May 29, 2017 Last Updated 1:08 PM, May 23, 2017

The middle road

Looking for a Fiji for all

WHEN Tupou Draunidalo chose to leave the Opposition National Federation Party earlier this year, political commentators wondered about the wisdom of such a move. For there are many who believe that without the support of the NFP and its huge support in the cane-growing areas of Fiji, Draunidalo will have little backing ahead of Fiji’s 2018 polls.

But the fiery lawyer and former Parliamentarian has chosen to step away from the Federation to set up a party inclusive of all ethnicities and genders – what she describes as a truly representative political movement. “I believe that the Fijian electorate largely, like many electorates overseas, falls in the middle,” Draunidalo said. “At the last elections, the ruling (FijiFirst) party successfully painted itself as a middle party.

Fiji has seen that that is far from the truth.’’ Fiji’s Prime Minister, Rear-Admiral Frank Bainimarama, drew up a Constitution which included a provision for all people to share the name Fijian – once the exclusive domain of the indigenous population. This single move has been credited with winning many Indo-Fijian votes in the 2014 elections. The Indo-Fijian populations has considered itself second class citizenry due to discriminatory laws in place during colonial times and after the 1987 coup. Now the indigenous people are called iTaukei – ironical because the term means “owner of the land”.

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IT’S just days after New Year and while chaos reigned on the mainland as news spread of an underwater earthquake, the then President of the National Federation Party, parliamentarian Tupou Draunidalo, was sitting unperturbed by the beach.

The threat of a tsunami had passed many hours beforehand, but the little island beach was still deserted - and she was facing an earth shattering decision of her own. Eight months into a full term parliamentary ban that many have called “extreme”, she was contemplating how best to step down so voters didn’t have to miss out on a voice in Parliament. It would be one of the most difficult decisions she’s ever had to make.

“It wasn’t easy,” she said. On reflection, “it was like any divorce, very heart wrenching, emotional and difficult”. One of her mentors, Sydney-based retired lawyer Harish Sharma - who to this day calls her “beti” (daughter) - was once a celebrated leader of the party. Many friends, family members, colleagues and supporters had rallied to her NFP call. But the die was cast. In the weeks leading up to the decision, it was increasingly clear that her firebrand approach was out of step with those who preferred to walk on political eggshells, especially over the accountability of coup makers and other soldiers with coup makers.

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End of the road for Somare

AN era came to an end on April 4 when Papua New Guinea’s ‘father of the nation’ and one of the longest serving parliamentarians in the Pacific and the Commonwealth, Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare took up his seat in Parliament for one last time to bid farewell. Exactly 49 years earlier, a younger Michael Somare walked into the House of Assembly in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea as a politician for the first time on April 4, 1968.

Sir Michael was retiring and his last sitting was also the conclusion of PNG’s ninth parliament before it adjourned for the general elections in late June. The former prime minister was given a standing ovation as he gave his farewell speech to parliament. Sir Michael, who served this last fiveyear parliament term as East Sepik Governor after his ousting as prime minister in 2011, said it had been a privilege to have served the people of Papua New Guinea.

“I practise national unity and I am proud to be called the father of the nation,” said the man known in PNG as the ‘Grand Chief’. Highly respected throughout the Pacific Islands region, Sir Michael was instrumental in ushering PNG to independence from Australia in 1975, upon which he served as the country’s first prime minister.

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PM O’Neill upbeat

PNG prepares to go to the polls

RIDING on the perceived success of the government’s core policies, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill is confident of retaining government after the 2017 National Elections. Equally vying for the same is Opposition Leader Don Polye with other hopefuls including People’s Progress Party leader Ben Micah, National Alliance leader Patrick Pruaitch and Pangu Party leader Sam Basil.

They have publicly expressed interest - all are sitting Members of Parliament who will be seeking re-election in the polls which will open with nominations on April 27. Polling will start on June 24 and ends on July 8. Counting will start immediately and a new government will be expected after July 24.

Coming from the outside is former Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta who has indicated interest in re-entering politics from retirement. He has his sights set on the top job as well. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill is banking on his coalition government’s core policies to return him and his party to power after the elections. The policies include tuition fee free education, free primary health care and infrastructure development, among others.

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AFTER 16 months in office, Marshall Islands President Hilda C. Heine has a busy schedule. On the international stage, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) has been active in global negotiations on climate change and nuclear weapons. But with key funding ending in 2023 under the current Compact of Free Association with the United States, the RMI government faces difficult financial decisions to maintain health, education and welfare programs.

As the first woman elected as leader of an independent Pacific island nation, Heine has a full agenda. Early in her career, she worked as Secretary of Education and has a lifelong involvement in education policy. The first Marshallese woman to gain a Ph.D., Heine also worked in Honolulu with Pacific Resources for Education and Learning (PREL), a non-profit organisation that works across Micronesia to promote “strong schools, healthy communities, and thriving cultures with Pacific hearts and global minds”.

In government, Heine sees education as a central focus for community improvement and government action. “Education is something that I do on a daily basis, improving the education of our people,” she told Islands Business. “We look at other small countries in the world that have been able to thrive because their people are educated and have the skills necessary to move their country forward. That’s what we hope to be able to do - to educate all our people and get them to the level that can sustain them.”

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