OPINION: A need for change; We must embrace it

Lusiana Marama, Sainimere Lomani, Fane Tikotani and Benedatte Kasa were all happy to vote at Delalasakau Village in Naitasiri yesterday. Picture: JONA KONATACI

The much-awaited 2022 General Election are taking place within a few days.

Many citizens are quite anxious while politicians are running campaigns.

Many are not sure who will win, however, many are certain that it will be a close call.

Major opposition parties such as National Federation Party and The People’s Alliance have run good campaigns.

FijiFirst has been in power for 16 years.

Many young and educated people suggest that change is needed.

Those that have witnessed previous political coups are unsure whom they will support.

Irrespective of who will win, people expect stability, peace and a positive economic outlook.

The 2022 election will be a defining moment for Fiji.

Our key essential services such as medical and health, education, roads, water and electricity, and agriculture are at chronic stage and if major reforms do not take place soon, there is significant risk in terms of innovation and economic growth.

Apart from economic growth, there are urgent calls for freedom of speech, democracy, and peace in our small Pacific Island nation.

Some people have bravely come out publicly to support opposition parties.

While some fear that they may be subject to victimisation, they have still come out to advocate for change.

These are the people who want change, and they are wanting to see democracy and freedom without being victimised due to their political affiliation or support for opposition parties.

Educational institutions such as the University of South Pacific (USP), its staff, students, alumni and its partners are eagerly waiting for the outcome due to a halt on university funding by the FijiFirst government.

The funding halt to USP has indeed impacted the ability of the university to invest further which in turn will impact the research outcomes and learning experience of students – most of whom are young people from Fiji.

More importantly, there are fears that the government will continue to intrude on and undermine academic freedom of autonomous institutions such as universities.

A number of controversial events are influencing the 2022 election.

These include the court case against Richard Naidu.

Another example is the deportation of Prof Pal Ahluwalia and the recent interrogation of a doctor and an opposition leader.

The termination of the chief executive officer of the Fiji Bureau of Statistics cannot be forgotten.

There are many other people who fear being targeted if FijiFirst regains power.

Many former Fijian citizens including those whom we lost abroad are unable to return home to perform religious rituals or to visit family because of fears of arrest and victimisation.

Similarly, some especially those who have witnessed past coups also fear about the alliance between PA and NFP.

The 2022 Election campaign has shown the courage of young people who account for almost 57 per cent of the population.

It has also shown women in large numbers either contesting in the election or supporting key parties.

In recent years, women’s participation in tertiary education has been increasing which is a very good sign in terms of access and opportunity.

The voices of young people and women come at a time when Fiji is facing some fundamental issues including equality, freedom of speech, democratic rights, and abuse of human rights.

Our government has been in power for a long time.

They have taken it for granted that they can do anything.

A young NFP candidate described it well.

He said that if Prime Minister Bainimarama disappears, FijiFirst would not exist.

The government is run by two men with a “command and control” leadership style with no succession and nurturing of young people.

Ministers within FijiFirst believe that, without the Prime Minister, support for the Attorney-General within the party is questionable.

This is something that is widely known within the party, among the public service, and among many other educated professionals.

Whatever the outcome would be, citizens are divided.

The current or new government needs to implement major reforms to move Fiji forward.

We need new faces in Parliament with diversity of ideas.

We need mature conversation in Parliament about public policy, law and order, rights of our citizens, and re-establishing peace and stability.

We also need more ethnic diversity in Parliament so that the voice of underrepresented citizens is heard and current division between ethnic
groups is resolved carefully.

We need the voices of women and young people with new ideas about education, employment, investment and economic developments in regions, innovation in technology, and improving essential services such as chronic health and medical services.

Our young people are more responsible on contemporary issues such as climate change and use of digital technology.

Our collective voice on December 14 will bring decadal change or send clear message on democracy and policy reforms that is urgently needed.

• MAHSOOD SHAH is a Professor and Dean at Swinburne University of Technology in Sydney. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and not of his employer or this newspaper.

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