Fiji Military in Our New Constitution

By Subhash Appana

The hottest topic in the country right now, despite the resounding political-economic and diplomatic successes of Commodore Bainimarama in PNG, is the new constitution. On the other hand, the most troubling thought in people’s minds is the role of the Fiji military and the spectre of coups that has dogged the country ever since it was decided in 1987 that a coup was not only needed, but acceptable for the country in order to ensure that “democracy was alive and well” in this our blessed country.

The reason why people think of coups in connection with the Fiji Military Forces is because each of Fiji’s coups has either been directly executed by the FMF or been backed by the same. In May 1987, even though Rabuka was the number three within the then RFMF, he had the backing of both the numbers within the force as well as the Fijian establishment – that helped legitimize and enforce that coup. The same happened in September 1987 after the Deuba Accord – between Ratu Mara, Ratu Penaia and Doctor Bavadra - displeased certain sections of the Fijian establishment.

In 2000, the Speight Coup was executed by a band of opportunists who had among them highly trained military personnel. This however, was only the first layer of the narrative. Ensuing layers showed chiefs, disaffected politicians, irate pastors, ambitious bureaucrats and threatened businessmen. The support structure for that coup however, did not end there - there was a direct military link. The CRW soldiers who ramrodded Speight’s siege of parliament for 56 days were an elite part of the FMF. Later they were joined by other soldiers led by Major Jo Savua.

The 2006 coup was both planned and executed by the FMF after a prolonged face-off with the SDL government extending to the installation of Qarase as interim-PM in July 2000. At that point in time, the FMF ruled within a framework of national emergency and Qarase was given the headship of the government executive by Commodore Bainimarama who had elicited an undertaking from the former banker that no coup-tainted persons would become part of government. This was later defied by an increasingly slick and pro-2000 coup Qarase. That was what led to the 2006 coup.

It can be seen from the brief history of coups outlined above that all of Fiji’s coups had military involvement. Thus it should be abundantly clear that only the FMF can successfully execute coups in Fiji. And by the same token, only the FMF can prevent coups in the country. This clearly spells that the FMF must have a role in the upcoming framework of government being proposed by the Bainimarama government. Just what that role would be, is not clear as we’ll see shortly.
It is with this in mind that a concerned Taveuni villager, Sevanaia Watekini, recently asked the AG if there were any provisions in the draft constitution that would guarantee there wouldn’t be any more coups in Fiji (FT 18/4/13). Mr. Sayed-Khaiyum’s response is interesting as he mentioned that indeed the draft constitution did have mechanisms to address this. Firstly, he referred to Section 130 (3) which states: The Prime Minister must appoint a Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, who shall be responsible for exercising military executive command of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.
In the above proviso, the PM acts as Commander-in-Chief of the FMF. It needs to be noted that in earlier constitutions, the President was the Commander-in-Chief, but this did not prevent coups even though those Presidents were highly respected and loved (one might add). So how can the public be assured that by making the PM Commander-in-Chief, Fiji would re-bottle the coup genie? Sure, with Commodore Bainimarama as PM, we have an assurance. But what happens when he is no more?
The second explanation that the AG gave in Taveuni was that development is being carried to undeveloped rural areas of Fiji. He used the example of Naitasiri, implying that if that province had been assisted and developed adequately, the Naitasiri support for Speight’s coup would not have materialized. Sure, but didn’t the Qaranivalu play a role in galvanizing Naitasiri support? Is the chief no longer a force of influence within the traditional Fijian system? And how much assistance is enough to pre-empt coups?
It is obvious from the above that more thought needs to be given to the issue of the role of the Fiji Military Forces and coups. In fact, this appeared to also have crossed the AG’s mind when like a true lawyer he added, "I don't think any government around the world can guarantee to stop a coup but there have been mechanisms put in place to prevent a coup." It is these “mechanisms” that I wish to talk about next.

The draft constitution says: 130 (2) It shall be the overall responsibility of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to ensure at all times the security, defence and well-being of Fiji and all its residents. This however, becomes meaningless when a coup is executed by the FMF. The conundrum that arises is: can the military be given a constitutional role vis-à-vis government and coups? Two additional questions arise as corollaries: Can coups be prevented in Fiji? And what do we do in the event of a coup?
One possible proposal arises from the concept of “Guarded Democracy”. If the FMF were to be constitutionally established as the “guards” of democracy in Fiji, they would have the legal means to execute a coup to ensure that democracy delivers and is not hijacked as was the case that led to the 2006 coup. In other words, a coup of the type executed by Commodore Bainimarama would no longer be a coup as it would involve the military simply executing its role as the guards of democracy within constitutional provisos.

Fiji would then accept the coups (as has always happened) and we would find a constitutional path back to democratic governance while the military would return to barracks within the confines of the constitution. No international outcry from indignant, inadequately informed neighbours, no legal wrangles, no sanctions, less uncertainty, and most importantly an extremely cautious new government fully committed to the ideals of true democracy. Just think about it!



Subhash Appana is an academic and political commentator. The opinions contained in this article are entirely his and not necessarily shared by any organizations he may be associated with both in Fiji and abroad. Email appanas@hotmail.com
Sent 24/4/13





Comments

Reality said…
So you are suggesting FMF be given the right to exercise a coup anytime they want in the future (kind of like they have in the past) but with less hassel.

Subhash - Not sure if you have lost the plot or are looking for role on Franks team !

Certainly this is what Frank wants but he seems to forget there is no guarantee the he will always be in charge of the FMF (or government) and nothing stops the FMF being as hopeless or selfish as the former politicians he hates so much.
Mark said…
The only real solution is to forge a defence treaty with New Zealand or USA, and then to permanently disband the military.

How?
1.) Provide a guarantee of immunity to every person in the military.
2.) Offer each officer/soldier a position in the British or Australian armies (those countries will be happy to assist in ending all Fiji coups). Some in the navy can be absorbed into a newly formed coast-guard (non-armed form of the navy). Those who decline should be offered very very handsome redundancy packages (2yrs pay?).
3.) Give the senior officers a million dollars each.

Just give them whatever it takes to put down their weapons forever. The cost of disbanding the military can be recouped easily by selling off the weapons/hardware/property of the army and navy.

Many who have been hurt badly by the military will not want this, seeking vengeance instead... but these people are shortsighted and selfish.

We need to think of the future. $100million dollars is a tiny price to pay to ensure no further coups and to secure for our children a stable democracy.
Anonymous said…
Yes - i dont see how this works in practice - all sounds good until the military decides to do something you are not happy with.
John said…
I fully agree with Subhash. The right solution is to make military coups legal. A few rules should however, be observed when the next colonel wants they key to the governments treasure chest: 1. Minimum rank for a coup leader should be corporal. (We do not want every disgruntled grunt going on a rampage) 2. Coups have to be approved by an independent regulator (I suggest a team of Croz, Graham and Sharon). 3. Coups can only produce benefits for FMF soldiers. Any spill over to the civilian world would be a waste of scarce resources. 4. Coups need to be coordinated with our new friends in North Korea and China in order to make sure that the interests of these friends are maintained.
Joe said…
Subhash is spot on. I think the whole point is for the military to see that legislations of the govt are constitutional, and if so, there is no reason for a coup. I cant understand why everyone is pointing their fingers at the military and not governance. All former PMs, except Bavadra(wasnt there long enough) thought they were handed a blank cheque by the electorate, eg buying off shares meant for the poor, selling off iTaukei land, the stinking mahogany deal, etc. It is absolutely necessary to have a guarded democracy, which only the military can provide.
Anonymous said…
Give them jobs in real armies? What as? Latrine cleaners?
Mark said…


@croz You should really do more to moderate the comments on here. Comments for and against are healthy and welcome, but comments that add nothing to the conversation make your blog no more constructive than the garbage on c45. I can take and give potshots all day, but doesn't really foster healthy debate.


Anonymous said…
I am of the view that Fiji needs a military but of a small size. A military has a role in democracy and that role is to uphold security of the country and as in others who need help (peacekeeping). The former is important to the nation's sovereignty. The latter builds the nation's good character. Made simple, Fiji has built a reputation in the world from its exceptional peacekeeping performance in past years - this is a 'patent for peace builder'.

Whether there will be future coups or not, I believe, lies on Fijians' realization that their dream of having a piece of the 'good life pie' is possible. When this dream is possible, the issue of military government is not important; it is the issue of a good quality of life. But to achieve this, the people must start to do something even if it is difficult.Not just floating with the tide or sitting on the fence. Try to take some positive actions - positive change in doing things. Keep doing the good things and get rid of the bad things. I think that getting the idea of the military supremacy in the minds of the people is overrated.
Mark said…
@Anonymous

I appreciate your opinion, but I respectfully disagree. A military has no role other than to defend against foreign attacks. Given that Fiji has never ever needed to defend itself from foreign attack, and that in this day and age, the likelihood of a nation declaring war against Fiji is almost zero, there is no need for a fiji military.

However, note my suggestion of signing a defence treaty with a stable foreign power we can trust (AUS/NZ/US). This would be similar to the treaty South Korea has with the US, whereby any attack on S.Korea would result in a counterattack by the US. See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_of_Samoa

As for peacekeeping... I definitely see the value in that, and it has helped Fiji's international standing, but the damage done to us by our own military far outstrips any benefits provided by peacekeeping.

Imagine a Fiji with no guns. Such a place would truly be the paradise we've long claimed to be.
Anonymous said…
Bula Mark. So what makes you think that New Zealand has a chance of being attacked by a foreign power? (more so than Fiji in this case)
Anonymous said…
Your point that Fiji has never ever needed to defend itself from foreign is incorrect. During WWII Fiji did try to protect itself from a Japanese attack with the help of allies.

If the likelihood of a nation declaring war against Fiji is almost zero then many countries such as NZ, Tonga, and W/Samoa has the same status- who would want to declare war on them...

I watched the ANZAC day memorial ceremony in Canberra today and the experience reaffirmed my view that the military is very important to a nation state. The speech by a former liberal leader really touched me and reaffirmed my view of the need for a military in Fiji. I quote:'...it was the sacrifice of these [Australians who passed in battle] men that defined Australia today [meaning these soldiers sacrificed their lives give Australians an identity].The same for Fijian soldiers. They fought WWII, served war-torn countries so Fijians should have an identity in this world. This is irreplaceable. Military is an important institution.

When I look at Fiji's problems, I do not blame the military. I blame the leaders of Fijian society - civil leaders (parents, chiefs, village headmen, managers, church leaders and politicians. At the most, they fail to create and nurture great-character (honest, trustworthy, respectful and kind) people in family, communities, modern work organisations, the churches and national governments. Creating this great-character persons, to some degree, failed; even if there are some families, communities and work organisations which tireless promote these values of honesty, trustworthy, respect and kindness, they were not many in Fiji society.

Crosbie Walsh said…
@ Mark ... It's always difficult to know what to do about the sorts of comment you mention. I've tried several approaches and now think it's best not to block or delete them unless they are utterly inane, too personal or vicious, or if they start to dominate the comments page. We just have to put up with them. But you will have seen that I've deleted one such inane comment today.
Anonymous said…

A solution to our rogue Bati that play at policeman.
Australia, New Zealand invite Fiji bati to be part of a 3 way Defence Force.
Australia , New Zealand share costs.
A treaty put in place to sort out the mechanics of it all.
This will remove a $100 + million burden on Fijians.
A cheap $50million for Australia and New Zealand to have in team South Pacific.
Stability to a part of the Pacific for ANZUS.

Fijians can once more serve in a professional institution with pride, that can reclaim its once respected place in Fijian society.




Anonymous said…
@Annonymous reply to Mark-

Well put. I think people need to make a distinction between an institution and the people that are holding positions at a particular time in an institution. RFMF has a proud history and just because people disagree with Frank's 2006 coup (which is legally wrong just like any other coup), wiping the military will not solve Fiji's issue. As you rightly highlighted Fiji's issue is wider than the military. 2006 military coup is the ONLY military coup carried out by RFMF in its entirity (as Subash states in his article). Coup was planned and executed by Comd RFMF and Officers, others were carried by elements of RFMF without the Comd's knowledge.
Apart from 2006 coup, others were the result of elements of Fijian Society at large either it be Great Council of Chiefs, Methodist church, Indian businessmen, elite fijians and so forth. Unless we tackle the ROOT of Fijian coup culture which lies in the wider fijian Society rather than just getting rid of a "branch" (RFMF), Fiji will not progress. Some may argue that with military gone, there is no coup-wrong. Because you will still have the Police whom could be utilised by any disgruntled faction to overthrow the government.
As an aside, hindsight is a great thing and it makes me wonder if Sitiveni Rabuka ever thinks, "maybe I shouldn't have never opened the pandora box in 1987". Thoughts?
Anonymous said…
Turaga Bete Bati Matanitu

Polotiki taucoko

Ca ko Bau sa ca ko Viti.

E vei na Dina?

E vei na dodonu?
Rebuild the shattered reputation said…
Fijians are potentially good professional soldiers. Unfortunately they have been very poorly led in recent years, particularly since Dec 2006. Their international reputation is severely tarnished and will take a lot of rebuilding. The old corrupted unprofessional leadership needs to be weeded out. Although it is good to see that many of these useless treasonous fools, like Col Toptugger, are dropping off the perch because they can't handle the guilt of destroying their own nation, a massive cleanout with renewed professional leadership is urgently required.
ma345 said…
the fijian military now only serves themselves and as mercenaries to carry out soldiering in other peoples conflicts as a way to raise money and remittances.They are cheap canon fodder and cheap seat fillers like the nepalese and bangladeshies
Patriot said…
Fiji will need a military. First sort out the discipline - done!! Understand that the commander is the head and fix the command structure- done! The church and the chiefs tried to screw with the military through traditional allegiances to god and chief! They tried to control the genie and be king maker.. and now guess who gets to pick king!! Sorry but the fault lies with us the itaukei because we think we can get things done through traditional allegiances and we tried this ... it blew in our faces ..big time! So there is no solution except the military becoming a genuine guard and bastion of democracy. There is no way around this because unless there is an arm confrontation to remove the very essence of the military. ANZ will not intervene because I like any local will defend my country and they know that we as itaukei are gentle but very committed to our nation - and severe resistance will be met to any foreign aggression. There is no short term solution, we can only put all processes in place and hope that our nation is never again taken for a ride by the elitist clans for their selfish motives. Power is always temporary but hope is eternal. I am an optimist and think that this time we will succeed with or without outside conditional help. There is hope and my children are the ones to carry the torch of democracy and freedom. There is always a lot of chatter but like most issues they make good reading for a PHD thesis! The reality is different and people get hurt. Anger can never be taken away. Forgiveness is a nice word but like coups it can become cyclic with time. We can analyze the coups , who did what and why? But the genuine work on the ground is needed to break this evil cycle.. that is why it is crucial that this nation moves forward. We need to because our children will thank us for this. The past must never repeat itself. God bless Fiji. we move forward..for the children.. lets make sure the past is kept for lessons that must be learnt... and of course for future researchers and theorists!
Anonymous said…
The specter of the RFMF has been embedded and it will remain embedded in any future democracy. Once it was seen as the champion of indigenous nationalism, which was nothing more then the indigenous oligarchy using it to get back into power. Now the RFMF has dislodged them and they have come to their senses (hopefully!) that after all it was not a wise thing to ride on the tiger's back. There was always the potential that it would snarl back at those who took advantage of it. It finanlly happened and Fiji will never be the same. Learn to live with it - aftern all what can you do? It has performed better than the any of the past governments since independence.
Mark said…
Sorry, I have visited the gun batteries at Momi and Bilo and know Fiji has readied herself against a foreign force. Poor choice of words... I meant we haven't actually had to... never had to rebuff an invasion, and even when Japan was a menace in the Pacific, we had the support of ANZAC forces if we needed it.

> When I look at Fiji's problems, I do not blame the military. I blame the leaders of Fijian society

That may be a fair assessment, but what now? As long as the military is here, coups will happen. Pandora's box has been opened. The genie is out of the bottle.


> I watched the ANZAC day memorial ceremony in Canberra today and the experience reaffirmed my view that the military is very important to a nation state. The speech by a former liberal leader really touched me and reaffirmed my view of the need for a military in Fiji. I quote:'...it was the sacrifice of these [Australians who passed in battle] men that defined Australia today [meaning these soldiers sacrificed their lives give Australians an identity].The same for Fijian soldiers. They fought WWII, served war-torn countries so Fijians should have an identity in this world. This is irreplaceable. Military is an important institution.

I appreciate your sentiments. Truly, I do. I too had family members who served (in Borneo). The place those brave men hold in our history will never be forgotten. However, we honour them by spreading peace and love and freedom, the things they fought for. Holding on to our corrupted military does not honour the men who once served under her banner.

We must look to the future. The world is a vastly more stable place now that we have mutually assured destruction by nuclear bomb as a deterrent.

Our current military swallows up a hundred million dollars a year and shits out absolutely nothing positive. That's money that could be training nurses who could replace soldiers as our human resource export in exchange for remittances.

It has served us well in the (distant) past, but is past its use-by date. I believe we should let it go.
Anonymous said…
the military in fiji and elsewhere, by its very nature is anti-democratic. What gall to suggest they are 'safeguarding' anything except their own interests, cronies, secrets and power.
rusi said…
BOYCOTT the elections, it is the only way they will understand the regime doesn't get to control the whole process.
Anonymous said…
We seem to forget that the reason the FMF are in control is purely due to the corruption evolving from our then politicians running the country. We can't entirely blame the military...let's face it, the military makes up the component of any society and to say to wipe them off completely is absurd

. I'm in favour of anonymous comment below:-

"Apart from 2006 coup, others were the result of elements of Fijian Society at large either it be Great Council of Chiefs, Methodist church, Indian businessmen, elite fijians and so forth. Unless we tackle the ROOT of Fijian coup culture which lies in the wider fijian Society rather than just getting rid of a "branch" (RFMF), Fiji will not progress."

We gave every other politicians to have a go in the running of the country, give the military a go and then make your decision on the outcome after the election in 2014. Beside as a Fijian landowner, thumps up to Bainimarama for making the changes within the land lease.

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