Saturday, March 03, 2007


Is RFMF a force for democracy?

By MAIKA BOLATIKIPolitical Editor - 03 March 2007

The military has no role in politics. In a democracy, the military should not attempt to involve itself in politics or give the impression it is seeking to usurp the powers of the elected government.I must admit, though, we will have different views on this particular subject.The four coups that have occurred in Fiji paint a clear picture of the involvement of the military in Fijian politics.I recall the speech of Senator Apisai Tora on March 16, 2006 when he said: "The Commander has taken on the role of a politician and is using his RFMF party to campaign against the SDL.He is also trying to influence the way members of the military and their families vote. This political activity is disgraceful." This was Mr Tora's response to the Truth and Justice campaign by the military.Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon said: "There have been persistent concerns about the involvement of the military in Fiji politics. Fiji has a proud and professional military, which should stay out of the political arena."Does the military have a role in politics?This question is lingering in the minds of the people of Fiji and many have tried to answer it, but only to their own satisfaction.Surely the answer is provided in the 1997 Constitution, but again, there are many interpretations.Because of the different interpretations of the role of the military as provided by Section 112 of the constitution, it has involved itself in politics.It does not only involve itself in politics, it has militarised politics in Fiji.The involvement of the military in politics in Fiji became obvious in 1987 when the then Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka carried out the first military coup in our beloved nation.This military action came about after the Fijian-dominated Alliance Party led by seasoned politician and paramount chief Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara lost the general elections. This paved the way for the first ever prime minister from an Indian-dominated party to lead the country.Even though the Fiji Labour Party nominated Dr Timoci Bavadra as prime minister, the indigenous Fijians were still not happy.The coup leader who was the interim prime minister was later the democratically elected prime minister after he joined the Bose Levu Vakaturaga backed Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei (SVT) party.The 1970 Constitution was abrogated and was replaced by the controversial 1990 Constitution.The 1990 Constitution recognised the existence of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces and its role was clearly clarified in section 94 (3) where it said: "It shall be the overall responsibility of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to ensure at all times the security, defence and wellbeing of Fiji and its people."The RFMF, in its own interpretation of this section, believes the constitution provides it with a political mandate to influence Government policy in the interests of Fiji.The Reeves Commission team led by Sir Paul Reeves with the membership of Dr Brij Lal and former Cabinet Minister and veteran politician Tomasi Vakatora reviewed the 1990 Constitution.They made recommendations that were later unanimously agreed by the Joint Parliamentary Select Committee (JPSC) that looked into the amendments.These amendments were later passed in Parliament and it was from there that we gained the 1997 Constitution. The 1997 Constitution recognised the existence of the RFMF, but changed its role.It is the interpretation of this particular section that remains contentious.Surely, the final arbiter of this will be the courts.In 2000, the RFMF played a critical role in the political crisis that emanated from the civilian coup led by an unknown political figure, George Speight or Samisoni Tikoinasau, as entered in the Vola ni Kawa Bula (VKB).There were some soldiers from the Counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW) unit who backed the coup and weapons from the military armoury were used.It was the intervention of the RFMF, ably led by the Commander Commodore VoreqeBainimarama, that overpowered the rebel group.Commodore Bainimarama handed power to an Interim Administration led by Laisenia Qarase who later became Prime Minister after the 2001 elections under the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua banner. After the political crisis of 2000, the military slowly made inroads into politics in Fiji. The militarisation process was gaining hold.The Eminent Persons Group on Fiji clearly outlined the military's involvement in politics.Commodore Bainimarama was directly involved in the appointment of Mr Qarase as Interim Prime Minister and in returning Fiji to a constitutional path.The military became more involved in politics after the 2001 general elections.Its relationship with the democratically elected Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua Government deteriorated as those alleged to have been involved in the 2000 civilian coup assumed positions in Government.This was a development that Commodore Bainimarama took particular exception to.A lot of political developments happened in 2006, which did not have the support of the military.The Prime Minister Qarase-led Coalition Government (SDL/Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua) attempted to introduce three pieces of controversial legislation: the Indigenous Claims Tribunal Bill, the Qoliqoli (Customary Fisheries) Bill and theReconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill. The RTU Bill attracted a lot of criticism and was labelled by the commander as ``Reconciliation Bull''.The military continued to make its voice known in political decisions in its firm belief that it has a role in the politics of the land.The Qarase-led Government, knowing of the involvement of the military in politics, wanted the court to clarify its role as specified by the constitution.The relationship continued to deteriorate and with the insistence of the military that the Government adhere to its demands, the Government decided it wanted to remove the commander. This added more fuel to an already bad relationship.The military expanded its demand to include a public declaration by the Government that the coup events of 2000 were illegal and that all associated with them must be removed from office; withdrawal of the three Bills; suspension of investigations into the Commander and the RFMF; termination of Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes' contract; no foreign military/police intervention; a review of the role of the Police Tactical Response Unit; a review of the commercial arm and role of the Native Land Trust Board; the Ministry of Home Affairs to respond to RFMF concerns about Force Restructure; allowances and promotions; and the Government to address good governance concerns. The last demand was the extension of the Commander's contract to 2010.The NZ Government tried to intervene and hosted a meeting between Prime Minister Qarase and Commodore Bainimarama, but it failed to reach a mutual agreement. It was evident that the military had wanted to control politics in the country.For the military, they had reached a point of no return and to confirm its political control, the only way out was to remove the democratically elected Qarase-led Government. This happened on December 5, 2006The military-backed Interim Government is now in control and has political power inherited from the barrel of the gun.Even though we now have an Interim Government, with the Commander holding the post of Interim Prime Minister, it has been viewed worldwide as a military Government. It is a fact that the military has a lot of influence in the day-to-day running of the Government. The Interim Government is now trying to change the electoral system.The militarisation of politics in Fiji should stop.According to the EPG, the legality of the current regime must ultimately be determined by properly constituted Fiji courts.From another perspective, some support the involvement of the military in politics, but only as a watchdog.It played that role after the 2001 general elections, but when it felt the Government was going against it, the military eventually decided to run the country to clean up the mess. Let us hope the military will return to the barracks after another democratic election and stay away from politics.Let the people decide who should lead them.

No comments: