Proof conclusive that the former governing party in Fiji – the SDL – made a formal submission to the country’s Constitutional Commission is contained in a video clip of the proceedings posted on Youtube. The clip gives the lie to repeated denials by party officials that such a submission had been made and is a devastating blow to the SDL’s credibility.
The scene is the Suva Civic Centre last Friday. Two SDL members come to the microphone and within seconds, one of them declares: “This submission, on behalf of the SDL…” and then proceeds to outline the details. Repeatedly, the unidentified man says” “The SDL proposes..” as he advocates the adoption of a Christian state in Fiji, the adoption of Fijian as the national language, the term Fijian to be reserved for indigenous people, a ban of dual citizenship and the restoration of the Great Council of Chiefs and its power to appoint the president and vice president.
The repeated denials by the SDL leadership that such a submission came from the party are laid to waste by the video’s contents. The camera rarely, if ever, lies and their own lies have returned to haunt them. It may not have been the definitive SDL submission – which they say is still to come – but there is now no denying that this was an official SDL submission. It was cast that way by those who presented it, who did so in the presence of the party’s president, Solomone Naivalu. And it’s all there on tape. Undeniable, irrefutable and a total disaster for the SDL.
They’ve not only lied to the media in Fiji and overseas but they’ve lied to the country. They’ve also lied to the two political leaders with whom they were in earnest discussion about the way forward – Labour’s Mahendra Chaudhry and Mick Beddoes of the United Peoples Party. Chaudhry wisely refused to comment when he was asked about the SDL submission and what he thought about its advocacy of a Christian state. But Mick Beddoes went public saying he believed the SDL assurances that they hadn’t made a submission and didn’t believe those who maintained they had. Beddoes joined the SDL president, Naivalu, in singling out Grubsheet for special criticism, accusing us of getting the facts wrong. How embarrassed and enraged he must be to now find the egg firmly congealed on his own face.
The relationship between all three parties will never be the same. Why? Because quite apart from being lied to, neither Chaudhry nor Beddoes can ever go to the country in the 2014 election accepting, let alone advocating, the policies that the SDL laid out last week. It would be instant political suicide for both of them, but especially for Chaudhry among his largely Indo-Fijian constituents. Fully 40 per cent of Fiji citizens aren’t Christian at all. So the whole notion of imposing a Christian state on them is beyond all reason. It isn’t going to happen.
So at week’s end, the SDL leader, Laisenia Qarase, is in jail and his party has been shown up to be not only racist and bigoted but totally untrustworthy. It’s not a question of subtle interpretation either. There was a point blank denial from party headquarters that a submission had been made. It wasn’t even being “economical with the actualite”, as a British aristocratic MP once famously put it. In other words, only party true. No it was an outright lie, a clear intention to deceive. And the people of Fiji – the ordinary voters that the SDL needs to win over to ever sit in government again – won’t be forgetting anytime soon. Frank Bainimarama will make sure of that.
Let’s also see now what those who were gullible enough to take the SDL’s word have to say. Radio Australia, which twice reported “confusion” over whether a submission had been made and then ignored the story when the facts became clearer. The Indo-Fijian historian, Brij Lal, who said he couldn’t believe that the SDL would ever propose a Christian state because it was no longer the extremist party it once might have been. Plus all the SDL’s camp followers in Fiji and abroad, who slavishly support a discredited political party rooted in the country’s ugly past.
All week, the SDL could have laid the debate to rest by issuing a simple statement: “The SDL does not and will not advocate a Christian state in Fiji”. It refused to do so and engaged, instead, in the crudest of spin that even a freshly minted PR graduate from USP could have foreseen would eventually blow up in its face. For most people, that was enough to be convinced that what the SDL was so desperately trying to hide was, in fact, its true agenda.
Did the SDL – as some people think – fly a kite on the Christian state to see where the wind would take it? That if there wasn’t an outcry, it could become official policy and if there was, it could be modified or scrapped? Maybe but it’s a hell of a strange way to run a modern political party. Why lie in the first place when there were so many people in the room? Wasn’t it inevitable that the truth would surface? Well now it’s confirmed and beyond all reasonable doubt, as they say in the courts. Fiji for the i’Taukei and Christians and no-one else. As we said at the start of the week: “The longest suicide note in political history”. Amen.