The Fiji Labour Party meets this weekend. And the National Federation Party has its annual conference in Nadi on Saturday. It would be naïve in the extreme to imagine that the subject of the draft People’s Charter – the hottest topic of the hour – will not come up for discussion at either event. The FLP will support it while the NFP is more likely to take an opposing view. The question now is what line will the Fiji Police Force take? We know it will take a very firm line at the Methodist Church annual conference which opens in Suva today. The police do not want the charter to be discussed, it seems. They have advised the church that if the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua Party wishes to take part it will be considered a political meeting for which the church does not have a permit. Further, the church has been told that if the SDL wishes to use the occasion to campaign against the charter, the police will close the meeting. Polive will increase their presence and closely monitor the conference. What are they afraid of? The church conference is highly unlikely to be an occasion for any breach of the peace. If there is political activity, it won’t take the form of riotous assembly or any other kind of illegal behaviour. The same can be said of the FLP and NFP gatherings. Once again we see how the police are politicised. The once proudly independent force has become a tool for the suppression of dissent and the promotion of a political ideology. This is deeply worrying. It is no secret that this newspaper has had serious differences with the SDL and its policies in the past. We called some those policies racist then and we call them racist now. But that is our opinion which – so far at least – we are free to express. Why should not the SDL be accorded the same right – the same right as any other political party – to put its policies and opinions before the people? What is the regime afraid of? Much of the SDL’s support resides in the rank and file of the Methodist Church just as much of the FLP’s natural constituency is among the cane farmers and parts of the trade union movement. There is nothing new, abnormal or even objectionable about that. What is abnormal and completely objectionable is the use of the police to prevent one party from addressing its constituency while giving another free rein. The people who drive this kind of activity surely cannot believe that it will not be noticed by the people of Fiji or that it will somehow make dissent go away. The fact is it will have the opposite effect. They will never admit it, but the SDL organisers will regard this ham-fisted use of the police as manna from heaven. For if the regime really wants to promote a party or even a point of view, the most effective way is to ban it. In the meantime the Fiji Police Force must assert its independence It has to enforce the law – that is to say the constitution – and not the interim (or any) government.
Double standard – Fiji Sun Editorial 14/08/0/8