What Did Bainimarama Say? What Did He Mean?

 Opinion. Crosbie Walsh
(Photo: Bainimarama as he is usually portrayed on NZ TV.)
 
Prime Minister Bainimarama is sometimes his own worst enemy.  He should know by now never, absolutely never, to make unprepared statements to the media. If he does, they will savage him as they have done with his latest remarks which have raised doubts about an election being held in 2014. What he says should leave no doubt about what he means.

This is not the first time he, and they, have acted in this way.  On his return from his provincial tour of Lomaiviti just over a month ago he told a Fiji Sun reporter the people supported his reforms and asked him to stay in power after 2014.  His remark was in response to Australia's Smith and New Zealand's McCully's remarks,  made after the Auckland Forum dialogue with Fiji, that the situation in Fiji had deteriorated. Readers will remember Bainimarama withdrew his invitation to visit Fiji immediately afterwards.  Bainimarama had not for one moment said that elections may not be held, or that the "people"  represented national opinion (they were the remarks of villagers) but that is what the media took from his comment.

And this is what they have done, quite deliberately, with Bainimarama's interview with Radio Tarana, made by phone from Korea, in the wake of the the sudden cancellation of the MSG Plus meeting that was to be held in Fiji next week, as Bainimarama was still reeling from what he saw as Australia's involvement in a MSG betrayal.

The interview was then, predictably, taken up by Michael Field. And who can blame  him. His continuous one-sided and false reporting (think of his recent totally unsubstantiated  accusation of Mugabe-style confiscations of White-owned farms in Viti Levu!)  shows he has a score to settle with Fiji and Bainimarama has once again provided him with an opportunity that was too good to miss.

First, read what Field reported Bainimarama to have said, taken from the Tarana interview. Note the obviously hurried, ad lib and disjointed sequence of Bainimarama's remarks. It is not hard to see how his intent could be misconstrued.

"In fact, I am all of a sudden thinking we might not be ready for 2014 for election if we don't get any assistance from Australia and New Zealand for instance ... If we reach 2014 and we are not ready because of constant interfering, we are not going to give up our government to political parties...I am seriously thinking about the date of the elections, the interference by these people, but I can tell you nothing is going to stop us from doing what needs to be done continuing on this pathway we need reforms ... That is going to happen, whether Australia likes or not, whether New Zealand likes it or not, they don't live in Fiji, they don't know what is happening in Fiji."

My  reading of these remarks  indicates they were thought up as he spoke. This was not a prepared response, and certainly not a statement on a change of policy. He says the idea of deferring elections "suddenly occurred" to him. I think it was his way of getting back at Australia.

Read his ideas in sequence, and then ask yourself what he really meant. He proceeded from the idea of their (Australian) assistance, to their interference, with a reference to political parties (we'll come back to that) and then moved on to say nothing will stop the needed reforms.

The reforms to which he referred are those Fiji is currently engaged on which will continue until 2014. They include electoral reforms.  If the reforms were stopped now and left incomplete, his government would have to hand over to the "political parties" (that is, the race-based  political parties he ousted in 2006). But when the reform process is complete, new non race-based parties will emerge to contest the elections in 2014.

Bainimarama was not seriously thinking about deferring the elections or not handing over government to the new parties formed for the 2014 election. He was using a bluff to warn Australia to stop meddling in Fiji affairs: 'Your interference could derail or delay the reforms.  We will not allow that.' It was a poorly executed bluff which boomeranged, with the usual assistance of Michael Field and the several media outlets that used his story.

One might hope the more discerning readers will see Field's widely  circulated report for what it is: another attempt to discredit the Bainimarama government and cast doubts about elections in 2014. And they probably will. Unfortunately, the typical reader and viewer will accept the story literally, as it was told, repleat with Bainimarama in his unchanged military uniform, as on New Zealand TV1 last night.

With respect, Prime Minister,  the foreign media will always pounce on your ambiguities and use them to Fiji's disadvantage, misinform their  readers, and influence Australian and New Zealand policies on Fiji -- and these were sufficiently ill-informed before you cast further doubt on the waters.

Comments

Words as weapons said…
Croz, that's life and no amount of massaging now will change anything. I take this to be a mild reproach from you, urging the PM to think before he speaks lest he be misconstrued. But he must realise the power of what he says and I think these words may have been chosen quite deliberately. It's clear from his grand perambulations around Fiji that he enjoys being the main man. And he wouldn't be the first reformist politician to be steadily seduced by the notion of permanent power. Another way of interpreting what he said to Radio Tarana is that he may well be looking for triggers to delay a vote in 2014 and now he's found one. He can blame the lack of assistance from Australia and NZ as the reason to postpone elections indefinitely. If you think that's being uncharitable, let's see what happens in the next few days. He's bound to be asked to clarify his comments. If he says 2014 is still the deadline, then the outburst can be put down to high emotion and tiredness. But if this becomes a regular theme, then the rest of us have a right to be aggrieved at yet another broken promise. The base line for me and a lot of others I know who've accepted Frank's rule is that he relinquishes power in 2014. If he doesn't, he'll have forfeited any legitimacy and the ranks of his opponents will grow exponentially.
Anonymous said…
Suggestion.

Everytime he makes these comments it leaves doubt.

Assuming he was rushed and unprepared and assuming the media have taken this the wromng way then why would he not put out a clear press statement today that they will have elections in 2014.

Why not report on what electrol reform they have done to date ?

Why not make these things very clear and stop the uncertainity.

Unless they are starting to rethink 2014 and democracy (i hope not) then it would be easy to clarify with a clear press statement and by stopping making these comments in the future.
BASA said…
All the Fiji newspapers are reporting almost word for word what MF reported and this is after passing the censors so the threat was there ad he is not withdrawing it.
Anonymous said…
Croz,

The 'big man' as he is known is one of the best performing beuracrats in Fiji. When in the PM's office his door was open and people regulary used it including me. He was a voice of reason when Mahen was on a wild path to punish business and settle old scores as Finance Minister.

The truth is he is frustrated in his job, frustrated with Government and does not agree with a lot that is happning in Fiji. I'm not sure if any of this came out in your interview or if he kept is professional and pro government face on. I wouldn't be surprised if he pops up in the private sector which would be a big loss to this government. Trouble is he is not a military YES MAN so conflict with PM and military council and others is inevitable.

This government actually needs a lot more big men like Parmesh and a lot less YES MEN. But most importantly government needs to listen to them.

Regards
On the side lines in Viti Levu
Anonymous said…
O.M.G

If Frank does not mean it he should not say it. His sensors could have easily edited out all of
this locally but have chosen not to. I suspect he does want to say to AU and others that he can and will defer elections...if AU/NZ continue to piss him off.
Anonymous said…
If the PM wants to lose his military image he could resign as Commandor of the RFMF.

The RFMF is the most professional organisation in Fiji so surely they have plenty of good successors. Maybe they even have one who does not have a aspiration to be PM and is happy to serve the government of the day...and not change it.
Joe said…
Frank, after being appointed PM by then prez Ratu Iloilo for a term of 5yrs, clearly indicated to the whole world that he will do "ONE" thing at a time before elections in 2014. His first priority was the economy, then reforms, new constitution etc and finally election in 2014. The MSG plus would have been a major economic booster for Fiji, and Oz and NZ saw that clearly. We all know what happened next.

The logic is that if our bullying neighbours intefere in improving our economy, the whole timetable of 5yr plan is affected. It has to be done right this time whatever time it takes. Election is the last thing on the agenda, and it should be deferred indefinitely, courtesy of you know who.
Anonymous said…
O.M.G

@Joe

I think everyone is growing tired of the "It's all Australia's fault" line and the idea that you can fix the economy this year and start on something else next year is way to simplistic. A major obstacle in economic recovery from the coup is stable government and laws. This givernment is not stable - there are no checks or balances. As to the law no decree can be chalanged and the government is free to make up any law they want. That is not a great incentive to business.

Frank should do both - lots of work on the economy and a hard line date for elections with lots of work done now. In fact I would like to see some clear milestones on progress to the new demoracy. What has to be completed this year, next year etc. Even on a monthly basis.

There is much talk about the roadmap. I was there when it was announced and it was little more than a short speach - light on detail. I have not seen anything with any more detail since.

Does anyone really think this government can get a new constitution done in just twelve months including consultation ?

The charter was completed but much of it has to be changed. For example it refers to the constitution as the ultimate law. Ummm then why was it thrown out ? It's all a bit of a miss match of words and a bit like the great wisdom found on the RFMF website.

We need to stop blaming Australia for our economic problems. We have owned the suger indusrty from a long time now. It was in decline under SDL and continues to be under decline. As Mahen found out it is much easier to cry foul about it than fix it.

If this was a elected government what would there report card look like after 3.5 years in power ? What could they boast about ?

Too much time spent on MSG and ego not enough on getting things done.
Huff and puff bluff said…
Croz
Why would Bainimarama not be shown in a military unform - he is head of the military isn't he?
You are correct however in saying the self appointed leader is often his own worst enemy. He has a serious credibility problem and perhaps should learn two simple lessons that most leaders do not have to be told:
1. Think before you open your mouth - ie less huff and puff, and
2. Stop thinking you can control people out of range of your guns - ie cease the bluff.
He has been seriously humiliated in this recent event. His minders let him be ambushed. Huff, puff and bluff are only going to make it more painful for him.
Anonymous said…
@ Joe

If you believe the President was in any state to appoint Frank you are living in fairly land.
Anonymous said…
Special Deals

Great news folks - The Intercontinental Resort and Spa have some amazing last min specials due to last min cancellations. Yep the mini bar is steep but the resort first class. Get in quick to enjoy a few days off. The usual diplomatic crowd and expats should be there and with out all the security atmoshere should be a little more relaxed. Gold course is likely to remain booked though as nothing gets in the way of the real MSG game.

Book now and do your bit for Fiji's economy.
Anonymous said…
Dear Croz

Perhaps you could do a summary of what the Pacific regional media is saying about the ferreral of the MSG meeting. Seems to be a big contradiction between what chair has said and what Fiji PM has said. Are other countries blaming Australia or sticking with MSG chair ? Which PMs are still going to come to Fiji. Which smaller invited countries are going to come ?

Thanks
Intersted
Joe said…
@anon, "checks or balances". lol. Go do your homework son. This is the only govt. which is fair and for all. Which other govt. entertained checks and balances?

@ 2nd anon.
"If you believe the President was in any state to appoint Frank you are living in fairly land."

Everyone knows he was the Head of State, son.
Global Citizen said…
if this conversation proves anything, it is to show just how detached from reality are vb and croz ... total creeps out of contact with reality. rumour has it the military now have a treason charge drafted against field. problem though is he is not fijian. or that i the advantage
SOE said…
Michael Field plays the role of a Lord Haw Haw: he does similar damage to an entire country and he tells propaganda lies about the ordinary citizens and residents of Fiji whom he has just labelled as 'rotten'. His choice of words is lax and loose. He plays loose with the future of an entire country. What does this merit? It is not even just Fiji he pours his venom on: it is an entire region. He has no clue about living through years of terror and corruption on The Grand Scale because he nevr alights anywhere long enough to endure anything other than a severe hang-over (one might assume?). He requires a brisk 'clean up'. Who will take this on?
Anonymous said…
Yeah, thats right Mr Walsh, Frank could use a bit of advise when speaking. But do we know for sure that he is able to listen to your wise words? I don't think so.
sara'ssista said…
@ Joe, it will be interesting when , and it will come, these thugs being dragged to court, who actually made appointments whether a senile president, his private sec or the militray with a non too subtle gun to this head.I think there will be rush to the exit when anyone is asked whio actually masde decisions , especially to blame a senile and chronically unhealthy and aged former president who had his own role in this coup.
Joe said…
@Blogger sara'ssista said...
There is something called "immunity from prosecution", in case it slipped your mind. Dont forget that the majority is solidly behind Frank and the military. There will be chaos in Fiji if the saviour is ever dragged to the courts. He is doing a fine job, something that needed doing urgently. Give him time to proove himself. Nobody stood up for the crook LQ even after incitement from Toke Talagi and most recently the OZ media. Why dont you take it on and show us? If you havent got the balls to do it, just shut up and put up.
sara'ssista said…
Immunity decree is not worth the paper it is written on , just ask chile, there is ample precedent to go after this regime, and likley as not the rest will happily blame him for all the decisions.If the majority is behind this regime then bring on the election. and i will stay silent. They know full welll that given the option poeple can surprise you. I would suggest that for any mandate , after the election this regime can do what it likes. But they will not , and you know why And i note he still hasn't resigned from the military but doewsn't like being pictured in the uniform??!!
Enough humiliation said…
@ Joe
The junta has been humiliated enough internationally - please don't make it worse with abusive personalised comments!
Joe said…
@Blogger sara'ssista said..

Rambo got away, I cant see why Frank cant. What precedent are you making reference to? Election will take place in 2014, in case you are not aware. Any incoming govt. will be closely watched by the military, and rightly so, as RFMF is the final bastion of law and order in Fiji. There will never ever be a LQ or MC style govt in Fiji.
sara'ssista said…
@ Joe, the chilean and argentinian regimes gave themselves immunity too during their military dictatorships and were chased all over the world by their own new democratic govenrments and other countries who felt they had international juristiction, there is ample precedent, do you forget that augusto pinochet was held for months in UK over crimes he committed as head of a military junta?? ansd still emmebr os arginitina's military are being prosecuted. I think it's wonderfull and will certainly be concerning the illegal regime here... they will always be wondering...and ther is ample evidence to presecute, an immunity decree is nothing but self-serving and the newly appointed judges of a democratic fiji will see that.And as this illegal regime was so quick to condemn the treatment of speight etc and even the thought of an amnesty, we can presume that when they are found guilty they will be prepared to serve their full sentence and it would be a deterrent to others.The militray needs to be declawed now, they have no mandate to be the bation of law and order, the judiiciary is and look what they did to it. They are the perpetrators not the saviours.
Joe said…
@sara'ssista said...
You cant quote precedents from all over the world, but with regard to a Fijian issue, Rambo precedent is enough to predict a likely outcome. If you think LQ will be reinstated, history suggests that no deposed govt has come back, to date. Do you remember the coup monger Musharraf, the Pakistani, given a red carpet treatment on his visit to Aust? and all that aid money given to him from US and its allies? Why the double standards? With this MSG plus saga, Aust & NZ have crossed the "Line of Decency". Having said all of that, the sun will rise again tomorrow, it will be a new day, and it will be another step foward for Fiji and its people, regardless. May God grant you the wisdom to see beyond your nose what this man, our PM is doing for Fiji and its people.
sara'ssista said…
@Joe... interim military PM isn't it ?? I am more than happy to be patient because i can, i have no desire to see anyone of any regime or former government to return, but tat hardly means that there won't be a reckoning, and as far as i can see no-one from the previous government has been convicted of anything, and that's with a military appointed judiciary??? work that one out.

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