L'Etat C'Est Moi
I am reminded of these incidents, when one after another person in Fiji claims to be speaking on behalf of the people. The PM, of course, is a front runner but he is at least consulting the people, an election will be held in 2014, it is a temporary state, and he makes no pretence Fiji is a democracy at the present time.
The chiefs of Rewa
The chiefs of Rewa headed by former SDL Cabinet Minister and head of the Burebasaga confederacy Ro Teimumu Kepa , however, writing on behalf of the people of Rewa in their submission on Government's draft constitution, have assumed their traditional Louis XIV role . "We, the undersigned, in our indigenous traditional cultural roles as Turaga i Taukei, and on behalf of the people of the Vanua ‘o Rewa..."
That the chiefs have decided what the people of Rewa think should come as no surprise. As with Louis XIV the royal "We" and "the people" are seen as one. Ro Teimumu once said that she did not need need to consult her people. She knew what was best for them.
The Rewa chiefs now seek to return Fiji to what they call "parliamentary democracy." Their submission shows how much of a democracy that will be:
They accuse Government of weakening and ridiculing indigenous institutions, traditional leadership and their rights as first settlers; they complain about the loss of "special privileges... the removal of the entrenched legislations that safeguard the indigenous institutions, resources, tradition and culture." .
Not for the first time, they issue "a warning to the interim Government that it must consult fully with the indigenous Fijians and obtain their prior and informed consent before it changes any legislation or policy affecting them." And this from chiefs who consider a meeting of chiefs in the Bose Vanua is a full consultation with their own people.
And finally, they warn that "the stability, peace and progress of our beloved country can only be achieved if the rights of indigenous Fijians are recognized and respected" which sounds very much like the words used by those who supported the Speight-led coup in 2000 as justification for their overthrow of the "democratically elected" government of Mahendra Chaudhry.
"Our forefathers." they conclude, " had made compromises and had exercised goodwill and restraints in the unique role they played in facilitating the establishment of proper governance in Fiji. We remain steadfast in our resolve to stand by the resolution of the Great Council of Chiefs in rejecting the unlawful takeover of the properly elected government. We believe that the way forward for Fiji is to return to the 1997 Constitution and necessary changes shall only be made through an elected parliament."
Other chiefs, however, see the situation differently
Macuata’s paramount chief, Tui Macuata, Ratu Aisea Katonivere has applauded the PM 's decision to contest the 2014 General Elections. And he has appealed to other chiefs and all Fijians to support the Prime Minister’s political party.
Asked why, he said: “Unlike previous governments and prime ministers, Prime Minister Commodore Bainimarama has kept his promises. His Government delivers and we must all appreciate this.”
He said the people should also appreciate the determination of the Government to give all Fijians the things they needed to empower them – better access to telecommunications, better access to affordable higher education, access to affordable housing, access to water and electricity, access to legal aid, access to better roads and to skills training for our young people."
When asked about the chiefly support the Prime Minister was getting, the Tui Macuata said for the Northern Division all chiefs, except for the Tui Cakau, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, supported the Prime Minister and the Government. "Other chiefs in Fiji have given their support to the Prime Minister except for a very few.”
And another Northern chief, from Fiji's third largest island, Taveuni, also supports the PM. Ratu Talemo Ratakele, the Turaga na Tuwei head of the Wainikeli tikina, has urged his people to follow his lead and support Government. A former minister for internal affairs and immigration in the interim Cabinet formed by Laisenia Qarase in 2000, he has categorically denied a report that he had sided with the Tui Cakau, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, head of the Tovata confederacy who opposes Government.
“I just don’t know where [this information came from] as I had already advised the eight villages within the Wainikeli district to support the Government when the People’s Charter was launched.
I want to let the nation know that I join my fellow chiefs in the Northern Division and others around the country in lending support to the Prime Minister and his Government.”
So, while Ro Teimumu and the chiefs of the five tikina (districts) that comprise Rewa province accuse Government of weakening and ridiculing "our indigenous institutions and speak of "we, the indigenous people", chiefs in many other areas think differently.
Rewa is divided as are most other provinces in the Burebasaga confederacy. Important chiefs in the major islands of the Tovata confederacy (Vanua Levu and Taveuni) do not support the anti-government stance of the Tui Cakau. And in the third confederacy, Kubuna, where the headship has been dormant for 18 years, one Cakobau contender opposes government and the other supports it.
The same is true within families. Ratu Tevita Mara who fled Fiji is the younger brother of the President's wife. Ratu Jone Kubuabola is part of the United Front for a Democratic Fiji while his brother Ratu Inoke Kubuabola is in Bainimarma's Cabinet and Fiji's Minister of Foreign Affairs.
When the map is rolled out, Ro Teimumu is voicing the views of some chiefs and some people. She is not the voice of indigenous Fiji as several uninformed overseas commentators seem to assume.
-- Crosbie Walsh