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Man to beat

Felix Chaudhary
Sunday, February 25, 2018

PRIME Minister Voreqe Bainimarama is still the man to beat in the race for the top job, and the challenge is on now for other political parties to gain more ground in the lead-up to the 2018 General Election.

This is the view of Professor Steven Ratuva, political sociologist and director at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of the MacMillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

He made the comment in response to a Tebbutt-Times poll conducted from February 5-8 on 1000 randomly sampled people who were eligible voters.

According to the results of the poll, Mr Bainimrama is still the preferred PM with 64 per cent, followed by Social Democratic Liberal Party leader Sitiveni Rabuka on 23 per cent, Opposition Leader Ro Teimumu Kepa at 6 per cent, National Federation Party provisional candidate Lenora Qereqeretabua capturing 3 per cent, NFP leader Prof Biman Prasad scoring 2 per cent and Unity Fiji Party leader Savenaca Narube on 1 per cent.

"The poll seems to show a 20 per cent increase in Bainimarama's popularity over a one-year period, from 44 per cent in February 2017 to 64 per cent in February 2018," said Prof Ratuva.

"Rabuka has also gained significant ground with an increase of 12 per cent over the same period. However the gap between the two men seems to have widened by 8 per cent over the year with Bainimarama steaming ahead of the rest of the pack."

"An interesting coincidence is that if we assume, quite hypothetically, that the poll figures equate with party votes, then what we see is that the respective polls for FijiFirst (64 per cent) and SODELPA (Rabuka and Ro Temumu with 29 per cent) actually translate in an uncanny way into the current distribution of parliamentary seats with FijiFirst on 32 and SODELPA on 15.

"Of course, things cannot be taken at face value because as the campaigns get into full swing things may begin to shift because new variables will come into play, political parties will exert more efforts to mobilize voters, candidates will have their own share of the votes and new candidates will become known to voters."

University of the South Pacific economist Dr Neelesh Gounder said the results of the opinion poll were very clear and indicated that Mr Bainimarama had an impressive lead.

"That the PM has largely not been adversely impacted by the ATS (Air Terminal Services) saga is surprising," he said.

"However, the election is not due until at least May.

"This gives the opposition time to position themselves as the next government."

Professor Gounder added that how the populace would be swayed in terms of the candidates they preferred as PM would most likely change as the country drew closer to the 2018 polls.

"Fiji's party-political system can get sensitive closer to election and thus highly unpredictable.

"It has also been seen in previous elections that voters actually start paying attention when it is closer to the election.

"While the PM's support is strong at this stage, few months is a long time in politics and this gives the opposition space to channel their ideas to the people.

"Both Opposition parties, NFP and SODELPA, have recently announced their candidates and campaigning has just begun.

"They have yet to release their manifestos, which will be the single main strategy to challenge the government at the election. Campaigns are also as an important disseminator of candidate profiles."

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