Four Horses for Courses: Chaudhry, Mara, Singh, Baba
By Crosbie Walsh
The phrase, horses for courses, stems from the fact that a racehorse performs best on a racecourse specifically suited to it (Wiktionary) but what happens when the jockey jumps horses?
People who change their minds because they have been backing the wrong principles or practices are to be applauded, but people who change their minds when they think they are backing the “wrong horse” inevitably arouse suspicion, especially when they change not one horse but two, or even four. Sometimes, of course, people are most probably motivated by a confused mixture of principles and horses.
This seems to have been the case with former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry ousted by the Speight Coup. He initially supported —and was a part of— the Bainimarama government before resigning. He probably thought there would be an early election after the 2006 Coup and being close to Bainimarama would give him a leg start. But then there were the unanswered questions about money raised in India that was salted away in his Australian bank account, and other stories. I suspect Chaudhry is now hoping that he’s distanced himself sufficiently from the Bainimarama government that, whatever the outcome, he’ll still be a political leader, in 2014 or earlier. With a court case pending, and the likelihood that people with criminal records will not be allowed to stand for election, I wouldn’t bet on it.
Ratu Tevita Mara’s defection raises similar questions. Did he really undergo a Damascus experience that led him to reject his role in the 2006 Coup and the events that followed, or did he jump off the horse only when he was sidelined in the Military Council , sent on leave, and charged with sedition? We will never know but I think genuine democrats should tread very carefully before lending him their ears. His long term aims (that see the Great Council of Chiefs restored to their former powers and playing a major part in the interim) seem more aristocratic than democratic.
His long term future is another matter. For the moment he is a rallying point for the so-called pro-democracy forces. If they are successful in bringing down the Bainimarama government, I doubt he will have any further usefulness. If they are unsuccessful —which seems more likely— he may, with some help from ANU contacts including Jone Baledrokadroka, be awarded a PhD scholarship. But thereafter, Australia will have to give him residency rights, or failing this, he will have to decide whether to return to Fiji to face the sedition charges, or take up residence in Tonga where he now has citizenship. His second horse has not yet cleared the first hurdle and seems likely to finish an also ran.
Then there is Rajesh Singh, who recently surfaced in New Zealand to found the NZ Chapter of the Fiji Democracy and Freedom Movement that in Australia seems to have no Indo-Fijian members. In the 2001 election he stood unsuccessfully for the National Federation Party against the FLP and SDL . In the 2006 election he stood for the SDL, against the NFP and FLP. He was one of two Indo-Fijians in the SDL government in which he was appointed Minister of Youth and Sport, but six months later he was dismissed by Qarase . Following the Bainimarama Coup in December 2006, he resigned from the SDL and sought, again unsuccessfully, to attach himself to the Bainimarama Government.
Thereafter he disappeared from public view to resurface in Auckland last month where he managed to split the “pro-democracy” movement by forming the FDFM chapter that could conceivably attract more ethnic Fijian support than the reputable and well-established Coalition for Democracy in Fiji led by Nik Naidu. He likes to be a leader. That’s why he didn’t like being subordinate to Ro Teimumu Kepa when he was Minister of Youth and Sport and why he was dismissed. If NZ’s ethnic Fijians don’t want him as a leader he may need to change horses yet again.
Another person to surface in the aftermath of the Mara defection is my former colleague Dr Tupeni Baba who says the defection is the “beginning of a major crack” in a government that is “facing disintegration due to the defections of key loyalists.”
Tupeni’s motives, like Chaudhry’s, are also most probably a mix of principle and opportunism. He was a foundation member of the FLP and Education Minister in the Bavadra government that was deposed some months later by 1987 Rabuka Coup. He was Foreign Minister and a Deputy Prime Minister in the Chaudhry government that survived barely a year before being ousted by the 2000 Speight Coup. He fell out with Chaudhry and formed the National Labour Unity Party for the 2001 election. The party won two seats, and contributed to the defeat of the FLP (and the re-election of the SDL), but he was not elected. In early 2006, much to the surprise and disappointment of former colleagues on the political “left,” he accepted Qarase’s invitation to stand as an SDL candidate. He was again unsuccessful but Qarase nominated him for Senate. Had the December 2006 Coup not occurred Senator Baba would have been Fiji’s Ambassador to the UN. For a while, he seemed to be courting appointment in the Bainimarama administration but this cannot be confirmed. What is known, however, is that he did not speak out publically in the days after the Coup when many others did, and when the media reported their protests. If he was anti-Bainimarama then, he did not show it.
Now, from Guam, where his wife has a three-year university appointment, he is “predicting the collapse of Fiji's military regime as a result of the growing influence of internet activism that he said hampered the Government's attempt to control.” He says this is why the Government has tried to limit the hours of internet use.
But no key defections have been reported, even in the anti-Government blogs, and no attempt has ever been made to limit internet use — other than by FINTEL which unplugged Telecom’s internet links on Friday because it owed them money. Where on earth is he getting his information?
Tupeni is now normally based in Auckland and has not been in Fiji for a while. Some of his other comments suggest he’s more than a little out of touch. Asked by a journalist about Fiji’s exports before he gave his address at the University of Guam , he mentioned timber, food crops and some minerals, with Australia and Europe as their main destinations. No mention was made sugar, manufacturing , or Asia. He said Guam and Suva were about the same size and had one university. Greater Suva has a population double that of Guam and it has two universities. This might seem like penny-pricking but he was not well prepared for the questions.
More intriguingly, in his address, he asked how the government will “hold people together when people like me, my friends, and the academics all over the world are talking and commenting? We are the dangers to his system.”
This makes incredible reading. A government overthrown by email and lack of support from academics? Pardon, Tupeni, but when have people like you or academics ever held the people together? It certainly wasn’t in 1987, 2000 or 2006. On those occasions it was you who needed to be held together.
Bainimarama certainly needs the support of what I have called “middle Fiji” (and he has lost some of this support due to his over reliance on the military, the Public Emergency Regulations and poor PR) but middle Fiji comprises a much larger slice of civil society than Tupeni’s friends.
The Government may fall, as Tupeni predicts, but it will not be for the reasons he states. It seems far more likely, from news within Fiji, that it will survive, and Tupeni will be left riding his fourth cock-horse all the way to Banberry Cross.
One can only wonder yet again why the media rely on sources that are so out of touch with Fiji when they contain only sparse, superficial analysis, and why, in this case, they chose an obscure lecture given in Guam to broadcast around the world.
One wonders also how much weight should be given to the opinions of people who change horses so often.