Election campaigns are usually intense and sometimes even acrimonious and divisive. The 2018 election campaign was no exception.
The heat of the campaign is now over. The scrutiny of the election count is not. When there is a result as close as this one, we owe it to our supporters and to the country to ensure that it is correct.
The official result is that the Fiji First Party has won the election. We of course respect that result. We are looking carefully at it. If a legal challenge is merited we will bring one. But if it is not merited, we will not. We are looking at the evidence and taking advice. I cannot say anything more about this now.
For the moment, and based on the official result, it is appropriate to congratulate the Fiji First Party for its lead in the polls.
I want to acknowledge the great restraint and tolerance demonstrated by all our people both during the campaign and during the balloting. It is a real credit to them.
I ask everyone to maintain that same calmness and unity, whatever the final result proves to be. Whatever we feel about the current election outcome, instability and division would be worse.
The election result was close. The official results show that Fiji First received only 147 more votes than the opposition parties. Its majority in Parliament has been slashed from 14 to 3.
Even that majority comes only because of a special formula that Fiji First chose for itself in 2014. On a simple proportionate count, Fiji First’s majority would be 1 seat. The lead is marginal, probably most embarrassing result for a ruling party, and nothing to gloat about.
On a result that close, whoever is in the government should think carefully. If so many people have voted for alternative policies and platforms, a good government would show respect to that.
This election result is a rejection of Fiji First’s dictatorial and bulldozing style of government. If it is smart, it will change the way it governs.
The election may be over, but our problems are not. They are the same as they were before the election. We have serious poverty and economic inequality. We have a failing sugar industry, under-developed opportunities in agriculture and poor public services including education and health. Fiji’s score on NCDs and domestic violence are rampant and amongst the highest in the world.
We can fix these problems faster if we work together. If the government wishes to work positively with the opposition parties on Fiji’s problems, we are ready. We will do it from the Opposition. We will always scrutinize and criticize, because that is the Opposition’s job. The government’s job is to accept that scrutiny and criticism and to change where needed. That is what democratic governments do.
For NFP, we did not get the result we wanted. We increased our share of the popular vote but we fell a few votes short of increasing our numbers in Parliament. We will continue to fight, inside Parliament and out, for better wages for our workers, a lower cost of living, better housing, fair prices for our farmers, better education and health and better opportunities for our youth. That does not change with the election result.
In accordance with our party rules and procedure I will present the result to the NFP Management Board when it meets next week so we can consider our future direction thereafter. At some point in the near future the right thing for me to do is to put my own leadership on the table. I have made no decisions at this stage about my own political future. I will consult the party leadership and supporters first.
I want to finish on a positive note. I have worked with a great team of candidates. I want to thank them enough for stepping forward. It takes courage to put yourself forward as a candidate. But it takes double that courage to do so in the climate of fear that is maintained by Frank Bainimarama’s government. They and our party activists, particularly our young people, in these elections has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for me. There is a whole new generation of leadership in the NFP. Our time will come. The results of this election mean that it is only a matter of time.
We call ourselves a legendary party. We are not here for power or prestige. We are a party of principles. We are not a personality cult that blindly follows one individual. We are a party that believes in lasting social, economic and political advancement of all Fiji’s people. That will never change.
Professor Biman Prasad