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Blessed are the (Latest) Coup Makers

Samoa's Tuilaepa

What’s the evidence for this? Well, two recent developments that unfolded not on some distant balmy isle but in frosty Canberra at the feet of the Australian Government. First was its decision to welcome the renegade Fijian military officer, Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara, who’s fallen out with Bainimarama and is now touring regional capitals drumming up support for his removal. The second was to countenance the visiting Samoan prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, meeting Mara in Canberra and calling for tougher sanctions against Fiji to provoke a popular uprising and Bainimarama’s overthrow. Before he gave Ratu Mara his blessing, Tuilaepa would have been well advised to gauge his support among ordinary Fijians, which judging from his public appearances in Australia, is pathetically low. But more on that later.

Never mind the diplomatic niceties or the Samoan leader’s gratuitous intervention in a Pacific neighbour’s internal affairs. Australia and NZ know that any popular uprising in Fiji is virtually guaranteed to cause bloodshed, perhaps a lengthy stand-off and along with it, the destruction of the local economy as tourists flee, plus the significant Australian and NZ commercial presence with it. Was there any high level comment from Canberra and Wellington on Tuilaepa’s reckless suggestion? Not a word. Did any political journalist in either capital even ask the question? Evidently not – a clear sign in itself of just how low Fiji rates as an issue and the partisan anti-Bainimarama stance of the overwhelming majority of journalists assigned to cover Pacific affairs.

Funnily enough, this is even more evident in New Zealand than Australia, with a string of reports and editorials in the mainstream NZ media that appear so ill-informed about events in Fiji as to be almost willfully negligent in a country that prides itself on its Pacific ties. Local commentators with intimate knowledge of Fiji- including David Robie at Auckland’s University of Technology and Crosbie Walsh, the academic blogger – are routinely ignored simply because they go against the grain of the accepted wisdom that Bainimarama is a tyrant and his political opponents are heroic bearers of the democratic flame. But that’s another story.
The truth that ought to be self evident to everyone – but isn’t – is that supporting the notion of tougher sanctions to provoke an uprising in Fiji is not only misguided but fraught with danger for the entire region. Yes, the Samoan leader is an entertaining character with a sometimes amusing turn of phrase. Yet in the interests of regional stability, he should confine himself to his pet projects of forcing Samoan motorists to drive on the other side of the road and propelling his countrymen back to the beginning of each day by moving them lock, stock and barrel across the International Dateline.

For their part, Australia and New Zealand seem to have no public strategy on Fiji other than to keep chanting their mantra that Bainimarama abandon his leadership and return the country to democracy immediately. But as they do so, events are rapidly getting away from them. Other countries like China, India and Indonesia are rapidly strengthening their links with Fiji. At the United Nations, even Australia concedes that Fiji is damaging its attempt to secure a temporary seat on the Security Council. And all the while, the topography of the traditional Aussie and Kiwi backyard is changing as both countries sit on the back deck nodding in furious agreement with each other and the regime’s opponents like Tevita Mara.
Firm friends: outgoing Chinese ambassador Han Zhiqiang
How will history judge a period when Australia and New Zealand – mired in their domestic agendas – failed to see the signs of change and were overtaken by events?  Such questions are generally ignored or treated with scorn. Anyone, for instance, who dares to suggest in Australia that China’s increasingly close links with Fiji are cause for concern is howled down. Two years ago, Australian officials, and some gormless commentators, were peddling the line that China wasn’t really interested in Fiji, except perhaps at a commercial level. When asked, “Who says?”, they produced an extraordinary answer: “Well, the Chinese. They’ve assured us that they’re not interested in Fiji and that their influence there is benign”. Oh, alright, that settles in then. The naivete implicit in such comments is breathtaking.

Never mind an Australian defence white paper clearly identifying China as the biggest threat to regional security. Or the remarkable suggestion by defence planner Ross Babbage that Canberra needs to obtain American nuclear submarines to counter that threat. Or the head of the US Seventh fleet reporting that his Chinese naval counterpart discussed carving up the Pacific between them. Or news of a massive Chinese military buildup – including a new generation of missiles, stealth fighters and the imminent launch of its first aircraft carrier. No, when it comes to Fiji, none of that matters because they’ve done us the courtesy of telling us they’re not interested.

Australia will pay for this reckless indifference, just as Britain paid for its grossly misguided judgment in the 1930s that Nazi Germany posed no threat. But this is just the “big picture” historical mistake, as China steadily moves into Fiji and the rest of the region, placing high level diplomats in supposedly low level island backwaters, all the while telling the gormless Aussies and Kiwis that they’re just there for the palm trees and to sell their wares. The more immediate threat is to good governance in places like Fiji, as Australia and New Zealand scream ” bring back democracy at once!” yet fail to grasp that their own notions of democracy can’t be established in the short term without eroding the very principles that underpin the democratic ideal – voter equality and equal opportunity for all citizens.

Grubsheet has become decidedly weary of pointing out what, to us, is the bleeding obvious in Fiji – that the democracy Frank Bainimarama removed at gunpoint in 2006 wasn’t a democracy worth having. Why? Because not only was the vote of an indigenous person worth more than the vote of a non-indigenous person, the indigenous majority had begun to use their power to disadvantage other citizens. Racial equality had been sacrificed at the altar of a bastardised democracy, which only those who benefited regarded as a true democracy. Oh, plus Australia, New Zealand and anyone else like them who preferred lip service and a quiet life to the tedium of actually having to examine the facts, insistent on enforcing a “democracy” that they would never  accept themselves. Yes, we’ve said at all before and no-one listens. But it’s worth repeating nonetheless. History lesson over, let’s come to the present.
Mara's Melbourne audience (photo:coup 4.5)
The Ratu Mara glee club moved south to Melbourne at the weekend for yet another church hall meeting in Chadstone on Saturday night.  Stung by the pathetically low attendance at Mara’s first public outing in Queanbeyan, outside Canberra, the Melbourne organisers were predicting a turn-out this time of between 150 and 200. But in the end, barely 50 people were in the room and it’s a minute fraction of the Fiji-Australian population in Melbourne.
It’s a little known fact that Australia has the largest Fijian population outside Fiji, with 44,000 Fiji-born Australians registered at the last census in 2006. No more than 30 turned up at Mara’s Queanbeyan rally. And with the Melbourne attendance struggling to reach the half century, what does this say about Mara’s support and ability to trigger a popular uprising in Fiji? That’s right. Zilch. So why are Australia and NZ giving the thumbs up to someone with no evident grassroots appeal? Is this Fiji’s future “democratic” leader-in-waiting, the Aung San Suu Kyi of the islands? Hardly.
Dallas Swinstead, Simione Kaitani, Mme Swinstead (photo: Coup 4.5)

There were a couple of surprises in Melbourne, including the presence – yet again – of Simione Kaitani, one of the principal figures of the 2000 George Speight coup. Kaitani is evidently also one of the principal figures behind Mara’s political crusade, more than enough to raise eyebrows in itself. While there was no sign on Saturday of Canberra glee clubbers Jon Fraenkel and Brij Lal, there was another surprise celebrity in the form of former Fiji Times publisher Dallas Swinstead, who – like Fraenkel and Lal – posed happily with Simione Kaitani, seemingly unconcerned or unaware about his highly colourful past.
NZ journalist Michael Field

Mara himself has been on the defensive all week after one of Frank Bainimarama’s most strident critics – the New Zealand journalist Michael Field – dismissed him as yet another coup leader in the making. Field portrayed Mara as not only a disgruntled former member of Bainimarama’s inner circle who stood accused of human rights abuses but a privileged chief who was planning his own coup and wasn’t fit to lead a genuine democratic movement. This withering assessment stunned the Mara camp and Roko Ului – as Mara is otherwise known – was forced to issue a public statement rejecting Field’s claims.

Mara also continues to be dogged by allegations of an anti Indo-Fijian bias that gives the lie to his claims to support a multiracial Fiji – the cornerstone of his father’s blueprint for the country he led to independence 40 years ago. Disturbing reports emerged after a community meeting Mara addressed in the Fijian language at the Canterbury Fijian Methodist Church in Sydney. One of those present said Mara suggested that Fiji’s attorney-general, Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum, intended to alter Fiji’s land ownership provisions, which currently set aside more than 80 per cent of the country for indigenous people. There’s no evidence whatsoever for Mara’s claim yet nothing could be more designed to inflame indigenous sentiment against the regime. Already, Mara has repeatedly cast Khaiyum as Bainimarama’s puppet master and once depicted him as a Muslim helping another Muslim to get a job.
This blatant scaremongering about Indo-Fijians pulling the strings and plotting land seizures raises loud alarm bells for the 40 per cent of Fiji citizens who aren’t indigenous. If even the Bainimarama regime’s fiercest critics like Michael Field see Mara as no different to any other of Fiji’s expanding list of coup makers, why is he being feted by countries like Australia, New Zealand and Samoa? Why give him the thumbs up – Mara’s Churchillian wannabe signature – just because he claims to have had some Damascene conversion to democracy as he fled the camp in disgrace four and a half years after the coup he helped stage? And after a brace of genuine democracy activists say it was Mara -not Bainimarama- who was doing the abusing during the 2006 crackdown?
Thumbs up for more of the same? (photo: Coup 4.5)

And – while we’re at it – why give Bainimarama the thumbs down when unlike Mara, he’s firmly in control of Fiji, isn’t going anywhere fast, leads a regional grouping in the Melanesian Spearhead Group, has demonstrated a commitment to multiracialism and promises, hand on heart, to hold elections in 2014?  No, cry the critics, we want elections now! Well tough titty, it ain’t going to happen – “over my dead body”, says Bainimarama – no matter how many church halls attract a smattering of regime opponents in the weeks and months ahead.

This is the reality whether regional politicians and journalists like it or not. So isn’t it better to be there to help Fiji clear up the unfinished business of independence, help it develop its own form of democracy and maintain our collective stake in the country’s affairs? This is what the Lowy Institute and other enlightened parties -yes, like Grubsheet – prefer to a country that gradually embraces the morals and mores of the communist Chinese. Or yet another would-be soldier-turned-politician like Tevita Mara who even elements of the “pro-democracy” movement regard as undemocratic and the potential leader of Fiji’s next coup.

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Proud fijian said…
It is interesting how Australia is not going to to try to extradite the cult leader who was arrested in Pacific Harbour, Fiji.

He is said to be wanted in Australia for over 100 fraud charges. Does not Australia want justice for those victims. I wonder want the victims would feel about the Australian governments no care attitude over the arrest of this person in Fiji.

Now recently New Zealand extradited a Fijian man accused for murdering his wife in Waikato and fleeing to Fiji.

Australia is saying they dont have an extradition treaty with Fiji. will New Zealand say the same?

Will Fiji now become the prime choice ofr criminals fleeing Australia. What a load of crap Australia finds themselves in.
proud fijian said…
The inquest into the death of Josefa Rauluni (may rest in peace) shows the hypocrisy of the Australian government.

He lost appeal after appeal for a stay order on his deportation. He was actively involved in the Democracy movement according to Qarase's letter on his behalf to the Australian authorities.

Was Mr Rauluni's death a factor in allowing RUM's entry. A favour to the Democracy movement and to divert attention from the inquest on Rauluni's death which is currently underway?
Walker Texas Ranger said…
@ Proud Fijian

The Cult Leader has been round and about in Fiji. Fijians have been aiding and abetting him and giving him comfort. The information leading to his arrest with accomplices has undoubtedly been afforded to us. We should now investigate him, charge them and show what owe justice system is capable of. Oh yes, and all the locals too!

Why pass the buck?
Gutter Press said…
So, Proud Fijian - ‘What a load of crap Australia finds itself in?’ And what of Fiji? Now harbouring a person under investigation in Australia, someone who has possibly contravened Fiji’s own immigration laws. What will Fiji do now?

The only sensible course is to deport him in the usual way and thereby retain the moral high ground.

Australia will get what it wants without lifting a finger and Fiji will retain its credibility. To hang on to the fugitive, as Fiji might be tempted to do, will only serve to demonstrate that the law’s there to be manipulated as the regime sees fit. And that will never do.
Proud Fijian said…
@ Gutter Press and Walker Texas Ranger

The crimes were committed in Australia. Australia has the evidence. The victims are Australians.

Australian justice owes its Citizens to bring justice to the victims. Is that a justifiable reason?

Check out this video of the raid on the Australian property.
Proud Fijian said…
The first Australian statement I saw on TV was Australia will not extradite as they don't have extradition treaty with Fiji.

Then later they say that the guy has two passports and await Fiji's decision on his immigration status. Was that suppose to mean that Fiji has a choice of where to deport him. And Australia will take action only if the guy was deported to Australia.

Well the only reason they took this stand is in my view is that they will decline the xtradition of Mara on the grounds that they don't have an extradition treaty with Fiji.

If Fiji had not filed an extradition for Mara would they have filed an extradition for this guy? Will justice be served to Australian victims of crime when perpetrators flee to Fiji and have a legal to right to stay in fiji for long.

EG NZ person who fled to Fiji after alledgedly murdering his wife. He would have been allowed to stay in Fiji if he had a Fijian passport. So he cannot be arested on immigration laws. Would Australia file extradition if that crime was commited on their territory. NZ did. Or is fraud not serious enough?

NOw New Zealand has allowed only 2 days for Ratu Mara. Is that because they would be served with extradition and 2 days is a safe margin. Now they cannot say that they don't have an extradition treaty.

No explanation was given by Tonga. No decision on Aussie on the extradition request. NZ is next.

Nice work Fiji. Keep Aus and NZ on their toes.
Gutter Press said…
Proud Fijian
It appears that Australia doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Fiji.

This doesn’t seem to be due to the coup, since there appear to be some other peculiar omissions, such as no treaty with New Zealand or the UK either.

We can’t believe everything we read on Wikipedia. However if, in fact, it’s true that there is no extradition treaty between Fiji and Australia that I’d say that leaves the AG office here with no small amount of egg on it’s face – wouldn’t you?
Proud Fijian said…
@ Gutter

It appears there was a an Agreement in 1998.

Assuming this document shows anagreement in place in 1998.

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