Addressing a gathering of Sodelpa and FLP supporters in Sydney last Saturday, Labour leader Mahendra Chaudhry emphasised the need for Opposition political parties to work together in the run up to the 2018 general elections.
A change of government is not only imperative but has become absolutely necessary if Fiji is to be saved from becoming an entrenched dictatorship, said Mr Chaudhry.
The tailor made 2013 Constitution, unilaterally imposed on the people, laid the foundation for authoritarian rule. The severe curtailment of the fundamental rights of the people, following the unlawful abrogation by the Bainimarama regime of the 1997 Constitution, has been continued under this constitution.
‘There cannot be democracy under an authoritarian constitution’ said Mr Chaudhry..
The Fiji Fist government has failed to deliver on its promises. Instead, it has worsened the social conditions in the country. Poverty remains high at around 45%, compared to 32% in 2006. Unemployment levels have risen as thousands of jobs were lost under government’s so-called reform programs and as a result of the sharp decline of the sugar industry. Unemployment is high amongst youth – estimated at around 25%.p
Cost of living has soared to a level making it the number one election issue with the people. Crime rate has assumed worrying proportions, exacerbated largely by the rising incidence of poverty.
There is glaring neglect of the rural sector as people abandon their villages and farms to migrate to urban centres in search of non existent jobs.
Fiji’s health services have deteriorated sharply under Bainimarama despite a number of reshuffles of health ministers.
There are serious issues of mal governance as well. Corruption is endemic in the public and private sectors because of a total lack of accountability and transparency in governance. There is little respect for adherence to the rule of law and allegations abound of interference with the legal processes.
These are worrying national problems which to resolve require a concerted and unified action on all fronts. There cannot be another approach to it. The Opposition parties should not be under any illusion about it, said Chaudhry.
He cautioned that free, fair and credible elections were out of the question under the existing conditions.
Several changes will have to be made to the existing electoral laws which were written to suit the current regime. Indeed, some major changes have been recommended in the reports of the Multinational Observer Group which observed the 2014 elections and also the Fiji Electoral Commission. These changes are intended to enhance the integrity ad credibility of the electoral process.
The restrictive laws standing in the way of free, fair and credible elections must be scrapped and the electoral environment made free. It is pleasing to note that the opposition parties are working on this together.
He warned that the coming months will be hard, requiring firm resolve and discipline on our part, as we take our message to the people. It may be hard but it is not impossible. We must be determined to succeed.
Mr Chaudhry thanked the organisers of the Sodelpa fund raising function and called on them to maintain their resolve to assist in the process of bringing about the much needed change of government in Fiji.