Monday, May 25, 2009

Fiji: Salient Magazine takes keen interest as Nina Fowlers outlines in her article @ Victoria University in Wellington.

Fiji: Good Intentions Gone Sour

The student magazine of Victoria University, Wellington

by Nina Fowler, May 2009
It all began with the best of intentions. Back in the colonial era, Governor Sir Arthur Gordon and statesman-chief Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna wanted to protect the indigenous Fijian way of life. Legislation was passed so indigenous Fijians were allowed to lease their land but not sell it, and Indian laborers were brought in to work for the colonialists so indigenous Fijians wouldn’t have to.
Gordon and Ratu Sukuna’s efforts had some unforeseen consequences. While 85% of the total land area of the Fijian islands remained native land, Indo-Fijians quickly became dominant within the Fijian economy. By the time independence rolled around in 1970, indigenous Fijians were seriously worried about Indo-Fijian political dominance, and voting under the new Constitution was split down ethnic lines to prevent the Indo-Fijian majority from getting too much power.
In 1987, an Indo-Fijian majority coalition was elected into government for the first time. Spurred by indigenous Fijian anxiety, Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka staged two successive military coups, revoked the Constitution and declared Fiji a Republic. A new Constitution was passed in 1990 to guarantee an indigenous Fijian Prime Minister and parliamentary majority.
After five years of military rule, Rabuka was elected as Prime Minister. He formed a Constitutional Review Commission with the help of New Zealand Governor-General Sir Paul Reeves, and passed a new Constitution in 1997.
In 1999, Mahendra Chaudhry defeated wrongsRabuka and became the first elected Indo-Fijian Prime Minister. He lasted just one year before a civilian coup led by George Speight took him hostage and abolished the Constitution.
Enter Commodore Frank Bainimarama. As commander of the Fijian military, Bainimarama negotiated Chaudhry’s release and then arrested Speight and his followers on charges of treason. Bainimarama assumed executive power and appointed Laisenia Qarase, the leader of the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) Party, as interim Prime Minister. The Fijian High Court restored the Constitution, Qarase became the elected Prime Minister, and the island nation enjoyed a few years of relative political calm.
Bainimarama’s 2006 coup d’├ętat against the Qarase government was not unexpected. Qarase had provoked Bainimarama by passing affirmative action legislation to extend indigenous Fijian property rights and, worst of all, a Reconciliation and Unity Bill offering amnesty to the rebels who had hunted Bainimarama during the coup in 2000. After a series of ultimatums, the military took over Government House on 5 December. President Ratu Josefa Iloilo was forced to dissolve Parliament and Bainimarama was appointed interim Prime Minister.
2009 Constitutional Crisis
Qarase, with support from the Great Council of Chiefs and Methodist Church, eventually applied for a legal ruling on the 2006 coup d’etat. In 9 April 2009, the Fijian Court of Appeal ruled Commodore Frank Bainimarama’s 2006 coup d’etat illegal and his interim government ‘invalid’.
Bainimarama’s response was immediate. On 10 April, President Ratu Josefa Iloilo sacked the judiciary, overturned the 1997 Constitution, declared himself head of state and said elections would not be held until 2014. He then reappointed Bainimarama as Prime Minister, who in turn reappointed all Cabinet ministers to their previous positions.
The interim government then placed Fiji under a 30-day Public Emergency Regulation (PER), allowing the police to “control the movement of people” and to stop any broadcast or publication deemed to “cause disorder, promote disaffection or public alarm or undermine the government or state of Fiji”. The PER has recently been extended for another five weeks.
No Wow Now
The history of Fiji reads colonisation, constitution #1, coup, coup, constitution #2, constitution #3, coup, coup and now, predictably, constitutional crisis. The current situation is the latest symptom in an endemic outbreak of political instability.
Victoria University Masters student Keiran Barbalich recently completed his masters thesis on Fijian politics. He says Bainimarama’s government was never legitimate and it was only a matter of time before a constitutional crisis occurred.
“The 2006 coup happened and the president was so incapacitated that they made him legitimise the coup. Now I don’t care what kind of lawyer you are, it’s pretty obvious the coup was not legal. Eventually the judiciary was going to go ‘we’ll rule against the government’ and all the Bainimarama government did then was reassert itself.
“All the hysteria from the New Zealand media completely misses the point. The point is that the judiciary ruled against Bainimarama and said he didn’t legally exist. If you’re a dictator with that much power, what’re you going to do? Of course you’re going to overthrow them, and of course the judiciary was going to rule against him. What’s most surprising is that it took the judiciary the best part of two and a half years to do it.”
Pacific Bad Boy
Recent developments have swept the mainstream media into a righteous frenzy, much to the frustration of alternative commentators. Professor Crosbie Walsh AKA ‘CrozWalsh’, a former senior academic at the University of the South Pacific, expressed his disgust at TV ONE ‘gutter journalism’ in a blog post on 27 April.
“It started with the sensational News Headlines: ‘Talk of Uprising in Fiji’—surely of extreme importance but unmentioned in the story! When the item started journalist Lisa Owen, freshly arrived from New Zealand, interviewed a Fijian female silhouette who spoke tearfully of the President’s ‘treason’…
“This commentary was filmed against a backdrop of crowded buses, a squatter settlement, and a street beggar contrasted with Commodore Bainimarama, resplendent in his white naval uniform. No text was needed; the film told all. “How could any decent New Zealander do anything other than condemn the evil Bainimarama and what he’s doing to Fiji!”
The international solution to the Fiji constitutional crisis goes something like ‘box those bad boys into a corner until they make good’. Australia and New Zealand have called for an immediate return to democracy and, after Bainimarama failed to hold elections by May, the Pacific Forum suspended Fiji’s membership based on the regime’s “total disregard for basic human rights, democracy and freedom.”
Say what? Defining democracy is a slippery task. As Victoria University senior Politics lecturer Xavier Marquez points out, “if a certain country does not have the exact same set of institutions as New Zealand, it doesn’t necessarily mean the country is undemocratic.
“The question is whether the previous regime was any better, especially if you take into account the intentions of the current ruler.”
Ask Aiyaz
Salient was unable to secure an interview with Commodore Bainimarama, as he is currently visiting an undisclosed location in Indonesia. Luckily, Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum called up Newstalk ZB talkback host Leighton Smith last Monday to answer just the question we wanted to ask:
Leighton Smimith: “What is the intent of the Bainimarama regime?”
Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum: “Under the 1997 Constitution we had an electoral system where people were categorised along ethnic lines. A citizen of Fiji had two votes, one for their specific ethnic group and one for the open seats. You can’t run a modern nation state based on ethnicity or communal voting. You end up with parties and politicians who are only geared towards serving specific ethnic groups, and even within the communal voting you end up with distortion.
“We want to have good and strong institutions of democracy and accountability, not just by way of lip service. Democracy is not only achieved through having elections. Let’s get the system right.”
Leighton Smith: “Now I’ll ask you a question that you might find offensive… could it be that Fiji is simply not sophisticated enough for the pure sort of democracy you’re pursuing?”
Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum: “If you talk to a hundred different people, they’ll give you a hundred different definitions of democracy. Our version of democracy is that everybody in Fiji is treated equally as a common citizenry irrespective of your ethnic or religious background, and that we have a system whereby the ordinary men and women of this country can access information, justice, and basic amenities like water, roads, electricity, education, and heath facilities… where you are able to express your views through people who represent you in a system that is fair and equitable.”
While dodging Smith’s racist insinuations, Sayed-Khaiyum let rip with one of the most flawless definitions of democracy ever to waltz out the mouth of a Pacific politician. Not only that, but the People’s Charter For Change, Peace and Progress (2008) seems to be a solid plan for how the regime is going to get there.
Barbalich agrees. “The Charter reads very well, it is a very nice document. If it was drafted by an elected government then the West would be praising it, but it’s not. Everyone has conceded, even Qarase agrees that what Bainimarama wants to do to the electoral system is correct. The question is how they’re going to do it.”
The People’s Charter: Constitution #4?
Electoral reform is a key part of the People’s Charter. According to Pacific Studies programme director and senior lecturer Teresia Teaiwa, Fiji’s complex alternative voting system and ethnically-based electorate system has contributed to Fiji’s ‘coup culture’.
“It tended to create landslide victories for ethnically-based parties, so in 1999 you got the landslide victory for Chaudhry’s Labour Party and in 2001, Qarase’s SDL Party got the landslide victory. Both parties were supposed to orchestrate ‘governments of national unity’ by inviting minority or opposition parties to share power… but that provision in the constitution was much too idealistic.”
Teaiwa thinks electoral reform may not be enough to realise Bainimarama and Saiyed-Khaiyum’s dream of a common Fijian citizenship.
“It can be achieved structurally, as in reform of the electoral system… which will take one to two years. It is being achieved now, culturally in the promotion of multiculturalism through popular media and art forms, but whether it will be achieved in the hearts of Fiji’s staunch communalists, we can’t know.”
Donasiano Ruru left Fiji three years ago to pursue his Development Studies PhD in Wellington. He says consultation with the Fijian people is essential before a new constitution can be adopted.
“A constitution is a dynamic legal document and it needs to be reviewed through dialogue. It’s not about voting. It’s about educational awareness before integrating the People’s Charter into the new constitution. The people need to understand it so at the end they can claim ownership.”
Ruru says the leadership role played by the Great Council of Chiefs and Methodist Church also needs to be taken into account.
“Frank’s coup is different from the other coups because he does not have the support of the Great Council of Chiefs and the Methodist Church. Rabuka got the support of the chiefs for his coup in 1987, whereas Frank completely disregarded them and even destabilised the Great Council.
“We have to get the chiefs and the Church in dialogue. It’s not something you impose; you have to bring them on side. It’s only when these people become part of the review that we can be assured of political stability. Right now is a dangerous situation because they just don’t seem to be working together.”
Human Rights and Media Fights
An Amnesty International press release on 20 February says the human rights situation in Fiji is “deteriorating by the day”. Pacific Researcher Apolosi Bose says the public emergency regulations are creating a culture of “extreme fear and intimidation.”
“There has been a major chilling effect on a once-robust NGO and human rights defender community. In the absence of a free press to hold the military to account for their actions and a judiciary to provide a balance of power, the work of these human rights organisations is crucial. But they are being crippled by repression. With no one to stand up on behalf of the abused and the vulnerable, there is a real risk of further grave human rights abuses occurring against civilians.”The Age reported a “spate of attacks” on the homes and cars of pro-democracy Fijians on 7 April, and a group of soldiers convicted of killing teenager Sakiusa Rabaka in 2007 have just been released on “compulsory surveillance orders” but, outside of Fiji, it is simply not clear how much “further grave human rights abuse” has occurred since the April crisis.
Teresia Teaiwa argues that the media need to take some responsibility for censorship. “To be honest, I think there is as much a problem with sensationalist and profit-driven media irresponsibility and structural economic problems within the media industry as with government encroachments on the freedom of the media.
“I’m all for media freedom, but I ob- ject to rabid media baiting of governments, whatever political stripe they may be.”
Island Nation Isolation
Assuming Bainimarama and Saiyed-Khaiyum are genuine in their desire for ‘true’ democracy, it will still be another five years before a new Constitution and electoral system are put in place. Given the additional pressure placed on Bainimarama by Fiji’s growing poverty rate and escalating ‘brain drain’ migration of skilled workers, it may be only a matter of time before his good intentions go sour and the human rights situation gets really nasty.
The antagonistic attitudes of New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Forum have shut down all traditional avenues of international support. As pointed out by ‘CrozWalsh’, “in displays quite uncharacteristic of good diplomacy, we have bailed ourselves and Bainimarama into a corner, leaving neither a way to escape with dignity intact.”
The international community needs to get smart, get humble and be more sensitive to Fiji’s current political needs. Until then, the people of Fiji will have to continue navigating these dangerous times alone.

11 May, 2009 at 6:59 pm
Actually, quite a lot of Fijian-born citizens are fighting their way to the Consulates and getting visas to enter Australia or NZ, as we sit ruminating on this topic.
They are voting with their feet, and leaving before Bainimarama puts all his years of tactical training with the NZDF into practice gunning down citizens who he doesn’t like the look of.
Other Pacific Nations have entreated Bainimarama to negotiate, but his absence from the Pacific Forum, and other gatherings recently, has been a message to diplomats throughout the region that he will not be ‘negotiated’ with, he will only dictate the terms of his own coup.
That his administration has been called illegal does not bother him, as the sacking of the Judiciary and the suspension of the Constitution in April, enacting martial law, has shown.
Ian Anderson
12 May, 2009 at 1:08 am
“Actually, quite a lot of Fijian-born citizens are fighting their way to the Consulates and getting visas to enter Australia or NZ, as we sit ruminating on this topic.”
Long before the current flare-up we suspended Fiji from our Pacific work-visa agreement. Those agreements are pretty exploitative anyway, but suspending the agreement screws a lot of Fijian citizens. We’ve consistently isolated Fiji since this coup, unlike in the previous Fijian coups. Basically we’re trying to cover our collective ass and maintain an elite to trade with.
Bainimarama’s not shaping out to be a paragon of democracy, but our role in the situation is not pretty. We should take some responsibility rather than painting him as a cartoon villain and making wildly disproportionate claims about “the Burma of the South Pacific.”
12 May, 2009 at 1:36 pm
Excellent stuff Nina. I am compelled to reassess my predjudices


  1. Vakarua na Vanua me Yalani na Bula ni Matanitu Butrako nei Voreqefrom Fiji Coup 2006 by Sai Lealea
    Some more stuff from someone who knows
    May 25, 2009
    From a few of our members in the Military Council and the high ranking military officers.
    The Methodist Church has made a big mistake in trusting the military for dialogue. The COUPSTERS(people like PIO BOSCO TIKOSUVA who harp on about moving Fiji forward) and the military have claimed VICTORY in close doors that they have already smashed and defeated 2 of the 3 legged stool of the taukei. 1 Government(matanitu) and2 Great Council of Chiefs(vanua). That dialogue is for them to implement their final strike to STRIKEOUT the I-TAUKEI once and for all and that is the 3rd leg which is the most powerful and strongest. Without the 3rd , 1 & 2 cannot survive. Na mataivalu e via vamalumalumu taka na lotu. E dua tale ga na angle oratou cakava tiko o Teleni na New Methodist(Sa da kilai Vulaono vinaka mai Namaka,Nadi…butabutako) me vamalumalumu taka na Methodist Church. But the military is also wrong on the count of weakening the vanua. The vanua in the villages are only waiting for the SIGNAL from Suva as instructed in our pamphelt SA YALA EKE published QEB media cell.Our follow up process , confirmed that the vanua is READY FOR REVOLUTION and removing the illegal regime. ALL OF FIJI IS READY.The MILITARY IS RESTLESS. We cannot handle a nationwide revolt,Kemuni na nemami qaselevu, kemami veikilai vinaka tu vaturaganivalu.E levu sa tu qo era tamata lasulasu,daumateni,dauyalewa,butabutako and are very shallow.Sa sega na dina. The military is using DELAYING TACTICS to get ready. But e tubu tiko e levu na veivosaki ena kena vakayagataki na plan cava. sa malumalumu tu qo na veiliutakikei na veivabauti i na keba. Keimami veidredre tiko madaga i na OFFICERS MESS.All OPERATIONAL and STANDING ORDERS are leading to BLOODSHED. The information We are privy to is all plans for CRUSHING a REVOLT. The strategy and tactics have been redrawn. And it is a point by point move to delay THE METHODIST CHURCH with dangling carrots and cheese from dialogue.The last instruction is SHOOT TO KILL. Ni vosota na turaga kei na marama we can’t reveal our identities but we are everywhere within the apparatus if we show you documents our identities will be compromised andwe are very close to everything.Dont ever say good things about Driti and Mara in RFN , these bastards are willing to shoot innocent civilians.But our NCO’s are already brainwashing the boys not to harm any civilians. They can issue orders till the cows come home. the boys won’t shoot.You have been played and swindled with Bullshit. O ira sa tu qo e ra sega ni tamata me ra vakabauti. The quality officers are all gone. There is no more honourable men left, except a few of us left at major and above and NCOs sGT to WO1.Keimami sa bole mate tu qo e na keba me keimami vanalaki Bainimarama,Teleni,Kean,Driti,Ului,Aziz,Leweni,Qilio and Saumatua,E ra na varau veitau sobo i veitavioka. Sa qai o koya qo na ka dina, sega ni ratou o Ballu Khan. Keimami rarawa valevu na nomuni lewe ni mataivalu e na nomuni sa vasuka moni veitalanoa. Me ia ga na Protest. Keitou qai neitou i tavi na Queen Elizabeth Barracks kei na vo ni ka vakaivalu. Na noda vakabauta me cakacaka taki, dua na siga da sucu e na dua na siga e da mate. Noda mate e lewa ga na Kalou bula,sega ni mai o iratou na mataivalu se tamata, e lewa na noda kalou. Kalou kaukauwa na noda Kalou. Sa Yala Eke

  2. I disagree with Donasio's comments saying that the Methodist Church has power over the Indigenous people in Fiji. If for anything they (the Methodist Church) are cateforised as a Religious group and not an Ethnic group so their word only will rest with those that are Methodist & they are not the 'Vanua'.

    If for anything they should be helping the people get spiritually orientated not politically motivated. The values & Mana of the Indigenous Fijians rests with the Chiefs & their people not the Church.

  3. the epic of the story is where are we heading in Fiji. Can the military wipe out the debt from all the banks of the world? what about their priority; no, corruption?
    I feel the spokesman of the military should study more in world goverment; and find out which government is perfect?
    When you cut out democracy and try to show thw world you are doing fine; just becareful because your advisors are using you to cover their corruption. How canyou prove to abrogate the constitution ; chase out all the supreme court judges and try to make a "new charter" - no way. People are not plants to be pruned uprooted and forgotten. Let me remind you that there is a God - who sees more thenwhat we think. And that god does not forget the heart aches ane prayers of His children.
    Have more sleepeless nite frank?


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