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Leadership choice crucial to Fiji poll result

Fiji’s September 17 General Election will be decided primarily on the quality of political leadership on offer rather than on political platforms and manifestos. Media-driven interviews and general political coverage of the election campaigns has focused largely on the leadership qualities of party stewards and only sparsely on the actual individual party platforms/ manifestos. Equipped with the powerful slogan of “equal citizenry – one vote, equal value,” Fiji’s voters are now better “empowered” than ever before to choose who should lead them into the future.

Unlike past elections where voters were equipped with voting rights to choose as many as two candidates to represent them – one from a Communal Constituency and the other from a prescribed list of National constituencies – the choice is now limited to just one candidate from a field of 248 (the official number of nominated candidates as of 19 August 2014). Surprisingly, with the number of registered political parties now standing at seven, the overall number of nominated candidates remains comparable to past elections.

Another surprise, despite its political rise from 1985, is the decision by the Fiji Labour Party (FLP) to field just 42 candidates instead of the maximum 50. FLP leader and political veteran, Mahendra Chaudhry, who has nominated himself despite his current ineligibility to contest the 2014 elections, has shrugged the low number off as a “strategy” aimed at winning in areas where the party has traditional support.

Faced with the political party options now before them, many of Fiji’s young voters face the dilemma of having to differentiate between voting for political party ideologies and manifestos and voting for political leadership/charisma. With Fiji’s new electoral system, where voters choose a number representing their preferred candidate, without the benefit of accompanying political party symbols, it’s more likely that the focus will be on party leadership rather than on political party ideologies.

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