Friday, June 17, 2011

Colonel's Visit a Chance to Crack Illegal Regime in Fiji

NZ Herald News - 17 June 2011


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Many question-marks hover over the visit to New Zealand this week of former Fijian army officer Ratu Tevita Mara. These, however, were never a reason to refuse him entry. 


The Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, has acted correctly in granting Lieutenant-Colonel Mara a two-day exemption to the travel ban imposed on him and others linked to Fiji's military regime.


What he says to the media and pro-democracy groups here will be of much interest given that he was until recently a central figure in the dictatorship headed by Frank Bainimarama.


And the information he provides Foreign Affairs officials on the current state of affairs within the regime should be even more enlightening.


Those opposed to Colonel Mara's entry provided two broad reasons. The first was that his participation in the 2006 coup and former status as the regime's third-ranked military officer disqualified him from coming to this country.
That view rejected any possibility that, after being at the very heart of a dictatorship, he could now be genuinely espousing democratic ideals.


The second was that his vision for his country was, in fact, a return to the past when Indo-Fijians were denied a full part in the democratic process.

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Those of this view tend to still believe that, a welter of evidence notwithstanding, Commodore Bainimarama still represents the best option for Fiji.


Only Colonel Mara knows how committed he is to a fully democratic country. Allegations that he was associated with human rights abuses, including maltreatment of detainees, will have to be confronted at some stage. To Colonel Mara's credit, he has acknowledged this.


He has also chosen to leave his sanctuary in Tonga for Australia and New Zealand to voice his concerns about the Bainimarama regime, most notably the increasingly dim prospects of the promised democratic elections in 2014. This suggests not only fortitude but a belief in the views he is sharing with pro-democracy groups.


Indeed, much of what Colonel Mara has been saying has the ring of truth. The Fijian army, he has said, "had a strict plan, which was to remove corruption and corrupt politicians and return to barracks within a year".


But power had corrupted the key players in the regime and they had forgotten their original objectives as they desperately clung to power.
In the process, dissent has been progressively squashed, the constitution has been abrogated, the judiciary dismissed, the media suppressed, and the concerns of the international community rejected.


Such, of course, is often the way with military dictatorships. Even those that begin with the best of intentions tend to fall victim to the trappings of power.


As often as not, the catalyst for their demise is discord at the highest level. A split between the key members of the dictatorship broadens irretrievably until the regime collapses.


Colonel Mara, the son of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Fiji's founding Prime Minister and later President, was very much part of the inner sanctum. It is not known how much his criticism of Commodore Bainimarama was shared by his fellow officers.


But it seems inconceivable that someone of his stature would not have his supporters. Or that resentment about the loss of rights and freedoms and the country's economic stagnation is not gathering pace.


Colonel Mara has driven a wedge into the Fijian dictatorship. In the interests of the restoration of democracy at the earliest opportunity, New Zealand should take every opportunity to force it deeper.


Colonel Mara's visit is a chance not only to do that but to learn much about Commodore Bainimarama's increasingly shaky regime.
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