Thursday, May 24, 2007

Fiji Coup from Other Eyes

The coups from 'other' eyes

VERENIASI RAICOLA
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

MANY questions have been asked about the coups in Fiji and the reasons.

Many people have come up with their views.

A workshop by academics at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia posed questions about the coups in Fiji.

The participants included Professor Stephanie Lawson, Assistant Professor Grant McCall, anthropologist Robert Norton, Professor Subramani, political analyst Doctor Sanjay Ramesh and Sydney solicitor Harish Prasad.

They expressed concern at the political instability caused by the coups.

The first coup ousted the democratic government of Doctor Timoci Bavadra and the second severed ties with the Commonwealth.

After a series of constitutional changes, Fiji had another coup, more violent this time, led by George Speight in May 2000 and in December 2006, military commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama removed the multi-party government of Laisenia Qarase, accusing it of encouraging corruption, electoral fraud and introducing the Unity Bill with the intention of circumventing investigations into the events of 2000.

The participants agreed military coups were not the way to resolve complex issues such as nationalism, ethnic conflicts and corruption in Fiji.

They argued that the way forward was through strengthening multiparty and multi-ethnic co-operation within the constitutional framework and upholding at all times the rule of law.

They noted that unemployment and uncertainty over agricultural leases contributed to ethnic tension and recommended a multi-pronged consensus approach on land with the full participation of all stakeholders.

For the future, they recommended a government of national unity made up of SDL, FLP, UGP and Independents established immediately under the leadership of the President with a specific time frame for democratic elections.

The participants concluded that Fiji could not afford to remain isolated and needed support from all communities and political parties to move the nation forward.

Dr Ramesh, in his presentation, said the 1987 coup was to stifle collaboration between Indians and Fijians for a non-racial political discourse.

The second coup deposed Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau as the Governor General.

Dr Ramesh said racial tension remained despite Fiji's three post-coup constitution reviews.

In May 2000, armed gunmen held government ministers hostage for 56 days and co-ordinated race attacks against Indians.

"As a result of the 2000 coup, the Fijian-dominated Qarase government and the military started a public fight over government policies and Bills which resulted in the December 2006 takeover by the military."

Dr Ramesh said there were a number of players involved in the 1987 coup including the army and Taukei activists, as well as Alliance Party members who refused to accept the result of the election.

"Through a series of church meetings, these people formalised the destabilisation campaign against the government.

"There are allegations that the President at the time, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, gave his blessing to a military takeover after maintaining throughout the crisis that he had no knowledge of the coup.

"To observers, the causes of the coup were many."

Dr Ramesh said after the coup, Mr Rabuka established a military council and Ratu Penaia commissioned a committee led by Sir John Falvey to look at deficiencies of the 1970 Constitution, deemed by nationalists to have failed the Fijian people.

"The late Ratu Penaia dissolved Parliament, granted amnesty to Mr Rabuka and promoted him to RFMF commander."

Dr Ramesh said Ratu Penaia's actions were viewed with suspicion and Dr Bavadra challenged his decision in court.

"The Taukei Movement went on the offensive criticising the coalition for infringing on indigenous tradition by taking a high chief to court.

"While discussion between the Alliance Party and the coalition resulted in a framework for a government of national unity, Mr Rabuka saw the move as against the "objectives" of the May coup and deposed Ratu Penaia in a second coup, imposed martial law and imposed a Sunday ban.

"By the end of 1987, Mr Rabuka established an interim government with Ratu Mara as interim Prime Minister and Ratu Penaia as President."

Dr Ramesh said despite handing over authority to a civilian government, Mr Rabuka continued as Minister for Home Affairs and in 1989 the constitutional review process restarted with the appointment of the Manueli committee which documented the constitutional wishes of the Taukei Movement, the chiefs and the army and ignored submissions from the two Indian parties the Fiji Labour Party and National Federation Party.

"In 1990 a new racially weighted constitution was promulgated.

"Unlike 1970, the 1990 Constitution ensured that Fijians and chiefs had a monopoly on political power and the military continued to play a political role in the affairs of the country," he said.

Dr Ramesh said in 1990 the FLP and NFP broke up after the death of Dr Bavadra and Mr Rabuka was elected leader of the Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei that won the 1992 election.

Tension between two aspiring candidates in the SVT Mr Rabuka and the late Josevata Kamikamica erupted for the position of Prime Minister and led to the defeat of the 1993 Budget in November.

In January 1994, the Fijian Association Party was formed and Fiji went to the polls again in less than two years and the SVT returned to office.

In 1995 the Constitution Review Commission was appointed with Sir Paul Reeves, Dr Brij Lal and Tomasi Vakatora.

After a year of hearings, the commission's report was tabled in Parliament.

"A joint parliamentary select committee started negotiations and agreed to a new constitution which was supported by the Great Council of Chiefs."

Dissent within the SVT increased and some members split and formed the Veitokani ni Lewenivanua Vakarisito party in 1998.

During the third coup in 2000, the Taukei Movement was mobilised and at the height of a nationalist protest march a small group of heavily armed men invaded Parliament.

"Unlike the 1987 coup, the government ministers were held captive for 56 days and the coup, disguised as a nationalist push for indigenous political control, ended up exacerbating division among Fijians as chiefs from Tovata, Kubuna and Burebasaga jostled for power through the GCC," said Dr Ramesh.

The military intervened, suspended the constitution and put an interim government led by Laisenia Qarase after the court of appeal declared "the military-appointed government failed to establish it was the legal government".

It ruled that the Constitution Amendment Act (1997) remained the supreme law and had not been abrogated by Commodore Bainimarama.

Fiji went to the polls in August 2001 and the SDL party won. By 2003 differences between Commodore Bainimarama and Qarase's government escalated after the army alleged that the Government wanted to replace the commander.

The 2006 coup was embraced by many Indians who disliked the ethnically exclusive policies of the SDL party.

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