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“Fears of ethnic domination not justified”. The Fiji Times, 1 August 1995.

14/03/2012

Public submissions to the Constitution Review Commission in the last few weeks have once more raised fears that if indigenous Fijians are not constitutionally guaranteed dominance in Parliament through extra numbers, their interests will not be adequately protected.

 

However, it is important for the Fijipublic to grasp that demographic trends of the last few decades mean that indigenous Fijians will in fact significantly outnumber Indo-Fijians in terms of population and numbers of voters.

 

Equally important, this numerical dominance will also mean that indigenous Fijians’ share of resources for primary, secondary and tertiary education, and jobs for school leavers, will proportionately and legitimately be also much higher than that for Indo-Fijians.

 

The demographic trends already guarantee indigenous Fijians a numerical and political dominance in the future, while their monopoly on the country’s coercive forces, clearly provide a physical guarantee of their control of Government.

 

It therefore seems quite pointless that indigenous Fijian submissions wish to put what are basically racist clauses into a Constitution in order to guarantee a political domination which is already a historical reality.

 

Key Demographic Trends

 

While Fiji’s total population has been growing, the growth rate has been coming down: from an annual rate of 3.2% (1956 to 1966) to 2.0% (1976 to 1986) and probably to around to 1% over the next decade.

 

The major explanation for this unusual trend, also crucial for Fijipolitics, is that the Indo-Fijian growth rate has been declining much faster over the last few decades than for indigenous Fijians.

 

The Indo-Fijian population has virtually stopped growing over the last seven years, and is expected to decline over the next decade.

 

The factors leading to this have not only been the high rates of emigration in recent years, but the low and declining fertility rates of Indo-Fijians over the last twenty years.

 

The end result is that while indigenous Fijians were outnumbered in 1986 by Indo-Fijians (46% compared to 49% of the population), the proportions had reversed by 1989 (Table 1).

 

By 1999, Indo-Fijians (42% of the population) will be even more outnumbered by Fijians (53%) and the gap will continue to grow into the next decade (see Figure 1).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table 1           Percentage of Fiji’s Total Population

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1986    1989    1994    1999    2004    2009

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Perc Fijian                 46        49        51        53        55        57

Perc Indo-Fijian         48        47        44        42        40        38

Perc Others                 6          5          5          5          5          6

_____________________________________________________

TOTAL                    100     100     100     100     100     100

_____________________________________________________

TOT POP (000)       715     726     777     828     878     926

_____________________________________________________

 

Of importance for any electoral system, however, is that similar changes will also be taking place in the proportions of voters (aged 21 and over), although with a small time lag.

 

Changes in the Voting Population

 

Because indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians have had different demographic characteristics in the last four decades, the proportions of the 21 & Over Age Group, slightly lag behind the proportions of the total population.

 

Table 2    Expected Share of the Voters (%)

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1991    1994    1999    2004    2009

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Fijians                       48        49        50        52        53

Indo-Fijians               47        46      45         43        41

Others                        5          5          5          5          5

TOTAL                   100     100     100     100     100

_____________________________________________

 

Table 2 indicates that even by the 1992 elections, the proportion of potential indigenous Fijians voters should have been higher than that for Indo-Fijian voters (potential difference amounting to about 5000 voters).

 

By 1994, potential Fijian voters should have outnumbered potential Indo-Fijian voters by 13,000, and the difference should rise to 26,000 by 1999 (expected date of the next election).

 

(Since the actual number of registered voters was higher for Indo-Fijians in 1994, it would seem that a much larger proportion of indigenous Fijians do not register to vote, probably because of their rural isolation).

 

Proportionate Parliamentary Distribution

 

If the numbers of seats in Parliament are distributed according to the proportion of the 21 & Over populations, then Table 3 suggests the projected ethnic distribution in a 70 seat Parliament.

 

Table 3                   Proportionate Number of Seats

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1989    1991    1994    1999    2004    2009

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Fijian                         33        34        34        35        36        37

Indo-Fijian               33        33        32        31        30        29

Others                        4          4          4          4          4          4

TOTAL                     70        70        70        70        70        70

___________________________________________________

 

Thus by the 1994 election, in a proportional system, the indigenous Fijians would already have out-numbered Indo-Fijians by 2 seats.  The difference is expected to rise to 4 by 1999, and to 8 by 2009.

 

An electoral system based on proportionality, which would strongly strengthen the case for Fiji’s re-admission to the Commonwealth, would still give indigenous-Fijians a significant numerical majority in Parliament.  That the majority is not massive would seem to be totally immaterial.

 

The Machiavellian lessons from the 1987 coups, and the Fijian dominance of the military and police, would suggest that any Government is likely to remain in power only if it has the support of a large proportion of indigenous Fijian parliamentarians and voters.

 

There seems little to be gained in writing discriminatory clauses into a Constitution, which makes large segments of the population feel as if they are denied the fundamental human right of equality before the law of their country.

 

The real political challenge facing constitutional reform is how to do away with the “winner takes all” system which has characterisedFiji’s constitution since 1970.  Can there be an equitable sharing of political power and responsibilities, such that the different communities feel a real sense of national participation?

 

For political parties, there is in fact much to be gained politically by appealing to even a significant minority of ethnic groups.

 

Voting Gains from Multiracialism

 

It is an unfortunate consequence ofFiji’s political history that the existing major political parties have become almost completely racially polarised.

 

This is only partly due to the 1990 Constitution, since even under it, there is nothing stopping from the SVT having Indo-Fijian candidates in an Indo-Fijian communal seat, or the Labour Party from having indigenous Fijian candidates in Fijian communal seats.

 

That parties generally don’t is simply a symptom of the narrow racial focus of their parties, albeit encouraged by the 1990 Constitution.

 

From their inception, and by declaration, the ruling SVT Party, the Nationalists, the STV, and the Fijian Association Party, are all openly of indigenous Fijians, for Fijians.  The GVP is for the “Others”.

 

The NFP has always seen itself as the party for Indo-Fijians.  The Labour Party, while seeing itself at its inception as a multiracial party, now also sees itself as an “Indian” party.

 

All the major parties generally ignore the votes of the opposite ethnic groups. Yet there are many gains to be made by multiracial parties.

 

The basic arithmetic fact is that by limiting themselves to one ethnic group, ethnically polarised parties are always going to place upper limits to the amount of total voter support they can muster.

 

In the 1994 Election, the SVT had the support of a mere 30% ofFiji’s voters.  One important reason for this dismal performance was that it contested only Fijian seats, and obtained only 65% of the Fijian votes.

 

The Alliancedropped to this low figure only once in their history, in the first 1977 election.  Ironically, even in the Alliance’s losing 1987 election, the 15% of Indo-Fijian votes it won, enabled it to have the support of a higher proportion ofFiji’s voters, than did the winning Labour/NFP Coalition.

 

TheAlliancewould undoubtedly have remained in power under the 1970 Constitution, had they retained the 25% support of the Indo-Fijians they had in the early days ofIndependence.

 

It should be remembered that the Indo-Fijians moved away from theAllianceonly when they began to be discriminated against in scholarships, and entry to, and promotion within, the Civil Service.

 

These are still the same issues on which policies based on equity principles, are reasonably certain to ensure that even the SVT could win support from Indo-Fijian voters, as did the Alliance Party in the early seventies.

 

Government’s ability to address these legitimate Indo-Fijian complaints should also be easier in the future since the demographic trends discussed above also indicate that Indo-Fijian needs for public resources (for primary and secondary education, scholarships for higher education, and access to public sector jobs) must significantly reduce over the next decade.

 

 

[Part 4:  Indo-Fijian demand for public resources will be much reduced in the future]

 

 

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