From the Archives: "Fiji — Democracy by the Gun," Interviews by Graham Davis

The link below is to interviews conducted by Graham Davis (photo in Queenstown, NZ) in early May 2006 for the Nine Network's now defunct Sunday programme,  prior to the Fiji May elections and  only a  few months before the 2006 Coup. Those interviewed included Voqere Bainimarama, Mahendra Chaudhry, Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes, Deputy Prosecutor Peter Ridgeway, Nationalist leader Iliesa Duvuloco, and 2000 (Speight) Coup conspirators Maciu Navakasuasua and Jo Waqabaca. It makes interesting reading in terms of what was to follow, and helps explain attitudes today.

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


Comments

c said…
I never thought, Croz, when I was following a mob of sheep around the mountain on the left, or among the snowy crags, at 10 o'clock to Davis' head, in the photo, that I would live through many of the shenanigans that have since afflicted what was then far-off Fiji.

Would that, in some ways, one could turn the clock back to more innocent days.

In 2000, for months, just 20 yards from where I sit, were at least 7 armed members of the RFMF protecting the area in which I work.

Our multi-ethnic staff all carrying on their work amicably belying the external chaos, the lies in the media, etc. Mostly ignoring the faxed propaganda, rumours, lies and downright slander circulated by what have now become recognisably the rabid propagandists on anti-Frank blogs, now that we've progressed to more modern forms of information dissemination.

One day it may come to pass that the people of Fiji can live in harmony, but not while kids are taught at some schools not to attend ethnic celebrations (such as Diwali) or to go to Indian houses because 'they're not Christian.'

Sigh!
Cornelius said…
Croz, a slip of the digit fired off my comment signed 'c' prematurely.

Should have been Cornelius.
Liu Muri said…
Another blow to the supposed free media in Fiji, this time, The Fiji Times and its Netani Rika , Margaret Wise and Samisoni Kakaivalu. They were very sharp and energetic when attacking Chaudhry and peoples Coalition in 1999 and 2000 leading to Speight Putsch. They always “editorialised” on smaller matters, talking about good governance and transparency.
When Peter Ridgway, who was on close scent of the 2000 instigators, was unceremoniously ‘deported” from Fiji, where was The Fiji Times? His permit was not renewed by Qarase despite lack of skills in DPP's office. Where was a free media then? Where were these "Fijian" reporters and gatekeepers who were causing havoc for Chaudhry’s “ Indian” government in 1999 and 2000 but gave silent approval to Qarase's “Fijian’ government’s attack on Fiji’s judiciary in 2003. As I said, did Fiji really have a free media? As said in another posting, the biggest threat to media freedom is from within, from its gatekeepers, it editors, its key reporters and movers and shakers.
Imprimatur said…
@ Liu Muri......

Well, now we are getting there! Liu Muri, you have hit the nail right on its head! The names are all there, their devious, dubious actions, all there. They are still around, we note. No investigative journalism worth a bean has been done in Fiji on ORGANISED CRIME. Are these same people party to it? And if not, then where is their duty to this country and to us all? Forget "skirt journalism" for a while. We need bold, courageous investigators who will stop these organised criminals in their tracks. Not a sign of it to date.
Anonymous said…
@ Liu Muri...and Peter Ridgeway's deportation

You are once more right on top of this. Another factor and further revealing is this: the SWG9 - the Government Planning Committee for Justice Law & Order had an aid package installed, an Australian Aid package of AU$10m over three years (2005-2007). Australian consultants were appointed (all Australians, of course). How was it that not one of these consultants and no member of the SWG9 queried the deportation of Peter Ridgeway: one of THEIR own? Justice and Law & Order in Fiji required that Peter Ridgeway stay on and do the work that the then DPP was failing to do. In fact, we know now that 400 files were sitting in a corner of the DPP's Office uninvestigated, unattended (or inadequately attended?), and most important of all, UNCHARGED. This was a paramount failure of public duty and responsibility. It failed the Nation and failed us all. Peter Ridgeway knew this. His futile attempts to redress this deserve comment now. And where was the then Fiji Police Commissioner, who was duty-bound to make us safe? Unfortunately, remunerated by both Australia and Fiji. Now whom do we hold accountable for this? If ever there were a conflict of interest - this was it on a Grand Scale. Who was responsible for this? Who encouraged him or them? Let us learn from this gross error of judgement: it must NEVER happen again. A March of Folly in Pulitzer Prize winning style. A terrible error of governance in consequence? Accountability and transparency must ultimately be applied to this ghastly Comedy of Errors. Surely, only a Truth & Reconciliation Commission will afford this?
Why Ridgeway went said…
@ Liu Muri...and Peter Ridgeway's deportation

You are once more right on top of this. Another factor and further revealing is this: the SWG9 - the Government Planning Committee for Justice Law & Order had an aid package installed, an Australian Aid package of AU$10m over three years (2005-2007). Australian consultants were appointed (all Australians, of course). How was it that not one of these consultants and no member of the SWG9 queried the deportation of Peter Ridgeway: one of THEIR own? Justice and Law & Order in Fiji required that Peter Ridgeway stay on and do the work that the then DPP was failing to do. In fact, we know now that 400 files were sitting in a corner of the DPP's Office uninvestigated, unattended (or inadequately attended?), and most important of all, UNCHARGED. This was a paramount failure of public duty and responsibility. It failed the Nation and failed us all. Peter Ridgeway knew this. His futile attempts to redress this deserve comment now. And where was the then Fiji Police Commissioner, who was duty-bound to make us safe? Unfortunately, remunerated by both Australia and Fiji. Now whom do we hold accountable for this? If ever there were a conflict of interest - this was it on a Grand Scale. Who was responsible for this? Who encouraged him or them? Let us learn from this gross error of judgement: it must NEVER happen again. A March of Folly in Pulitzer Prize winning style. A terrible error of governance in consequence? Accountability and transparency must ultimately be applied to this ghastly Comedy of Errors. Surely, only a Truth & Reconciliation Commission will afford this?
Islands in the Stream said…
Ominous words: May 2006

Thinking back to May 2006 and just two weeks before the ignominious General Election that stole our rights away. The then US Number Three comes up and 'en passant' just prior to leaving has this to say:

"Oh well, of course it really doesn't make any difference to us who wins this election...."

Never, ever will those fatal words be forgotten. The total lack of empathy and understanding - so callous and so betraying. Do US diplomats still utter words like this in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Yemen? The hideous 'cop out' - the luxurious denial of any responsibility, moral or immoral. It's really all the same......to us!
Shocking said…
What the ****? I just read this stuff for the first time. This is more than four years ago. How come the Fiji Times never reported this? How come I've never heard what some of these guys did? How come nobody talks about it now?

The names of the accused/ guilty are here in black and white. But the Australian DPP guy who was meant to bring them to justice didn't know? And he got kicked out by Qarase before he finished the job? Unbelievable! I've seen one of these guys walking around Suva. They should be behind bars. Why aren't they?

No wonder Frank is so wild about what happened. After what happened to him in 2000, the people named here are lucky they haven't all been shot. The job isn't finished, for sure.
Proud Fijian said…
The link for interview with Peter Ridgeway.

http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2005/s1394616.htm

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