Saturday, May 31, 2008

What we learned from the past

What we learned from the past
By VICTOR LAL in Fiji SUN, 31 May 2008
It increasingly looks like every conceivable ploy, argument, andexcuse is being deployed by the interim regime of Commodore FrankBainimarama, and encouraged by its sympathisers and cheerleaders,to ensure that the SDL party, which represents over 80 per cent ofindigenous Fijian voters, is banned from contesting the next generalelection, if the election will ever be allowed by those holding Fiji andthe SDL party ransom through the power of the guns.The latest to make foray into the debate on the possible banning ofthe SDL is the Citizens Constitutional Forum executive director and amember of the National Council for the Building of a Better Fiji, theReverend Akuila Yabaki, who says that political parties can andshould be prevented from contesting a general election if deemed tobe illegal, for such a decision, he says, will augur well for the country.He said that the decision will augur well in the sense that no politicalparties will ever consider putting in place racist and exclusivist lawswhen they come into government. "The one reason that can be madeto render SDL questionable as a political party and makes itunsuitable to run in the next election in 2009 is its racist policies," saidReverend Yabaki.He referred to the United Nations Committee on the Eliminations ofRacial Discrimination (CERD) recommendation that Fiji adopt acomprehensive law on the elimination of racial discrimination,including regarding acts perpetrated by private persons. "The CERDCommittee is "seriously concerned that no specific laws prohibitingracial discrimination have been adopted" by the State party and inthis case the SDL as a former party in power," he said .Well, the good old Reverend could be asked to explain why,employing the same argument, the Fiji Labour Party should not bebanned from contesting the election, for it also came to share politicalpower in the ousted SDL-FLP multi-party cabinet on the backs of over80 per cent of Indo-Fijian voters? And the party's leader and currentInterim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, used the suffering andalleged racism against his people, and exploited his racial Indianancestry, to secretly obtain $2million from "Mother India", only to hideit from the taxman, his own political colleagues, and the Indo-Fijianvoters, in a Sydney bank account.What about the FLP party president Jokapeci Koroi, now a memberof the NCBBF and a member of its media committee? If the SDL canbe banned for its supposedly "racist policies", shouldn't the FLP bebanned because its president Mrs Koroi had the gall and audacity notonly to welcome any coup but described a significant and importantsegment of the population, "The General Electors", as "Nobodies".Was her statement racist or reality? Moreover, shouldn't the FLP bebanned from contesting the election because it had at one stage in itsquest for power cut a political deal with PANU and its former leaderApisai Tora, the man accused of fanning the flames of racism as theleader of the dreaded Taukei Movement after the 1987 coups?One can cite endless cases and instances where individuals andinstitutions, if one were to adhere to CERD principles, helped to eitherencourage or entrench racism in Fiji since the first coups of 1987. AsI have repeatedly pointed out, the suffering of Indo-Fijians continuedwell into 1997 because it was none other than Mr Chaudhry who,instead of supporting the moderate Josefa Kamikamica for PrimeMinister in 1994, sided with Sitiveni Rabuka in Parliament, claiminghis support was in exchange for promise by Mr Rabuka to review theblatantly racist 1990 Constitution.Again, we have one of Mr Rabuka's key political allies, Filipe Bole, inthe interim Cabinet now; he was one of a group of people who werepart of the 1987 coups, which saw unprecedented degree of racism,violence and intimidation against the Indo-Fijian community, fromwhich it has never recovered, and the community even ended upbecoming a minority in the land of their birth through migration. MrQarase's alleged racist policies (affirmative action for itaukei Fijians)pales into insignificance when compared to the root causes of racialpolitics in Fiji.Besides Mr Bole, there is also my good old friend Ratu EpeliNailatikau, presently the interim Foreign Minister. Even though he hasnever promoted racism against the Indo-Fijian community, he hasbeen a part of the racist machinery since the 1987 coups.In one breath, he condemned the 1987 coups, in which he wasdeposed by Mr Rabuka, and in the next breath he had agreed to flyFiji's "racist" flag in his capacity as the country's High Commissionerto London for the next five years. Those of us who had becomeinternational refugees overnight for standing up to the 1987 racistdictators in Fiji could not, or dared not to for a long time, enter thecompounds of the Fiji embassy in Hyde Park in London. In particular,my United Nations refugee passport, issued under the GenevaConvention to stateless persons, had discouraged me from goingnear the embassy, although we continued to march outside in protestagainst the vile racism that was taking place inside the country.Again, following the 2000 coup, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau was once againprepared to become the interim Prime Minister until coup leaderGeorge Speight stepped in to object to his appointment, which finally,and ironically, saw Laisenia Qarase end up in the post until the 2001election? I never came around to asking Ratu Epeli why he wantedthe acting PM's post - was it that although he did not support MrSpeight's action, he sympathised with his (Speight's) bogusindigenous rights cause?In that same racist crisis, the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who hadearlier presided over the most racist period in our country's history,from 1987 until he became President, had made it clear that he wasnot willing to see Mr Chaudhry return to power, only to find himself"couped" by Commodore Bainimarama and others. The Cmdreclaimed afterwards that it was "necessary" at the time.Another figure, one could point out, who could be banned fromholding high office is Justice Isikeli Mataitoga, who as a military majorhad become the media spokesman and propagandist for the Rabukaregime immediately after the 1987 coup. Justice Mataitoga (thanregaling in his military outfits) and I traded sharp exchanges on Britishtelevision at the height of the two coups; he unashamedly defendingthe racist nature of the coup, and me, opposing with every fibre in myveins.Incidentally, when the Fiji born Mohammed Rafique Khan shippedthose 60 tons of weapons into the country in 1988 to overthrow theRabuka regime, he (Mr Khan) escaped extradition to Fiji after hisbarristers successfully argued in the world famous Bow StreetMagistrates Court in London that he would not get a fair trial becausethe post-coup Fiji judiciary was now stuffed with Mr Rabuka'ssympathisers, especially in the DPP, "in the person of Major IsikeliMataitoga, the media spokesman and coup sympathiser for themilitary in 1987". One day I will reveal which alien power had actuallybought and helped shipped those weapons to protect the Indo-Fijiancommunity in Fiji.Since the 2006 coup, we hear so much about all the promulgationsetc signed by President Ratu Josefa lloilo and yet he is another figurefrom the 2000 coup who did not stand up to condemn the coup;instead, on 14 March 2001, he dismissed Mr Chaudhry as PrimeMinister and asked Fiji to go to the polls, which actually resulted inthe SDL, led by Mr Qarase, coming to power. Should Ratu lloio,therefore, be also removed from office? Why only blame and ban MrQarase and his party from contesting the election.In 2001, Mr Chaudhry told the Commonwealth parliamentarians ofwhat he thought of Ratu lloilo: "The constitution requires thePresident to be appointed by the Great Council of Chiefs inconsultation with the Prime Minister. In the next questionable moveRatu Josefa lloilo, placed in office after the coup and who theAppeals Court declared to be in an acting capacity only, convened ameeting of the Great Council of Chiefs, and got himself appointedPresident." What all these events clearly meant, he claimed, was thatFiji's post-coup authorities had no respect for the rule of law.It was during the dark days of the 2000 crisis that I had also ended uppublicly quarrelling with the CCF, especially with Jone Dakuvula, nowwith NCBBF secretariat, who was advocating that Ratu lloilo set upgovernment of national unity but with Dr Tupeni Baba as PrimeMinister. He said Dr Baba's appointment would assuage and clamdown Fijian fears, passions, and anxieties. I argued that such anappointment was going to merely perpetuate the racism that laybehind Mr Speight's putsch, and why should Mr Chaudhry makeroom for Dr Baba on the basis of race and ethnicity. We agreed todisagree on the course of Fiji's post-coup government, although I wasaccused of turning into "a Qarase man"..Reflecting on the tragic and bloody 2 November 2000 mutiny at theQueen Elizabeth Barracks when the rebels made a last ditch attemptto seize the army headquarters and remove CommodoreBainimarama, Mr Chaudhry also told his fellow Commonwealthparliamentarians: "It is important to note hear that the army's decisivemove to restore law and order was driven more by its determinationto purge its own ranks of rebellious elements and their supporterswho posed a threat to the commander's life, than from a desire torestore democracy." So, it was not to weed out the cancer of racism?Furthermore, he stated, having achieved the objectives of the coupand established a government of its choice, the military was ready toprovide the stability that was a prerequisite for that administration tofunction effectively. Thereafter, it quickly became clear. Mr Chaudhrycontinued, that the army-backed interim administration had nointention of relinquishing power and restoring the elected governmentto office. "Today there is convincing evidence that senior armyofficers and several senior members of the post-coup administrationhad been party to the conspiracy to overthrow the People's Coalitiongovernment," Mr Chaudhry claimed. He contended that the securityforces posed the biggest threat to stability to any democraticallyelected government in Fiji.This brings us to the Commodore himself, who claims that Mr Qarasehad betrayed him shortly after becoming interim Prime Minister. Andyet, it was under the watchful eye and the guns of the military, thatthe Blueprint for affirmative action for Fijians and Rotumans waslaunched after the 2000 coup. Mr Qarase was even sent to the UnitedNations General Assembly to tell the world that one had tounderstand indigenous feelings and the reasons for the 2000 coup. Infact, so far the Commodore has escaped any scrutiny for his ownactions.He had signed the Muanikau Accord which had seen Mr Speight gofree. If Mr Speight had handed in all the weapons, instead of runningaround Suva with a pistol, he might have gone on to even becomePrime Minister. In an affidavit presented to the Fiji Court of Appeal in2001, Cmdre Bainimarama, as a witness in support of the InterimQarase government that he had installed after refusing to re-instateMr Chaudhry as Prime Minister following the 2000 coup, had claimedthat he had abrogated the 1997 Constitution because he wassatisfied that people engaged in the events of May 19 were of theperception that the Constitution had watered down the interests oftaukei Fijians. Whether or not those perceptions accorded with realitywas not his principal consideration. He said the Constitution hadrendered ineffective, previous provisions requiring positivediscrimination in favour of native Fijians. Above all, the Constitution,according to him, had also introduced an electoral system, based onthe Australian preferential voting system, "which seemedincomprehensible to the bulk of the indigenous Fijians (and in my(that is the Cmdre's) understanding of the matter, to the majority ofcitizens) and which procured for the previous administration anartificial and unnatural majority enabling that administration freely totake steps affecting Fijian land, rights and customs". Why is hesinging a different tune now, accusing Mr Qarase and the SDL ofhaving a racist policy?During the 2000 coup, we in the Movement for Democracy in Londonand else, were supplied with a list of names by the FLP to ensurecertain individuals were punished for their support of George Speight.Among several names included that of Berenado Vunibobo and AdiFinau Tabakaucoro. In his new post-coup incarnation, Mr Vunibobohas been sent to the UN and Adi Finau is now with the NCBBF? If MrQarase's Blueprint for Fijian advancement is now a racist document,why did Adi Finau, as Assistant Minister in the post 2000 coup InterimCabinet of Mr Qarase, told the media in 2000: "We have been taskedto set up mechanisms through which proposals in the blueprint forFijians and Rotumans are implemented, it will be a 10-yearprogramme. In this 18 months, we will need to put together aprogramme which can, and will, go through the proposed 10 yearsregardless of whichever state executive comes into power - at leastwe hope to be able to do that." Why is she now singing a differenttune?As far as FHRC is concerned, we should not be surprised with itsposition on the question of whether the SDL could be banned fromcontesting the election. While citing relevant parts of the Constitution,Dr Shaista Shameem also pointed out that the CERD Committee hasalready recommended legislations against race based organizations.The CCF, in its report to CERD, claimed that the media played asignificant role in propagating racial stereotypes and inciting racistfeelings.What about the 2006 coup? Reverend Akuila is on record as sayingthe following: "The legality of the latest coup is a matter ofcontroversy. Based on judicial authorities established after the coupin 2000, the CCF's legal advice is that the 2006 takeover was illegal.This is despite the contrary arguments put forward by CommodoreBainimarama and the Fiji Human Rights Commission. ThePresident's belated support for the takeover does not, the CCFbelieves, change the legal position."He went on to state: "This latest coup differs from the earlier three inthat the perpetrators of the 1987 and 2000 coups claimed they wereacting to save indigenous Fijians and their land from subjugation toother ethnic groups, while in 2006 the RFMF Commander claimed tobe acting to combat corruption."If that is so, why is Commodore Bainimarama and those around himnow shifting the goal post - from corruption to racism? Is it becausethe race card is still a potent tool for exploitation to defend coups? Ifthe SDL is to be banned at the next election, so should many others,who ought to be brought to book for benefiting from the politics ofrace and coups in Fiji. We cannot have two rule books - one for thevictors and another for the vanquished - in this case, the SDL.The views expressed are those of Victor Lal and not that of the FijiSun.

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