Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fiji Democracy Movement

The Fiji Democracy Freedom Movement Launch Address
Saturday 18 April
Yagoona, NSW


Ratu Jone Baledrokadroka

G’day, Ni sa Bula, Namaskaram to you all. I am sure we are all here today because of our love and pride, for most of us, our beloved birthplace Fiji and our concern for the bizarre turn in the political events of last Easter week.
This week I was fortunate to write an Opinion Editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald titled “Those with loud voices must speak up to restore democracy in Fiji”. I was again fortunate this week to also write another column titled “Fijian sun no longer Shines” in Melbourne’s Herald Sun. Further more I’ve given TV and radio interviews that have been broadcasted widely across the Pacific. Hence having just arrived on Easter Saturday from Fiji somewhat hastily I have been doing all within my powers to alert the Australian public at large and the powers that be of the political situation back home.

My address today is therefore a recounting of my two opinion editorials and a few remarks on the purpose of this gathering, which is the launch of the Fiji Democracy Movement here in Sydney. I would also like to mention that this week I was invited and was able to meet the Honourable Duncan Kerr the Parliamentary secretary for Pacific Island Affairs at Parliament House in Canberra who I briefed on the situation in Fiji and also informed the member of parliament of this gathering here today. I have also met staff of the Prime Minister’s Office of National Assessment in Canberra on invitation as a result of my writings in the papers. Additionally I’ve met with influential Australian opinion makers such as the Lowy Institute for International Policy who has an opinion editorial on Fiji in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald.
Now In 2003 Australian troops landed in the Solomon Islands to rescue what had become a failed state. Six years later, regional stability is again threatened, but this time by the abrogation of the constitution, military dictatorship and economic collapse in Fiji. Last Friday Fiji's octogenarian President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, was ushered before the cameras by his military minders to announce the end of the old order, and the birth of a new legal set-up in which there are no longer any restraints on the country's military rulers. Coup leader Frank Bainimarama was reappointed as prime minister. The media has since been censored, with goons from the information ministry stationed in all editorial offices. The country's judges have been told they must sign up to the new order or lose their jobs.
Back in December 2006, when Bainimarama initially seized power, he claimed to be embarking on a "clean-up" campaign to stamp out corruption. High-profile political figures and corporate bosses were arrested, and charged by the newly established Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption. Most of the allegations have proved false. They were simply means of removing political opponents. The only conviction has been of a little-known civil servant for misappropriation of government funds. Over the past year, the rhetoric about corruption has faded. Instead, Bainimarama has claimed to be set on electoral reforms. A National Council for Building a Better Fiji was tasked with putting together a "People's Charter" to heal racial divisions. Yet ethnic differences are as sharp as they have ever been, with indigenous Fijians firmly against the coup. Indo-Fijians are more sympathetic, largely because they were the victims of coups in 1987 and 2000.
In the President's abrogation speech, he claimed 64 per cent of Fiji's citizens support the charter. That figure is a farce. During last year's charter consultation propaganda exercise, civil servants were forced to tour the country soliciting support. Many of the signatories filled in pro-charter forms under duress or did not know what they were signing. With the abrogation of the constitution, Fiji's coup now appears for what it is - a naked power grab. The claims to popular legitimacy have been exposed by the latest draconian clampdown. Fiji is now on a slippery slope towards becoming a failed state. The security situation has sharply deteriorated. Soldiers in disguise have been hurling petrol bombs at the homes of prominent dissidents. Crime has been soaring under the tenure of Esala Teleni, a naval officer and close ally of Bainimarama who was appointed as chief of police after the coup. Expatriate newspaper publishers have been deported without court orders, and uniformed military officers have been turning up at court sittings to intimidate judges.
There has also been a sharp economic deterioration. The Reserve Bank has downgraded its estimate of economic growth during 2009 from 2.4 per cent to -0.3 per cent. Fiji's exports have been spiraling downwards, while imports soar, generating severe balance-of-payments difficulties. Reserves are now equivalent to only 2.7 months of imports. The prime minister's office recently issued a directive to all the ministries insisting on a 50 per cent cut to operating expenditure, an announcement prompted by the collapse in tax revenues. A 20 percent devaluation of the Fiji Dollar only days ago will bring temporary respite though inviting expectant ever increasing inflation.
Eventually the Government will not be able to pay its civil servants, and will be in a situation similar to that faced in the Solomon Islands before the arrival of the Australian-led regional assistance mission. In the Solomon Islands case, Australia waited three years before sending troops to intervene, after having refused entreaties from the then prime minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu, who was ousted in a coup in June 2000. Many thought that was too late.
Should Australia now mount a similar type of operation in Fiji? That would be possibly be unwise. Australian troops would face operational problems on the streets of Suva and, as in the Solomon Islands, Canberra would encounter major difficulties in the rebuilding of the state when the crisis has passed.
Even so, the Australian Government needs to carefully weigh up diplomatic and economic sanctions. It cannot remain silent or simply wait the five years before the President's scheduled elections in 2014.
There are other options. Toughening up the travel advisories would discourage Australian tourists from visiting Fiji, hitting the country's key foreign exchange earner.
Halting Fijian soldiers going to Iraq on United Nations missions and to Sinai as part of the Multinational Force Observers would encourage rank-and-file dissent, although this move has so far been blocked by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. Fiji should be suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum and the Commonwealth. ( I gather The Rudd government yesterday has just announced it wants the UN to stop renewing all of Fiji’s UNPKO- according to yesterday ‘s 17 Apr Australian newspapers)
All these sanctions will help undermine Fiji's military rulers, but the primary force in ending this slide towards a failing state must come from within Fiji with all the support from us who are kith and kin and close in spirit and in kind. Hence we must mobilize and employ the full measure of the tactics of active nonviolence to draw and even dramatize attention to rid our beloved Fiji of the military regime and it‘s oppressive designs. The illogic of dictatorship giving birth to democracy is a cruel hoax upon our loved ones in Fiji.
I’ll close my address with one of the time enduring quotes of the great civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jnr taken from his 1963 Birmingham Jail Letter.
“We know through painful experience that Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed”.
I ask you ladies and gentlemen if this is so than we who are here today have no alternative but to unite and launch this Democracy Movement for Fiji on behalf of our suffering brothers and sisters in Fiji, And by all active nonviolent means available in this land of freedom and bastion of democracy, Australia, urge its government to take stronger actions against the regime. As rightfully highlighted by the Sydney Morning Herald’s editorial of 14 April 2009, “For the Bainimarama regime’s increasing repression will fail eventually because it is a political dead end.
But dead ends can extend a long way if those with loud voices do not speak up to restore democracy in Fiji. Vinaka Vakalevu and May God Bless Fiji.
Mr Baledrokadroka's article as it appears on the Sydney Morning Herald Those with loud voices must speak up to restore democracy in Fiji
Jone Baledrokadroka
April 14, 2009
In 2003 Australian troops landed in the Solomon Islands to rescue what had become a failed state. Six years later, regional stability is again threatened, but this time by the abrogation of the constitution, military dictatorship and economic collapse in Fiji. Last Friday Fiji's octogenarian President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, was ushered before the cameras by his military minders to announce the end of the old order, and the birth of a new legal set-up in which there are no longer any restraints on the country's military rulers. Coup leader Frank Bainimarama was reappointed as prime minister. The media has since been censored, with goons from the information ministry stationed in all editorial offices. The country's judges have been told they must sign up to the new order or lose their jobs.
Back in December 2006, when Bainimarama initially seized power, he claimed to be embarking on a "clean-up" campaign to stamp out corruption. High-profile political figures and corporate bosses were arrested, and charged by the newly established Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption. Most of the allegations have proved false. They were simply means of removing political opponents. The only conviction has been of a little-known civil servant for misappropriation of government funds.
Over the past year, the rhetoric about corruption has faded. Instead, Bainimarama has claimed to be set on electoral reforms. A National Council for Building a Better Fiji was tasked with putting together a "People's Charter" to heal racial divisions. Yet ethnic differences are as sharp as they have ever been, with indigenous Fijians firmly against the coup. Indo-Fijians are more sympathetic, largely because they were the victims of coups in 1987 and 2000. In the President's abrogation speech, he claimed 64 per cent of Fiji's citizens support the charter. That figure is a farce. During last year's charter consultation propaganda exercise, civil servants were forced to tour the country soliciting support. Many of the signatories filled in pro-charter forms under duress or did not know what they were signing.
With the abrogation of the constitution, Fiji's coup now appears for what it is - a naked power grab. The claims to popular legitimacy have been exposed by the latest draconian clampdown. Fiji is now on a slippery slope towards becoming a failed state. The security situation has sharply deteriorated. Soldiers in disguise have been hurling petrol bombs at the homes of prominent dissidents. Crime has been soaring under the tenure of Esala Teleni, a naval officer and close ally of Bainimarama who was appointed as chief of police after the coup. Expatriate newspaper publishers have been deported without court orders, and uniformed military officers have been turning up at court sittings to intimidate judges. There has also been a sharp economic deterioration. The Reserve Bank has downgraded its estimate of economic growth during 2009 from 2.4 per cent to -0.3 per cent. Fiji's exports have been spiralling downwards, while imports soar, generating severe balance-of-payments difficulties. Reserves are now equivalent to only 2.7 months of imports. The prime minister's office recently issued a directive to all the ministries insisting on a 50 per cent cut to operating expenditure, an announcement prompted by the collapse in tax revenues. Eventually the Government will not be able to pay its civil servants, and will be in a situation similar to that faced in the Solomon Islands before the arrival of the Australian-led regional assistance mission.
In the Solomon Islands case, Australia waited three years before sending troops to intervene, after having refused entreaties from the then prime minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu, who was ousted in a coup in June 2000. Many thought that was too late. Should Australia now mount a similar type of operation in Fiji? That would be possibly be unwise. Australian troops would face operational problems on the streets of Suva and, as in the Solomon Islands, Canberra would encounter major difficulties in the rebuilding of the state when the crisis has passed. Even so, the Australian Government needs to carefully weigh up diplomatic and economic sanctions. It cannot remain silent or simply wait the five years before the President's scheduled elections in 2014. There are other options. Toughening up the travel advisories would discourage Australian tourists from visiting Fiji, hitting the country's key foreign exchange earner. Halting Fijian soldiers going to Iraq on United Nations missions and to Sinai as part of the Multinational Force Observers would encourage rank-and-file dissent, although this move has so far been blocked by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. Fiji should be suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum and the Commonwealth. All these sanctions will help undermine Fiji's military rulers, but the primary force in ending this slide towards a failing state must come from within Fiji.
Jone Baledrokadroka was Bainimarama's Land Forces Commander until he challenged the attacks on Fiji's elected government. He was arrested after the coup for allegedly being involved in a plot to assassinate the commander. He served 40 days' jail until Fiji's courts found him not guilty. He is now a visiting research fellow at the Australian National University

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