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Academics sceptical over credibility of new Lowy poll on Fiji

Poll manager Jenny Hayward-Jones with Dr Sitiveni Halapua, co-director PIDP, East-West Centre and Member of Parliament in Tonga. Photo: Alex Perrottet / PMC

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Alex Perrottet

A leading Fiji academic led critical responses today to a new opinion poll giving a favourable view of regime leader Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama and the direction the country is taking.

Dr Steven Ratuva, senior lecturer in Pacific studies at the University of Auckland and an authority on regime change and electoral systems, questioned the poll methodology.

“A researcher would have a field day with this. The credibility of results depends on the credibility of the methodology,” he said.

PIF 40 years logo“This might capture people’s perception in Fiji, but there is a difference between the perception and the reality.”

He argued that the climate of fear in Fiji would have a significant effect on the answers given in the poll and the margin of error in the poll did not reflect that.

He also criticised the report over the issue of translation.

“It’s problematic to translate heavily-loaded political terms such as ‘democracy’ and ‘elections’ into Fijian and Hindustani,” he said.

Poll defended
However, Jenny Hayward-Jones, director of the Myer Foundation Melanesia Programme, defended the poll, saying the questions were worked on and “Fijian-ised”, and that a pilot field test had been done.

The poll, carried out by Tebbutt Research for the Lowy Institute, an independent think tank in Australia, indicated a 66 per cent approval rate among Fiji Islanders for the military leader.

Sixty five percent said they support the direction that Fiji is going in.

The poll was released at a Pacific Islands Forum event at an Auckland hotel earlier today.

Hayward-Jones said she was “surprised” at the results and that she have thought Fijians were more “informed”.

She said her organisation was motivated to undertake the poll to gauge what people in Fiji had to say.

“I was frustrated that people in Fiji didn’t have a voice,” she said. “We always hear about what Bainimarama has to say, as well as the international community, but not what the people think.”

‘Views in street’
Reverend Akuila Yabaki, executive director of the Citizens Constitutional Forum in Fiji, said the poll was not an academic issue, but just “asking people on the street” what they thought.

Although he said today’s report on the poll required more historical background to the questions posed.

“There’s a lack of historical information,” he said. “There’s a lot more support from Indo-Fijians than for past coups as those coups were in favour of indigenous rights, while this one was motivated by the objective of getting rid of racial discrimination.”

Rev Yabaki said he was disappointed the poll did not include questions on the two points that the CCF was promoting for inclusion in the new constitution, to be debated next year.

“The main two points are getting rid of race-based voting and lowering the voting age to 18 years,” he said.

Although the poll was criticised for only interviewing residents from Fiji’s main island Viti Levu, Yabaki said that if the outer islands were included, the results would have been more in favour.

Shamima Ali, director of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, said she was concerned at the results and from her wide experience in dealing with minority groups, people were concerned to have their freedoms returned.

“We do want to know that if we go and protest at the Parliament, that a police truck will not come and pick us up in the middle of the night and take us away,” she said.

Alex Perrottet is contributing editor of Pacific Media Watch and chief reporter of the Pacific Media Centre’s Forum reporting team.

Further results of the poll can be found at the Lowy Institute’s website.

Earlier story

7 comments:

  1. Thakur Ranjit Singh, 8. September 2011, 5:12

    Merely rubbishing the methodology does not remove the fact that at least somewhat independent survey has been done, and it would obviously shock the anti regime and pro-democracy camps, who think mere elections, would remove the woes of Fiji, which is also divided on racial lines. Therefore, the scepticism of Ratuva has to be taken with a pinch of salt. The talk about fear of people is irrelevant as no names were revealed; results were lumped, so there was no question of people being intimidated about answers.
    There is no intimidation in Australia and New Zealand, yet the pseudo-democracy movements struggle to fill a room with pro-SDL-pro democracy crowd. So where is Ratuva coming from on the fear of people. Results similar to that in Fiji is supported by lack of support for those trying to have Qarase’s model of democracy back in Fiji.
    Readers need to be made aware that successive Fijian governments, notably Rabuka’s and Qarase’s have failed Fiji, failed the indigenous people, and democracy, and the change they see is a breath of fresh air, which is reflected from people on the streets in this poll.

     
  2. paula blaire, 8. September 2011, 9:16

    Someone just have to look back at the history Tebbutt Research in Fiji to see how controversial they had been in the past. This again is just another of their usual case of determining the desired result first then the methodology later.

     
  3. USP student, 10. September 2011, 0:00

    @ Thakur Ranjit Singh

    Of course, a “somewhat independent survey has been done” but the shortcomings in its methodology would mean that its results are dubious. Thus, the scepticism of Ratuva stands.

    I’m a student in USP. Last semester I carried out a survey in different towns in Viti Levu. It was almost ubiqutious the reply I would get at first from participants – “Who is going to see the results? I don’t want to get in trouble with the government”. There is fear – fear that one’s opinion may be out of line.

     
  4. Shelly, 16. September 2011, 22:57

    Another example of a piece of research carried out using a mainstream framework.

    Even the reasons for carrying out the research is someone else’s agenda – “I was frustrated that people in Fiji didn’t have a voice,” she said. “We always hear about what Bainimarama has to say, as well as the international community, but not what the people think”.

    A dangerous precedence for Fiji in it’s current political environment. .

     
  5.  

    […] in Auckland, the Lowy Institute released its controversial and much criticized Fiji Poll 2011, which found popular support for the military […]

     
  6. Mela, 12. October 2011, 12:16

    To be fair on the country and people of Fiji,a referendum is more appropriate and is of less margin of fallacy .

     
  7.  

    […] in Auckland, the Lowy Institute released its controversial and much criticized Fiji Poll 2011, which found popular support for the military […]