtedly, there are some minor policy differences between the F.L.P. and S.D.L. As such, both parties should agree to form a Joint Multiparty Committee on Policy (J.M.P.C.P.). The J.M.P.C.P. should play a major role in government policy formulation and advice and further provide analytical oversight on draft legislations and bills. This way there will be greater consensus and cabinet stability.

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