From the Archives: "Fiji — Democracy by the Gun," Interviews by Graham Davis
In the interview Bainimarama brands Qarase a liar and expresses a preference for his main opponent in the forthcoming election, Indo-Fijian Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry. The military chief is enraged that in a recent speech Qarase had said there was no guarantee that the coups of 1987 and 2000 wouldn't be repeated if Chaudhry won the election. The interview sheds new light on the shadowy instigators of the 2000 coup, led by renegade businessman George Speight. Davis talks at length with one of the chief conspirators, Maciu Navakasuasua, who points the finger at some of Fiji's most prominent politicians and businessmen.
Graham explains some of the background to how things were in Fiji in May 2006:
At the time the May 2006 piece went to air in Australia on the weekend of the Fiji election, many people thought Mahendra Chaudhry's Labour would win and any coup would be formented by enraged supporters of the SDL. Leaving aside whatever support the SDL may have had in the ranks of the military, there was intense concern on the part of Frank Bainimarama and police chief Andrew Hughes that some of the military weapons used in 2000 still couldn't be accounted for.
Qarase won the election, of course, but his relationship with Bainimarama deteriorated even further as the year progressed. He refused to back off on the Qoliqoli Bill and the mooted changes to land title. And they were eye-ball to eye-ball for the next six months before Bainimarama finally struck at the beginning of December. The Australians, through their Defence Signals Directorate, had the whole place bugged ( as well as having their own man as police chief till he was forced to flee ) giving then Foreign Minister Alexander Downer the intelligence to warn of an imminent coup publicly some two weeks out.
As you can see from the interview, Frank's biggest beef at the time I spoke to him was about Qarase's proposal for a South African style Reconciliation Bill that would see George Speight and his gang freed. He was insisting, as you can see, that he wasn't planning a coup himself, maybe because he thought Chaudhry more likely to win. Whatever was in the back of his mind, he was signalling his determination at this stage to back Chaudhry's multiracial government against the nationalist tide. He was also presumably keen to deter rogue elements in the military from moving against him in the event Qarase lost.
We need to remember that when I spoke to him, Bainimarama was still very rattled by the mutiny of 2000 in which he barely escaped with his life. He would also have been dealing in his own mind with the impending proceedings against Sitiveni Rabuka, to which Andrew Hughes alludes in the story. He firmly suspected that Rabuka had either instigated the mutiny or tried to take advantage of it by arriving at the QE Barracks on that fateful afternoon with his uniform in his car, offering to take charge, Furthermore, he would have already been conscious of the mounting opposition towards him by his own land forces commander, Jone Baledrokdroka, whose sister was in a de- facto relationship with the Qaranivalu, the Naitasiri high chief subsequently jailed for instigating the mutiny. Later in the year, Baledrokadroka openly confronted Bainimarama about his campaign against Qarase, failed to secure the numbers in the camp and — by Bainimarama's account to me in an our interview last year — was almost shot himself before he fled to the safety of Australia and the ANU.
It's also clear here that Bainimarama, Andrew Hughes and Mahendra Chaudhry were all on the same side in May 2006. Hughes, of course, fell foul of Bainimarama later when Hughes insisted that Qarase had been duly elected and shouldn't be removed. In this, he was doubtless doing the bidding of his patrons in Australia, who'd sent him there to improve law and order, not to sanction a coup.
You'll notice here that Hughes seems to be defending Bainimarama's right to speak out against the government, pointing out that the Fiji military views itself as the custodian of democracy. For his part, Mahendra Chaudhry was describing Bainimarama was a "brave man", presumably also casting him as the sole guarantor of democracy because it was an election he expected to win. He was hardly anxious to repeat his terrible experience as a hostage of the extremists six years on.
I think the real importance of this piece is not so much Navaksuasua's testimony against Iliesa Duvuloco — accusing him of being the mastermind of 2000 and Duvuloco's absurd protestations to the contrary — nor his allegations against the rogue businessmen, Nata and Naisoro, and the 2000 military spokesman, Filipo Tarakinikini.
The "smoking gun" is the allegations he makes about people involved in the 2000 coup who subsequently became serving members in Qarase's post coup government - Konisi Yabaki, the late Savenaca Draunidalo plus the devastating portrayal on screen of Simione Kaitani calling for a round of applause for Speight at the parliamentary complex with the hostages in the buildings behind. Perversely, Kaitani now campaigns against Bainimarama with the so-called Fiji Democracy and Freedom Movement in Australia, evidence enough to me of the true nature of its cause.
These guys were Qarase cabinet ministers, Kaitani special minister assisting the prime minister and almost certainly in constant contact. This, I think, is the most compelling evidence of Qarase's link to the extremists, the fact that he had them at his side in government. By this time too ( and I did not report it in this piece at the request of both men ) Bainimarama had received a detailed briefing from the whistle-blower, Maciu Navakasusua, about what he knew, along with a traditional apology for his own actions, when Navakasuasua went to the commander's hotel room at Darling Habour during a visit to Sydney.
Bainimarama has always maintained that he specifically asked Qarase to put Fiji on a multiracial path and punish those responsible for 2000 when he commissioned him to form a government after tricking Speight into surrendering. Given the events outlined here ( and incidentally no denials were ever forthcoming from the accused ) the wonder of it all is that anyone would question why Bainimarama was so enraged. Yet Instead of reining in his nationalist agenda after he won in 2006, Qarase went about expanding it in the six months before the coup.
The wonder of it too is that the pro-democracy lobby and the governments of Australia and NZ, in particular, still can't grasp the issues involved. Bainimarama acted to put a stop to the tyranny of the majority that was steadily marginalising 40 per cent of Fiji's population.. But that tyranny wasn't being driven by the majority at all — ordinary i'Taukei voters — but a minority of self-serving extremists who were manipulating popular opinion with the assistance of certain Methodist Church leaders and elements in the media. These people had tried to entrench indigenous rights and their own positions in 2000 behind Iliesa Duvuloco and George Speight and were thwarted. They tried again using the more benign face of Laisenia Qarase, whose gentle demeanour and merchant banking background so comprehensively seduced the Aussies and Kiwis.
Perhaps Qarase was too gentle to defy those around him, perhaps he was manipulated himself, perhaps he was simply one of them. Whatever the truth, the agenda was still the same, to entrench indigenous rights over the rest of the population for all time, even at the cost of splitting the nation irreversibly. The fatal mistake of Qarase and those around him was not realising how far Bainimarama was prepared to go to defend the ideal of a multiracial Fiji. It had already nearly cost him his life six years before but by December 2006, he was better prepared. Steeled by the November 2000 mutiny, he was in no mood to compromise and determined to call their bluff, whatever the price.
Here is the link to the Sunday interviews. Click here.
And here's the video and the transscipt: http://www.journeyman.tv/56288/short-films/democracy-and-the-gun.html