Saturday, June 25, 2011

Paradise in Turmoil: Twenty Years of Military Coups and Implications on Democracy and Development


Paradise in Turmoil: Twenty Years of Military Coups and Implications on Democracy and Development


Dr Tupeni L Baba[1],

Presidential Lecture, University of Guam
CLASS Lecture Hall, June 8th, 2011



Introduction


Fiji has been known as the ‘coup coup land’ in the Pacific and it has gained that notoriety or reputation by its many military[2] coups over the last two and half decades.

For at least a quarter of the Fiji population who were born during or after 1987, and are today 24 years or under, have only known a way of life that is associated with political instability arising out of the coups, and its related socio-economic problems of declining economic development, rising level of unemployment and poverty, loss of highly skilled professional people who are moving abroad, deteriorating law and order situation, and generally, the creation of a high level of uncertainty.

Perhaps one of the most telling features of society they are growing into, especially for those who are attending tertiary institutions and or are entering work for the first time, is the rising authoritarianism of the society they are in, with increasing military personnel being placed in various positions of leadership.

The more discerning amongst them, with qualifications from either the regional institution of the University of the South Pacific in Suva, or from universities abroad or from the local national institutions, will most likely begin to discuss with their peers and families how and perhaps why, their qualifications will not lend them the ‘dreams jobs’ that the generations of their fathers and uncles before them, landed into, almost as a matter of right after completion of their education. As young people with education, some of them would naturally be comparing their opportunities and their chances of getting plus jobs with those of their relations who instead of going to university, joined the military.

They would know as educated young people, that discussing, debating and expressing their dreams or frustrations in the local papers and media, is subjected to strict censorship, and any form of   protests including the so called ‘peaceful protests’, will be dealt with smartly, under the current Public Emergency Regulations. Most of them would know, only too well, that  one of the best ways available to them, which is as fast or perhaps faster then the well tried ‘coconut wireless,’ to express their frustrations openly is by way of the electronic social media like twitter, the internet, and other similar forms. This is what people of their age groups resort to as a means to express their views and link up with other groups in  parts of the world where  authoritarian regimes are a way of life, as in the Middle East and parts of Asia.

Those of them and others before them, that have joined trade unions and even professional organizations like that of   teachers, lawyers, nurses, doctors accountants among others, would have been fully aware of these restrictions. They know only too well, about some of their peers, both men and women, who had been picked up some even from their homes and made to run so many laps in the Military Camp or subjected to vicious treatment resulting in some  well documented deaths.

And yet, there is an attempt to hide this reality by way of  restrictions of the press and media through editorial restrictions   in addition to the Public Emergency Regulations(PER).No wonder the reality on the ground  escapes the attention of undiscerning visitors and tourists from overseas who visit our shores  may see that everything is well in ‘paradise’ and that anything they may have read on travel advisory columns or warned about certain ‘turmoil’, is lost in the smiles of accommodating locals, and ‘in the surf and sand’ environment for which the Fiji brand of tourism, is well known for.

 Even the military dictators are well aware, that without the tourism dollar, leadership in a ‘paradise’ may not be worth fighting for. But the dictators are lulled into the belief that everything is well. Even if things are not well, then they should be made to appear that they are well. There are teams of people in the Ministry of Information, Home Affairs and other sections, whose   work it is, to see to it that the so called ‘image perfect’ is maintained, and that everybody is happy in paradise.

From their picture perfect viewpoint as dictators, it is only those local scholars and academics, human rights organizations, the Commonwealth, the Pacific Islands Forum, and what they regard as the ‘unfriendly’ and ‘unhelpful’ democratic governments of Australia, New Zealand, the US and perhaps the European Union, that are giving them problems about democracy and human rights. These people as is mentioned in the daily releases of the leaders, are painting another reality about Fiji different from the ones the dictators know or they think they know. After all, they live there, and they should know better, they would argue!

There is therefore this so called ‘information disconnect’[3] where what is believed, is different from the reality and the longer it goes on, the greater is the gap between the perceptions of leaders, and the ordinary people’s experience of reality. It may have been convenient for a little while, but as the dictators begin to believe in their propaganda, they become more entrenched and the struggle to restore democracy  and  the rule of law is delayed, yet again and is treated, almost like an after thought.

Such is the danger, in small states like Fiji in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where even the UN, despite the awful record of human rights violation of the   Fiji military and their record of taking over of democratically elected governments, the Fijian soldiers are still being used by the UN as peacekeepers, who are expected to act presumably as  protectors of democracy in some other distant parts of the world.

The Anatomy Coups in Fiji


Let us examine  the three major Coups in Fiji : the 1987 Coup of the then Lt Colonel(later Major General) Sitiveni Rabuka; George Speight’s Coup of 2000, and Commadore Bainimarama’s Coup of December, 2006 which would give us what they essentially involved, what they have achieved or are achieving given what had set out to do and their impact on the country and the people including  the coup makers. This analysis will hopefully also throw some light on the issues of democracy and development which the coups throw up including strengths and weaknesses, and lessons learnt if any, from these coups.

 

All these coups led to the deposition of democratically elected governments: the Prime Ministers and their Cabinet, members of Parliament, and many Permanent Secretaries of various Ministries who were seen to be closely associated with  the deposed governments and their policies, who may have been perceived as possible threat to the changes brought about by the new or interim administrations.


In looking at these coups, we will focus on five areas: the manner of takeover   by the coup leader; the reasons and justifications for the coups; new policies and   beneficiaries of the coups; local and international community reactions; and last but not least, plans for the  legitimization  of  the coups, and the restoration of  democracy.

 

Rabuka’s 1987 Coup

 

1)  As for the  takeover of the Government this was done  in Parliament while it  was in full session. The takeover was well planned and executed precisely according to the details of the plan.  Rabuka relied on the element of surprise as the actual take over carried out almost without a hitch, except for an unexpected   challenge which nearly upset their plan. The coup maker led  the charge and the Government Parliamentarians were imprisoned for a week.


2) As for reasons and justifications, the protection of indigenous Fijian interests with respect to land, political control, chiefly system and Fijian values and Christianity were given as the primary issues   of concern. These reasons were emphasized in his first account[4] but in his later accounts such as in his personal reflections[5] he emphasized taking the preemptive steps  to avoid bloodshed in the possible clash between Fijian protesters and the military who were almost all  indigenous Fijians. It was clear from all accounts that the Taukei Movement were supporters of the Alliance Party who also supported  Rabuka’s Coup.


3) New policies of the coup included policies on protection of Fijian land, greater authority and status was given to the Great Council of Chiefs, increase in Fijian communal representation in Parliament, reservation of the important posts of Prime Minister for indigenous Fijians, power to recommend appointment of President was given to the Great Council of Chiefs, power of the military to oversee national security was provided for in the new Constitution and, recognition was given to Christianity as the State religion.


All these pro-indigenous Fijian provisions were provided for  in a new 1990 Constitution which was promulgated to replace the 1970 Constitution.


4) In terms of Community reactions in Fiji, the Fiji  Labour Party and the Federation Party which represented the heartland of the Indo Indian interests, labeled these changes as racist and unacceptable as there were adequate entrenched provisions in the 1970 Constitution aimed at protecting  indigenous Fijian interests. The inclusion of Christianity as a state religion was an intrusion into the  freedom of conscience  and was especially targeted for  criticism.


The international community on the other hand, whilst sympathetic with indigenous Fijian concerns, they were nevertheless very concerned with the racist provisions of the new 1990 Constitution.

 

5) On for the legitimization of the Coup and   the restoration of democracy, Rabuka ensured the new policies were enforced by the State as they were embodied in the 1990 Constitution including new electoral provisions that   increased  the number of indigenous Fijians in the House of Representatives which guaranteed  the protection of the rights and interests of indigenous Fijians. Elections were held in 1992 under the new electoral provisions in the 1990 Constitution and Rabuka became Prime Minister  only after securing the support of the Fiji Labour Party. But despite the criticisms of the electoral provisions of the 1990 Constitution, those elected under those provisions from  various parties and ethnicities in Fiji  under the leadership of Rabuka as elected Prime Minister,  were able to produce the first negotiated Constitution of Fiji after independence - the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of the Fiji Islands.

Spate’s  2000 Coup


1)The take over of the Government alike the Rabuka Coup took place while the Parliament was in session. The Government Parliamentarians were arrested while the Parliament was in session on May 19th, 2000. Like the Rabuka’s Coup, the Opposition and Independent members not aligned with the Government, were allowed to leave.

Government Members were separated according to race: Fijians and General Electors remained in the main Parliamentary Chamber, and Indo Fijians were moved into   the Office of the Government Members at an adjoining building. Government Parliamentarians were imprisoned for 56 days in the Parliamentary Complex.

George Speight led the charge with members of the Counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW ) section of the Fiji military   but he seemed  unsure of some details of their plan. Even during  the take over, he was desperately making calls and appeared to be waiting for a leader who did not  turn up in Parliament. George Speight was forced to front up and lead the Group at the non appearance of the so called Leader.[6]

2) The reasons and justifications for the coup was focused again on the protection of indigenous Fijian interests based on restoring the power of Vanua Chiefs and the Christian Churches. There was a strong objection to the idea of an Indo Fijian Prime Minister which reflected the policy of the Conservative Alliance/Matanitu Vanua Party(CAMV) which was later formalized in the following  (2001) General Elections.

The difference between Rabuka’s  Party,Soqosoqo  ni Vakatulewa ni Taukei SVT) and the and the Conservative Alliance/Matanitu Vanua Party(CAMV) was that the latter, acknowledged the power of Vanua Chiefs and the Christian Churches. These two institutions were central to Fijian identity and that any Fijian chief   without the support of the Vanua and the Church was not likely to attract the support of the Fijian people under these powerful Fijian institutions

3) As for new policies and beneficiaries of Speight’s Coup, there were no new policies as  such since Speight  and his supporters were not in a position  to take over and run the Government. His core group members were arrested and tried for various breaches ranging from illegal assembly to treason. But Speight’s action led to the removal of the Peoples Coalition Government of Mahendra Chaudhary. Speight was later charged with treason and sentenced to hanging in February, 2002,which was commuted to life imprisonment within hours.

The Conservative Alliance/Matanitu Vanua Party won a handful of seats in the August Elections of 2001 and joined the Government of Mr Qarase during its term as Government.

4)  With respect to Community reactions, the  local   communities were divided and the Fiji  Labour Party and its Peoples Coalition had lost the Government.

The case on Chandrika Prasad which  was put before the High Court seeking  a number of declaratory orders and the results of the question with respect to the Constitution was that it had not been abrogated, and that it remains in place. That meant that the Government of the People’s Coalition was still in place.

The case was challenged in the Fiji Court of Appeal and the decision of the High Court   was upheld  in March 1st,2001.

On the same day, Mahendra Chaudhary   asked the President to summon Parliament and make him the caretaker Prime Minister during and up to the period of the general elections but this was declined by the President, and he was dismissed. A number of alternatives of   moving the country forward was canvassed but the President had other ideas.

On the 16th of March, 2001, the President appointed Laisenia Qarase as Caretaker Prime Minister during the period leading up to the general elections. The decisions of the President were received also with mixed reactions.


5) With respect to plans for legitimization of the coup and restoration of democracy, nothing further happened to advance Speight’s Coup after the release of the hostages in Parliament on July 13th and the capture of Speight’s core group by the Fiji Military Forces  on July 27th,2000.

A final takeover attempt by the Counter revolutionary Warfare (CRW) group on the Fiji Military Headquarters in Nabua in Suva on November 2nd which was treated as a mutiny, was successfully repulsed by the Fiji Military Forces , and  which killed  8 people. That saw the end of the Speight’s Coup attempt except that its ideas lived on and influenced the policy of the Conservative Alliance/Matanitu Vanua policies in the next  general elections of August, 2001.

Bainimarama’s 2006 Coup[7]


1) The take over of Government followed   the escalation of the poor relations between the government and the Fiji Military Forces under Bainimarama, and the 9 demands that had been made to the Government regarding the early release of convicted   supporters of the of the 2000 Coup, the withdrawal of charges against  Bainimarama,  the withdrawal of three   Government bills which Bainimarama found objectionable (on Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity bill, the Qoliqoli, and Lands Tribunal Bills), things came to a head on December 5  when  the President dissolved Parliament  and the Military under  Bainimarama, took control of the country.

Government Ministers Offices were surrounded and their cars were confiscated including that of the Prime Minister Qarase. The Senate which met to finalize the approval of the Budget for 2007 on the morning of December 6th was stormed and closed when the military found that it was discussing a motion condemning  the Coup[8].

2) The stated reasons for the coup focused on the need to  clean up the country for corruption, the removal of bills that supported the release of the 2000 coup supporters,  the removal of bills that entranced ethnic discrimination in favor of particular communities that lent support to the  2000 upheaval.

In fact the idea of removing excesses that favor one community against the others  was seen by the Military as a source of instability that created the coups. The target of the military was` directed at those communities who had been ‘privileged’ by previous coups   and in this way the actions of Bainimarama   was read as restoring equality for all communities and removing according to him, one of the major sources of   instability.

3) With regards to new policies, the  statements on removing the source of instability through inequality was supported by those communities not privileged  in the two previous coups especially the Indo Fijian community. Many of the demands of the indigenous Fijian community by virtue of it being the first group that came to the country and they felt they had justification in securing their land and resources and traditional fishing rights (qoliqoli rights) and so forth, was being seen by the settler or non indigenous communities such as the Indo Fijians as giving indigenous Fijians additional privileges, which  the latter  contested  under the terms of the draft  UN Convention on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.[9] By and large most of these provisions were part of the 1970 Constitution   which was the first Constitution of Fiji.

And so was the Methodist Church which was the first Church to come into the country and was closely associated with the Fijian chiefs and the Fijian people. The Chiefs and the Fijian people naturally were not amused when the military which comprise of 99% of indigenous Fijians were being used in their view, to support anti Fijian policies.

Thus some  policies of the current  Administration affecting Fijian land and resources targeting  equality of provisions and opportunities is  bringing about consternation and deep concern among the indigenous Fijian community.

Thus the Bainimarama policies are eyed with concern and suspicion by the indigenous community that comprise about 57% of the population of Fiji.

Already questions have been raised quietly, if this is going to be the rallying point of the next coup, assuming there is to be another one! This, attitude is symptomatic of the expectations of a coup culture where as in the case of Bainimarama,  a coup is used as a means of removing  injustices as against resorting to other well tried democratic processes of  dealing with issues.

4) In terms of local community  reactions, these were  mixed. For the indigenous Fijians, Bainimarama had been seriously misadvised. The addressing of indigenous Fijian concerns over land, fishing rights(qoliqoli) for example would have removed all the misunderstandings that they had on these issues which had led to conflicts and at times strife. They also felt Bainimarama had picked on resource issues that foreign companies like hotels  and land speculators from overseas including China who are  interested to buy   properties whose original sale were still being disputed by native owners. The resolution of these issues through the Land Tribunal Bill would go a long way in settling many complaints of   displaced Fijians whose land and even whole islands had been taken away through fraudulent deals, some even in the hands of their own chiefs.

The Qoliqoli Bill  for example would not have interfered  with usage and public access but it would have required hotel owners and others users, rights of usage  through fishing, water sport  and other appropriate licenses which would have led to greater control over  usage and protection of resources. It would have given the native owners the opportunity to manage the usage and the  revenue derived from such resources.

The reactions of both local and international communities are mixed. One consideration is the fact that while equalizing opportunities are good, if it has to work it has to require the co-operation of all communities involved especially in small communities which are dependent on each other for daily living.

The three Constitutions of Fiji, that of 1970, 1990 of Rabuka, and the negotiated Fiji Constitution of 1997, all have recognized the importance of entrenched provisions safeguarding the indigenous Fijian community. Any changes to the Constitution affecting these provisions require the support of that indigenous community. Changes done during the past coups have always, as a matter of good faith, required the consent of that community.

Since 2007,Bainimarama’s Administration has promulgated some 220 or so decrees many of which deal with issues of resources, and land which are of concern to the indigenous Fijian community. They do not understand them and have not discussed them openly as they normally do[10] in view of the current restrictions imposed by the Public Emergency Regulations and the censorship of the press and the media. They hold the bulk of land and natural resources in the country but they are kept out of open discussions of their resources and their use in their own country.

This is an issue that confronts Mr Bainimarama  with his current policies to date including many other of concern  like the economy, institutional changes, governance and others.

The international   community  are usually guided by negotiated solutions involving all affected communities which in a coup period, is not always feasible especially between competing groups. This is why both local and international communities support the   removal of restrictions to enable open dialogue and discussions on all matters including returning the  country to democratic processes and institutions.

5) In terms of plans for the legitimization of the coup and the restoration of democracy, this is really ‘a work in progress’ at this stage as the Interim Administration is proposing to hold the elections in 2014 and begin preparation work two years before that time, which means 2012.

Fiji has been under pressure from the Commonwealth to hold elections some two years after the coup, that  is from 2009, and because that has not eventuated, it has been suspended from that body. Similarly, the Pacific Islands Forum has also suspended Fiji for failing to meet its election deadline. The European Union (EU) for which most of the independent countries of the Pacific Islands are members of its ACP grouping, are also pressurizing Fiji on the same issue of democracy and its human rights record. This has to be addressed if it is going to benefit fully from the European Union’s   developing assistance and the full provisions for international trade with the EU[11].


Democracy and Development


Democracy:  Before focusing on some emerging issues of the Coups over the last 24 years, it would be beneficial to deal with two topics which cut across and pervade all the aspects of the coups, that of democracy, and development in Fiji.

Democracy, contrary to the comments of Coup supporters, journalists and observers who argued that ‘it is a foreign flower’ was in fact well rooted in the lives of the people of Fiji. It is no more foreign than say Christianity which was   introduced in 1835 by Cross and Cargill or the notion of the Fijian State which was an invention of British colonialism from the idea of warring matanitu  or confederacies, and even the Great Council of Chiefs  was in some measure an expedient invention of British colonialism[12].  

For some people , it seemed that so  long as the going was good democracy was all right but as soon as they lost an election such as the Alliance Party loss in 1987 to  Dr Bavadra’s Coalition of Fiji Labour Party and the National Federation Party, democracy took a knocking. As demonstrated by the arguments of Dr Brij Lal, this type of thinking is no more than expediency and there are those who are willing to abandon their beliefs and adopt undemocratic paths when it suits them or the party they support.

The Fiji Labour Party for example, a  party whose central tenet was founded on democracy and multiracialism in July 1985,was willing to support  Bainimarama as soon as it lost the general elections in 2006.Its leader, Mahendra Chaudhary became the Minister of Finanace in the First Cabinet of Mr Bainimarama. Even one of its senior members of the Party Mr Poseci Bune, also joined the coup Cabinet of Mr Bainimarama with him. They were soon dismissed but not after as in the case of Mr Chaudhary, having made some deals about his own taxation case for which he was later  taken to court.
Even the longstanding President of the Fiji Labou Party Mrs Koroi, made an announcement   during the election campaign in the 2006 that they would support a coup by the Fiji Military Forces if they lost the elections, and that statement was not immediately rejected by Mr Chaudhary.It was clear at that time, that the plan about a coup had been hatched involving  the Fiji Labour Party, the  New National Alliance  Party with the military. Are we to believe that all the three leaders of these organizations, found themselves in the same Coup Cabinet by accident?

We should not always  look outside for examples like  Mandela, Bishop Tutu and others  for inspirations in our fight for democracy as  there are many examples within Fiji, of leaders in all communities who believed in democracy and  would not compromise their beliefs or sell it short. These examples need to be documented and be read by our children in schools to counter our coup culture.

The speeches  of Dr Timoci Bavadra the founder of the Fiji  Labour Party and his unwavering actions in support  of democracy is one such an example that will go with me to the grave.[13]Another example is the leadership of Federation Party particularly Mr AD Patel in the early struggle and negotiations for nationhood in the late 1960s, when he insisted on the use of common  as against communal roll in  his belief in the concept of ‘one nation, one people’. He would not take anything less. His words about the limitations of communal roll are as relevant today as they were in the 1960s and he died in the middle of negotiations, true to his beliefs.[14]

There are others like Mr Jai Ram Reddy who lost the elections in 1999 when he teamed up with  Rabuka to demonstrate the importance of working together across the racial boundaries in Fiji .

There are others and the names that come to mind are those of the late Ratu Sir Edward Cakobau and Ratu Sir George Cakobau who in my view, would not have tolerated the actions of Sitiveni Rabuka if they were in office. These names and the names of many women among them I am sure, should be an inspiration to people in Fiji when their life stories are written. It would demonstrate that democracy has deep roots in Fiji and its no longer a foreign flower as coup supporters might like us to believe.

But every time a coup is conducted, not only democracy takes a beating: the people suffer through lost jobs, increasing poverty, loss of our skilled people who move  abroad, high inflation, worsening economic conditions which translates into a major erosion in  the quality of lives of ordinary people.

Development: The development options of the country is also affected following a coup. As in the present case, Fiji has been expelled by the Commonwealth which means all the  advise and assistance available through membership of the Commonwealth is suspended or held up. This means that Fiji students studying in other Commonwealth countries may be affected like many that were returned from  both Australia and New Zealand in 2006.

In addition, many of the assistance that would have accrued from the EU have been suspended so long as the Coup remains in place. That has cost Fiji millions of dollars that the EU has withheld the money was meant for the Sugar industry which normally sustains thousands of families who are directly affected with sugar being a major industry for Fiji. It might have averted the collapse of the industry as predicted by Dr Prasad (2011)

There are services available through the Pacific Islands Forum that Fiji would have benefited from which might now be in jeopardy .Being suspended from the Forum, the very body that was created by its former leader, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara among others is symbolically very important for Fiji and many of the islands in the Pacific like Tuvalu, Kiribati and others that look to Fiji in their developmental directions.

To them Fiji is not just a country that has an advantageous location being where it is in the middle of the Pacific, it is a country with great history and  traditions, with many  inspiring leaders.

Like many times before, when its coup leadership are able to realize the country is bigger than any single individual, whatever may be his/her  personal  gripe  as against the  public justifications of his coup,   the country eventually returns to its democratic roots. And Fiji would once again be part of a community of nations that value democracy, it  resumes to play its leadership role in the world forums.

At the moment it is exploring its opportunities in the Non aligned Movement which Nehru and other former academic leaders of the Developing world found some solace in during the Cold War of the 1950s but found little else there that would address the development problems of their countries.

Its new found development partner in China is being eyed cautiously not only by its traditional trading partners during war and peace times who  have a long history in the Pacific region but also by Pacific countries. Not only is China’s record of democracy is a matter of concern to them and to the region, it is also the question of resources of land and fishing rights, seabed resources, mahogany and other resources that the indigenous community are worried about that may be given out to fund developments for an illegal regime at a time there is no accountability in Government. In a situation, where the Great Council of Chiefs, who watch over these resources is being suspended, and democratic institutions are not in place, there is a real fear, that on balance Fiji will loose out in terms of its resources.

In this situation, the US stance of ‘re-engaging with Asia and Pacific’ is timely and welcomed. The assurances of the retiring US Secretary of Defense,[15] Dr Gates at the recent Asian Security Summit in Singapore on June 5th 2011, that the US will remain the dominant power in Asia/Pacific in the next five years should also not be taken lightly by the Coup leadership in Fiji.

Emerging  Themes and Lessons

 

In our brief  analysis of  coups in  Fiji in the last 24 years, a number of  themes and observations are possible and they fall into two groups; those that are procedural in nature that do  not require some philosophical basis of analysis and those that do, if they are to be addressed  adequately. I would like to begin with the latter first. I would place 4 such lessons and observations as follows:


1)    The issue of indigenous rights or rights of self determination and that of equal rights for all citizens:
2)     
This is the issue that is confronting Mr Bainimarama and his solution will determine in a coup situation, whether there will be another coup or not. This situation in Fiji given its history and tradition, has attracted a lot of attention and has been addressed through numerous constitutional negotiations.

It is an issue that can only be solved I suggest, by negotiations through the democratic processes and   institutions. Democracy provide the basis for its lasting solution. Any ‘forced’ solutions is unlikely to last given the current proportion of indigenous Fijians in the population of 57% and moreover, given the proportion of Fijians in the Fijian Military of some 99%.

2)The issue relating to the need for a large military (of some 5000+ men and women) who are maintained by the State for supposedly national security: When this issue was discussed sometime ago, a question was raised as to who is likely to be our enemy and invade us?

The answer was given in jest, in that serious discussion about our national security   that we should keep enough full time men and women to guard against a likely flotilla of canoes from some islands in the northern Pacific in search of land space  when they are threatened  by the rising sea level. That joke came from one of one of our most senior Prime Minister in the Pacific region, not from Fiji.

The answer for politicians are clear, we need to reduce the size of the military, but how? Should we limit our military and Navy to safeguarding our shorelines from foreign fisherman from Asia or watching over our 300mile limit of shorelines from foreign yachts carrying drugs and indulging in human trade? How can we prevent the military from overstepping their political masters and to whom they should be taking orders from, rather than the other way around?

3) The third issue of economic development:
 In a situation of instability where avenues for addressing lost  contracts, or investment or huge compensations where  companies are involved, justice through the courts are urgently required. Without some cast iron guarantee of that nature, large investors and companies leave our shores for better and safer environment to do business.

The consequence is seen in high unemployment, rising cost of business and depressing and spiraling levels of economic activities. The figures for economic development since 2007 for example, compared to the democratic periods before that, is a case in point, where economic growth figures for all the years is barely positive. Fiji is behind most of the comparable Pacific countries where during Fiji’s democratic heyday, she was head and shoulders above those  countries in the Pacific[16].

If our coup, coup land were a canoe, we would have turned into a submarine!

4) The rising level of authoritarianism: This is   beginning to rear its ugly head in our society given our military coup tradition. Young men and women and even our educated people  are beginning to resort t to quick solutions through aggressive  behavior or short cuts as a means of resolving issues at home, at school, and in our communities.
Our Pacific tradition where we sit together around the kava bowl perhaps or chewing and exchanging betel nuts, or the traditional exchange of toddy or a cup of tea  is giving way to  aggressive and what would be considered as unacceptable behaviors in our traditional societies.

No wonder we have in our present communities, deposed people from politics, and from the public service with good credentials and qualifications and they are abound in my own country. What a huge waste of scarce resources in small country!

And there are other issues, which I will only raise and leave it for future discussions .

1)    A coup begets another, that means a coup today in the Fiji situation will cause or lay the basis of another coup.  Why do we have one in the first place? Don’t the coup makers understand that, ask Major General Rabuka!
2)    The current thinking as seen in the words of Commodore Bainimarama is that he is going to end all coups by his coup. I hope this is only   a way of answering the questions of journalists and others that do not really deserve any serious answer. This is because our experience in Fiji on this, suggests otherwise!
3)    A coup does not solve any issue just like violence, it only suppresses a behavior and not rid of it. If that is the case, why can’t we educate our people about this simple fact.
4)    I have raised too many issues instead of answering them, and I do so because in our Pacific tradition, it is done usually because as a visitor, I am comfortable in your country and in your company.

With that note I thank you for your patience and indulgence.



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Select References


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Crocombe,R(2001) The South Pacifc.Suva,Fiji:University of the South Pacific.

Dean,E and Ritova,S(1988)Rabuka:No other way.Suva,Fiji: Marketing
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Field,M.,Baba,T. & Nabobo-Baba, U(2005) Speight of Violence: Inside Fiji’s 2000 coup.ANU,Canberra: Pandanus Books

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Gates,R (2011) Asian Security Summit- Keynote Address  of  US Secretary of Defence, http://china.org.cn/opinion/2011-06/09/content_22743663.htm, downloaded on Monday June 13th,2011.

Lal, B (1992) Broken Waves:A history of the Fiji Islands in the twentieth century. Honolulu, Hawaii: Centre for Pacific Islands Studies,University of Hawaii.

Lal, B (1992) ‘Rhetoric and reality: The dialemmas of contemporary Fiji Islands politics’ In R Crocombe, & U Neemia, et al (eds) Culture and democracy in the South Pacifc.Suva,Fiji: Institute of Pacific Studies, pp 97-116.

Prasad, B C (2011) ‘Fiji Economy: Is there light at the end of the tunnel?: Paper presented at the Fiji-Australia Business Council meeting held in Sydney’, Australia,4th April,2011

Rabuka, S (2000) ‘The Fiji Islands in transition :Personal reflections’. In BV Lal (ed) Fiji before the storm: Elections and politics of development. Canberra, ANU: Asia Pacific Press, pp 7-20

UN Convention on the rights of indigenous peoples, http://www,un.org/es a/  soc dev/unpfii/en/drip.htm, downloaded on Monday, June 13,2011.



[1] Dr Tupeni Baba had been deposed from his three positions in the three military coups in Fiji: as Minister for Education,Youth & Sport in the Bavadra Government on the 14th of May 1987; as Deputy Prime Minister & Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade in the Peoples Coalition Government of Mahendra Chaudhary on May 19th 2000, and as Senator  in the Laisenia Qarase Government that was deposed by the Fiji Military under Bainimarama  on the 5th of December, 2006.
[2] No coups would have been possible in Fiji without the threat and use of arms and weaponry which are  available only from the weaponry arsenal of the  Fiji Military Forces and hence, all the coups in Fiji cannot  be effective without the support of at least a section of the military. 
[3] Professor Biman Chand Prasad,, Professor of Economics  used this term recently in an address to the Fiji –Aistarlia Business Council on Fiji Economy:Is there alight at the end of the tunnel? on 4 April 2011 in which he documented  the hope of economic recovery of  the Interim  Administration   against the stark reality of  a worsening economy.
[4] Dean,E  and  Ritova S (1988)Rabuka:No other way. Suva,,Fiji:The Marketing Team International
[5] Rabuka S(2000) ‘Fiji Islands in transition :personal reflections ‘ In Lal B(editor) Fiji before the storm:Elections and politics of development .ANU,Canberra: Asia Pacific Press.
[6] Refer to Field, M., Baba,T & Nabobo- Baba U(2005)Speight of violemce: Inside  Fiji’s 2000 coups, ,ANU,Canderra:Pandanus Books.
[7] Refer to Fraenkel, J & Firth S (eds)( 2007) From election to coup in Fiji: The 2006 campaign and its aftermath.Suva,Fiji: IPS,USP and Asia Pacific Press,ANU.
[8] This motion was framed over night following the actions against Mr Qarase on the 5th of Decamber,2006.After discussing it with the President of the Senate and members of the Great Council of Chiefs in the Senate, nominees of the the SDL and the Labour Parties,I asked for a suspension of the Standing order immediately after the passage of the Budget and put a motion on the floor of the House condening the actions of the military in taking over the Government. The motion  gained overwhelming support from all sides of the House including members of the Opposition , the Fiji Labour Party. Most members of the Senate wanted to speak on the motion and gave it  their support before the President was ordered to terminate the discussion and the soldiers emptied the House and closed the Chamber.That was the first time,I can rememner,Fiji’s Upper House or the Senate became involved directly  in the fight for the restoration of democracy in Fiji.
[9] This was passed by the UN General Assembly (with the vote of  143 for and 4 against,  with 11 abstentions  and 34 representatives who  were absent )on the 13 of September, 2007.A notable absence from the Assembly  was the Fiji representative, whose absence  may have had to do with the position of  the Coup Administration of Bainimarama on the issue. Various Fiji democratic governments before this vote had been involved with major conferences in an  effort to  advancing the draft of this Convention only to be let down at the  voting time.
[10] Open discussions amongst themselves and members of the Clan are expected and with the Native Land Trust Board, the Government   and their representatives in Provincial Councils,Great Council of Chiefs among others.
[11] This has had a major impact on the sugar industry which has been the main industry for Fiji  for years before the 2006 Coup which is now ‘on the brink of collapse’  according to a local economist (Prasad, 2011)It would  would have benefited substantially from provisions of   financial assistance from the EU had Fiji  met its  human rights and democratic obligations according to the Cotonou Agreement.
[12] Lal ,Brij (1992) Rhetoric and reality: The dialemmas of contemporary Fijian politics. In Crocombe,R.Neemia,U. et al(eds) Culture and Democracy in the South Pacific Suva, Fiji:Institute of Pacific Studies,USP,pp 97-116.
[13] Refer to Bain,A and  Baba,T(1990)(eds) Bavadra, Prime Minister, statesman, man of the People: Selection of speeches and writings, 1985-1989,Nadi,Fiji: Sunrise Press.
[14] Refer to ‘Chapter 4--Winds of Change’ in Lal, Brij (1992) Broken waves: A history of the Fiji islands in the twentieth century, Honolulu,Hawaii: Centre for Pacific Studies,University of Hawaii, pp164-212 
[15] Refer to http://china.org.cn/opinion/2011-06/09/content_22743663.htm down loaded on Monday,June10,2011.
[16] Refer to Prasad(2011) Is there alight at the end of the tunnel?: Paper  presented at the Fiji-Australia Business  Council held in Sydney ,Australia,4 April,2011.




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