Behind the News: Politics of compromise

It is imperative that our parliamentarians, regardless of which side of the House they occupy, agree on some issues and demonstrate the ability to work together on areas of commonalities, to the advantage of those who voted them in. Picture: FT FILE/FIJI PARLIAMENT

For many years, the opposition parties in Parliament had to virtually dribble hard within Fiji’s controlled democratic spaces.

Even in the legislature.

We are familiar with the frequent use of Standing Order 51 to expedite legislative procedures, the lack of opportunity for the opposition to introduce laws, co­nstant denial of motions, the rejection of petitions and the like.

But opposition politicians during those years were not standalone figures in the highest forum of discussion in the land.

Behind them were thousands of disgruntled and disempowered people who voted them in.

For eight years, due to government’s control, our political setting manifested a brand of politics laced with antagonism and disunity.

There was no room for talanoa.

The past government missed the opportunity to reach the middle ground with the opposition on many important national issues.

And by taking a political hard line and limiting the opposition’s right to debate effectively, the then government not only shut out ideas and silenced voices but also disturbed goodwill and peace.

Truth be told, in a democracy political parties including those in the opposition provide the necessary means for creating healthy political competition and engage citizens to be part of the decision-making process.

Hence, each time the contribution of the opposition in parliament was essentially gridlocked, their voters would have found that their voices were unheard, unimportant and unwanted.

Stonewalling the opposition and restricting the freedom to fully carry out its oversight duties was unhealthy for our democracy.

Suva-based lawyer, Richard Naidu, during a National Federation Party convention held in Nasinu in 2022 summed up what many felt about the prolonged unfair treatment of the opposition when he said “we are tired of this government”.

Mr Naidu pointed out that opposition faced constant pressure and threats while government “does what it wants in Parliament”.

It is public knowledge that government politicians used their parliamentary majority time and time again to leverage processes and procedures to their advantage.

Electors have not been blind to these actions.

They noticed how the Standing Orders were strategically suspended and instances where normal lawmaking processes were unnecessarily fast tracked to avoid proper legislative scrutiny.

Absent from the previous two terms of the FijiFirst government was the politics of dialogue and compromise.

Leaders lacked the willingness to listen and consult.

They believed listening made political control impossible.

The persistent neglect of prudent parliamentary debate procedures and the downplaying of its oversight functions had created a community where citizens were not tolerant of each other’s views and were less open to public dialogue and discourse.

But things are slowly changing in Fijian politics.

The new coalition Government has already indicated its willingness to listen and consult on far-reaching policies and laws.

This must be welcomed.

It is a move in the right direction.

For too long, we had been strategically silenced by leaders who had little regard for constructive dialogue and compromise, and showed little respect for other’s opinions, especially when their truths had the potential to hurt.

The political and civic spaces that used to be constricted by fear, threat and actions that discouraged genuine civic participation are now widening.

Not too long ago, those who were viewed as political dissidents were picked up from their homes and questioned by police for simply expressing an opinion.

To engage in the politics of compromise and to turn away from divisive policy-making, which are deemed agents of stability in democratic regimes, will mean that the coalition Government, while still being firm and decisive, has to treat the Opposition with respect.

This would mean undoing all actions and decisions that worked against them during their tenure on the opposition benches.

This means turning the proverbial right cheek.

This past week we heard PM Sitiveni Rabuka saying Fiji’s Opposition Leader Voreqe Bainimarama would be provided an official quarters rent-free.

Mr Rabuka revealed this on his official social media Facebook page on Wednesday.

“Despite everything Frank Bainimarama had put me through, I still consider him a friend. I know he needs a quarters as the Leader of the
Opposition,” Mr Rabuka stated.

He said he would have performed much better when he was the Leader of the Opposition for two years, if he had official rent-free quarters.

“I could work from home.”

Now that’s politics of compromise.

It is not vindictive and petty.

There’s no tit for tat.

My belief is if our politicians, regardless of which side of the House they occupy, agree on some issues and demonstrate the ability to work together on areas of commonalities, to the advantage of those who voted them in, then the parliamentary system we are governed under would serve its purpose.

In other words, if there is no give and take in the corridors of power and if the opposition feels it is between a rock and a hard place permanently while the government of the day bulldozes its way, then a large cross section of society will feel left out and unable to effectively participate in decision-making, through their representatives.

Over time, these voters will lose the trust and confidence they have in our democracy and the very electoral system that allowed winners of an election to ascend to the legislature.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that 2023 will bring winds of change in the leadership and governance of our country.

Until we meet again on this same page same time next week, stay blessed, stay healthy and stay safe!

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