Friday, January 30, 2009

This Blog Site and the Pro-Government IG Blog Site
Crosbie Walsh 30 Jan 2009

I added a link to the IG blog (Pro-Govt Blog) because IG's views are important and I'm pleased IG responded with a link to my site, which it describes as "neutral".

This mutual inclusion of links does not, of course, mean that we necessarily agree with each other's individual postings. For the record, I am particularly disturbed by the tone and threats in its recent post Double Minded RFN Bloggers.

It is easy, of course, for "armchair outsiders" like myself to call for reasoned and less emotional outbursts from all parties. It is much harder for those directly involved or affected to remain calm in the face of what, from their different perspectives, they see as obstructionism, insult or worse. It is also rather satisfying to "let fly" at opponents. But this does not mean that such an approach is wise or helpful. Indeed, it could be counter-productive. Old "enemies" will not be persuaded (so why bother to insult them), and new friends and those seeking information on the Fiji situation could well be repelled by vindictiveness.

I was repelled by John Key's personal attack at the Port Moresby Forum on Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. I find IG's threats against opponents, including Methodist leaders, Pramod Rae, Kiribati and Tuvalu, equally offensive.

To all parties, my advice would be: state the facts as you see them, try to see your opponents' viewpoint (if only to sharpen yours), present a reasoned argument, and avoid offensive personal attacks, no matter how much you are provoked. Fiji is a small country. One day your son may wish to marry your old "enemy's" daughter!

The opportunity for readers to comment and exchange opinions on postings is an important part of blogging. I have now learnt how to enable this feature and your comments are most welcome -- but do heed the advice noted above. Abusive and personal comments will be blocked.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

(o+) Pushing Fiji Regime into a Corner is Not the Way
Opinion. Crosbie Walsh 29 January 2009

The special PI Forum meeting in Port Moresby has come and gone. The Interim Government's case went unheeded. NZ and Australia pressed for firm action. Sir Michael Somare called for further dialogue. Tonga was surprisingly silent given its earlier assurance to Baimarama it would support Fiji if the "promised" deadline for March elections could not be met. John Key reportedly mouthed personal insults at Fiji's Attorney-General. Kiribati and Tuvalu wavered but eventually agreed to support the "unanimous" resolution (Fiji, presumably,opposed it).

Fiji is not to be suspended from Forum membership (the NZ media got it wrong again) but the "ultimatum" to nominate an election date by May 1 and elections no later than December 2009 is going to be hard to meet. Meanwhile, sanctions will remain in place and the Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) will continue to monitor the situation for the PI Forum.

Fiji Live reports that Fiji must:
(i) provide to Forum Leaders a new timetable agreed with all key political stakeholders, specifying in detail the agreed steps to elections and a return to democracy, and the timing for completing them, reflecting a consensus reached through a genuine, open, inclusive dialogue without threats, preconditions, ultimatums or predetermined outcomes;
(ii) make a clear commitment that any reforms agreed through political dialogue will be implemented in accordance with the Constitution and laws of Fiji; and
(iii) undertake and sustain serious and credible election preparations, including allocation of necessary resources to the Office of the Supervisor of Elections, and the prompt preparation of the electoral roll.

On the surface, these demands may appear reasonable. But in reality they will be hard to meet. The IG will not abandon the coup objectives and revert to the status quo ante, and the Qarase grouping will not co-operate (or even meet) with the IG so long as it continues to have such unconditional outside support. Why should it support electoral reform when the present system served it so well?

For the "ultimatum" to be met by the IG, the Forum (and particularly New Zealand and Australia) must put pressure on all parties involved in the Fiji impasse, not just the IG. And it must offer legal and other support to find a way of meeting the conditions which do not force the IG to abandon the coup's objectives. If this cannot be achieved before an election, there must be a firm assurance that the incoming government will reform the electoral system to make it truly free, fair and democratic.

If it does not, the IG will be backed further into the corner. As one seasoned Pacific commentatator put it:

"My worry is that the harder the Pacific countries push the regime in Fiji, there is a danger that it will transform from a relatively benign but authoritarian military-backed administration into a full dictatorship with a full crackdown on the media and total denial of human rights. As the political and economic situation deteriorates, the sort of oppression seen in some other post-coup developing countries, notably in Africa (and the Philippines under Marcos and even now under a "democracy"), could emerge".

Evidence that a seige mentality is already emerging is provided by several coup supporters responding to the Forum ultimatum:

"Let the ban come - we will not be harmed. Our decisions are our own and Fiji does not bow to any other country. If the (Forum) leaders wish to remain thick-headed about their decision, then it is their loss. Fiji will continue to slogger on as we always have. Our people are hardworking and they care enough about this country to help rebuild it and take it forward. Do not fear what you write - only fear what will happen if you do not write the truth or stand up for what you believe in. Our cause is genuine and we will not stop simply because there are a few people crying as a result of the government discovering their corrupt ways and stopping it forever".

"It is really an act of war! Where in the world have other countries put deadlines to a sovereign state!"

"I'm fighting for my country. Count on me, Frank. Don't let them dictate things to us."

Former diplomat Gerald McGhie, well experienced in Pacific affairs (Dominion Post 23.1.09), asks how "links between such longstanding Pacific partners (can) have reached such a low point" and how they may be repaired. He makes several important observations:
  • Our far less "restrictive and didactic approaches" to Asian coups."For all his faults, Voqere Bainimarama's rationale for the December 2006 coup was, among other things, to introduce proportional representation and rid Fiji of corruption."
  • Our preoccupation with the timing of elections, in the hope they will lead to constitutional change. Since this has not happened before, "perhaps constitutional change should precede an election" (as Bainimarama requires).
  • Our failure to apply the lessons learnt in resolving Treaty of Waitangi issues to conflict resolution in the Pacific.

The way forward?

"Why not," he asks, "send a team of experts to Suva to establish the broad outlines of new constitutional requirements?"

Perceptively he adds, " In discussing these issues with the politically acute (sic!) Fijians, tone and style will be vital."

My own advice to our Government? Reflect on the observation: There's only one thing worse than a coup, and that's a failed coup.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

(+B) Why Elections Cannot Be Rushed: Jone Dakuvula*
Original name “Is Fiji’s Suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum Inevitable?”
PacNews 22 January 2009

[Although overtaken by events- the Forum decision is now known - this is an important background paper on why the Interim Government maintains elections cannot be rushed. It deals with Banimarama’s “broken promise” and comments crtically on the roles played by Australia and New Zealand in Fiji’s past and present conflicts. The paper is slightly abridged, with subheadings added and key points underlined]

Why punish us when progress is being made? Suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum is a serious international issue because it would mean continued suspension of bilateral and multilateral aid that Fiji needs at this time, for at least another 12 months. Punishment of Fiji is to continue because we do not have an elected government and we cannot have an Election by March. Is this a reasonable way to treat an important member state of the Pacific Islands Forum? Why should the majority of Fiji’s people suffer another year because they have supported the People’s Charter as the most constructive way forward toward constitutional democracy? We have a legally legitimate government that is in effective control. Through the UN and Commonwealth mediation it will seek consensus on a constitutional way for electoral reform and then an election can be held. Fiji is merely asking for a bit of understanding and patience from our neighbours.

Bainimarama did not break his promise. The Tongan Prime Minister, Dr Feleti Sevele, has already stated his government’s position against suspension. He knows that Bainimarama had only agreed to the Election in March because he and PNG Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, had assured him there would be flexibility if Fiji agreed and later not be able to meet that date, then they would support him for a more suitable date. They also knew that Bainimarama had said at the Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting in April 2007 that it would take more than two years for Fiji to be ready for an Election. These two countries are likely to support Fiji at the Pacific Islands Forum meeting.

The Interim Government has repeatedly given its reasons for election delay. The Interim Government had first given its reasons for a longer lead time towards an election, in June last year in a meeting of the Pacific Foreign Ministers in Auckland. Ratu Epeli Nailatikau then warned his fellow Pacific Foreign Ministers that Fiji would ask for extension of time at the next Pacific Islands Forum meeting last year.

Last August, the Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers Contact Group visited Fiji and they were again given the reasons why postponement of the Election is necessary, from the Prime Minister, the Electoral Commission, the National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF). and others that they met. This was followed up by a comprehensive response to their draft Report to the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders, just before the meeting in Niue in August last year. Their Report had omitted the practical reasons given by the Prime Minister and the Independent Fiji Electoral Commission.

People’s Charter. Basically the interim government wants to follow the Peoples Charter as the way forward towards Election. The NCBBF after a year of public consultation has produced a State of the Nation and Economy Report and the Peoples Charter, with comprehensive recommendations for reform of the electoral system, Parliament, laws, governance institutions, the economy and other areas. It is a comprehensive reform programme and most of them can be implemented by an inclusive and committed elected government.

Non-attendance in Niue.It was unfortunate that the Prime Minister last year had to cancel his attendance of the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Niue in the last minute because of the New Zealand government’s abuse of Forum process in excluding Fiji from the post Forum Dialogue held in Auckland. The Prime Minister gave up the opportunity - that he had prepared well for -to persuade the Forum to accept the postponement of the Election because of the Peoples Charter, which now has the support of a big majority of the people of Fiji. It was put out by Australia and New Zealand that Fiji had “chickened out” of the Forum meeting.

However, it was the failure of the Pacific Islands Forum to understand and accept why Elections need to be postponed that is the reason for the continuation of this stand off. It begs the question: why should Fiji go to this special Pacific Islands Forum just to repeat what the Forum Foreign Ministers had already been told? In any case, members of Pacific Islands Forum already know why Fiji must postpone this Election and they appreciate those reasons, notwithstanding Toke Talagi and Stephen Smith’s warnings.

Australia and New Zealand’s influence at the United Nations and the Commonwealth Secretariat may have also caused the delay in the responses from these international organizations to Fiji’s invitation, in May last year, to be involved in facilitating the political dialogue. What could have started in August 2008 was unnecessarily delayed by Australia and New Zealand’s desire to keep control of the orchestration of the international relations with Fiji. This strategy is losing credibility.

Harare, Millbrook and Biketewa. One needs to go a little way back in history to see the context and the motivation behind the Australian and New Zealand government’s contradictory approach. These countries were mainly responsible for the Millbrook Action Programme on the Harare Declaration, agreed to at a meeting of Commonwealth Leaders in New Zealand in 1990. The Millbrook Action Programme spelt out the procedure that the Commonwealth would follow in case of serious abuses of Commonwealth principles in the Harare Declaration. This included overthrow of democratically elected governments. The Millbrook Action Programmes said if a government that is overthrown could not be restored sooner, following suspension of membership from the Commonwealth, at most 18 months will be given for the member to hold successfully supervised and monitored elections. And then restoration of full membership would be justified.

The New Zealand and Australian governments had in mind the experience of the 1987 Coups in Fiji. This was seen as a constructive international guideline for collective action by the Commonwealth on restoration of democracy, the rule of law and human rights in a suspend member country within a time frame that was thought reasonable.

In 2000, again Australia and New Zealand initiated at the Pacific Islands Forum the Biketawa Declaration which asserted a procedure for democratic intervention in the Pacific to “uphold democratic processes and institutions.” The Declaration said there were options for sanctions if necessary as targeted measures. Biketawa came about because of the experiences in Bougainville, the Solomon Islands and Fiji. It seemed to envisage both earlier conflict prevention initiatives, and post conflict prevention interventions.

No doubt the Foreign Ministries in New Zealand and Australia were upset that Fiji, after the Tonga Pacific Islands Forum, decided it must have its own timetable for restoration of democracy, directly challenging the commitment made under Biketawa. Helen Clark and Winston Peter’s were still smarting from their failed attempt to broker a deal between Bainimarama and Qarase to prevent the 2006 coup. Probably in their view Fiji’s defiance, if allowed,
would mean failure to enforce Millbrook and Biketawa against the country whose errant ways had given birth to these Declarations in the first place.

Sanctions and Threats of Expulsion. The credibility of Millbrook and Biketawa are at stake, so the threat of suspension is invoked. Sanctions, although irritating to the Interim Government, have failed to secure co-operation from Fiji with the Pacific Islands Forum. The Pacific Islands member states themselves have not implement targeted sanction, like prohibition of Interim government Ministers and officials from entering Pacific Island countries. This has weakened the credibility of these sanctions and the grounds for suspension, as far as the Interim government is concerned.

Putting suspension on the Pacific Islands Forum agenda will place Pacific Islands member states of the Forum in a difficult position since most of them want a resolution that preserves good relations and everybody’s dignity. Suspension from the Commonwealth was a different matter from a first precedent – setting suspension of the host and founder member of the Pacific Islands Forum. The regime of Robert Mugabe, whose record is much worse, has not been suspended from the Organization of African Unity. So why suspend Fiji when we are about to advance further the dialogue process? What purpose will suspension serve at this stage?

NZ and Australian Roles following the 2000 Coup. New Zealand and Australia need reminding that they partly contributed to the causes of the 2006 Coup when in March 2001 they ignored the ruling of their own eminent Judges in Fiji’s Court of Appeal and supported an illegal election. Compliance with the Millbrook Action Programme on Election seemed more important to Australia and New Zealand in 2001 than the rule of law in Fiji. They helped bring into power an ethno-nationalist government that ruled on the basis of rejection of the 1997 Constitutional settlement. It also disastrously mishandled relations with the RFMF.

Australia and New Zealand did nothing to urge moderation on the Qarase government, or to intervene earlier to mediate the consequent conflict between the government and the RFMF after the 2001 Election. By November 2006 when the Australian, New Zealand and UK High Commissioners intervened at Queen Elizabeth Barracks, it was too late.

NZ and Australia deny our legitimacy and encourage the opposition. Like in 2001, Australia and New Zealand have again ignored the Judgment of our High Court that had legally legitimized the Interim government. The High Court had called on the international community to assist the Interim government in its chosen path back towards Constitutional democracy. This practically means there must be flexibility and Fiji should have enough time to prepare for the Election. The Constitutional Review Commission had said 12 to 15 months from the time the Electoral reform is agreed and implemented. Australia and New Zealand should learn the lesson of 2001 and refrain from encouraging the Parties in Fiji that oppose the People’s Charter to continue to hope that the situation before December 2006 can be restored.

The Interim government has been asking for support from the international community to build a stronger foundation for return to Parliamentary democracy. This necessarily means that reform, such as that of the Electoral system, need to be implemented first, out of respect of the will of the majority of Fiji’s people who supported the People’s Charter.

Need to Support for President’s Dialogue Forum and UN Commwealth initiative. The Pacific Islands Forum should be consistent and support the consensus building amongst Political Parties and the President’s Dialogue Forum and leave to this internal process the decision on when to have the Election in Fiji. Continuation of sanctions and suspension of aid will not change the course that the interim government has taken. It is time for the international community to support Fiji’s way forward because there is no other way. Millbrook and Biketawa have not been constructive guidelines as far as Fiji is concerned and need to be reviewed in the light of experience. Fiji is not in breach of international laws. Fiji only wants to alter the timeline for Elections so we can build a firmer foundation for political stability going forward.

Suspension of Fiji from the Forum will also be at odds with the Forum’s support for the Joint UN Commonwealth initiative to facilitate political dialogue towards agreement amongst stake holders in Fiji. The Pacific Islands Forum will be wise to wait until the Joint Commonwealth UN Team complete their work. This will take some time.

Fiji has its sovereign right as an independent nation to decide its national interest and to expect other countries to respect that right and support changes, where possible, that will enable Fiji to be a good and co-operative member of the Commonwealth, the Pacific Islands Forum and the United Nations.

How Fiji deals with its problems could be an example to the international community of how a deeply divided country can resolve serious conflicts peacefully, lawfully and democratically.

*Jone Dakuvula is a former member of the Support Secretariat of the National Council for Building a Better Fiji** and previously worked for the Citizen’s Constitutional Forum (CCF))

(o) Sir Michael Somare Pleads with Forum leaders not to suspend Fiji PacNews 27 January 2009

[Sir Michael, with some support from Kiribati, Tuvalu and possibly others, may have persuaded Forum members, pushed by Australia and New Zealand, not to expel Fiji from the Forum. But the "ultimatum" finally agreed upon will be hard to meet unless pressure is also put on those opposing the Interim Government. And unless Australia and New Zealand can comprehend and adopt something of Sir Michael's "Pacific" spirit and heed his wise advice, underlined. ]

Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare has made a strong plea to Pacific Leaders not to suspend Fiji from the Forum bloc. He made the plea at the Special Forum leaders meeting underway in Papua New Guinea. In his speech, Sir Michael seemed to accept Fiji’s interim Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama’s position that Fiji will not return to democratic rule soon.

He said now its not the time for the Forum to isolate and take punitive action against Fiji. “We must therefore engage the interim government fully and help the political dialogue in Fiji to succeed. I am of the strong view that adopting an isolationist strategy would be unhelpful. I urge that we do not ignore the plea from the Fiji people, as expressed by the coalition of political parties, not to take punitive action against Fiji,” Sir Michael told the leaders

Sir Michael believes the Forum leaders are genuine in finding a long-term solution on Fiji political woes and a roadmap to democratic rule. “We are meeting because we value the inherent good that comes out of participatory democracy. “And I believe that we are meeting because we are genuinely interested in finding a long term solution to the coup culture that has unfortunately taken strong roots in the politics of Fiji.

“If there are any lessons to be learnt from the previous coups, hurriedly- prepared elections and token changes to rules do not usher in real democracy."

He said the Forum leaders owe it to the Fiji people and not to make those same mistakes.

  • “Let us help Fiji fine-tune a roadmap with realistic timelines to return her to a durable democracy.
  • "Let us identify specific areas in the roadmap where we can provide financial and logistical support to Fiji.
  • "Let us not take any decision that might have the potential to undermine the efforts of the United Nations and Commonwealth at facilitating political dialogue towards a consensus on a way forward."

Sir Michael said PNG stands ready to help Fiji conduct its election.“Papua New Guinea is ready to print the required ballot papers for the elections. We are ready to second officers from our Electoral Commission to the Office of the Supervisor for Elections to assist with preparations. We are prepared to consider funding specific aspects of the President’s political dialogue Forum process. Those that promote real consultations to build consensus amongst all stake holders in Fiji."

Sir Michael said Fiji is a delicate issue and the meeting today will represent a watershed in the Forum’s approach to conflict resolution. “It will also test the solidarity of the Forum. The choices before us are difficult."

“Varying degrees of sanctions against Fiji have been imposed. The impact of these and the damages caused by heavy rains and flooding on the lives of ordinary Fijians are devastating. Fiji needs us now more than ever before,” he

He reminded the leaders the Forum must show leadership on the Fiji issue.
"I would like to think that the Forum leadership is not about imposing our will, but about listening and extending a helping hand in ways that bring about long term solutions. I would like to think that leadership is not about abandoning our brothers and sisters in their hour of need.”

(-/o+) The Present Fiji Electoral System: Where Some Votes Count Three to Four Times more than others
28 Jan. 2009

Two posts worth looking at are in today's Pacific Media Centre blog feedback. Old Pacific-hand Ron Crocombe has some scathing things to say about the Interim Government (-), to which David Robie responds (o+).

I'll limit my comments (o+) to only one of Professor Crocombe's accusations. He is probably correct is saying that most people will continue to vote along ethnic lines, whatever the system, but he does not say that the present system offers little alternative: 46 of the 71 electorates are Communal electorates in which voters vote according to their ethnicity. The remaining 25 are Open seats.

Neither does he say just how unequal this system (which is based on provinces not population distribution) is. In the 2006 election*, for example, there were on average only 9,437 registered voters in Fijian, 4,607 in General Voter, and 5,373 in Rotuman communal electorates. This compared with 16,065 for Urban Fijan electorates and 10,762 for Indo-Fijians. Urban Fijians and Indo-Fijians were grossly under-represented.

These averages hide even further inequalities. The rural Fijian electorates of Bua, Kadavu, Lau, Namosi and Serua each had less than 7,000 registered voters, while more urbanized Ba West had 15,348, and Nadroga/Navosa 19,044.

It should be noted that the former over-represented electorates are among the least "developed" and most prone to influence by chiefs and church ministers. In contrast, the latter under-represented electorates produced two multi-ethnic Fijian parliamentary leaders ousted by racist-driven coups: Dr Timoci Bavadra, Fiji's first Labour Party leader (ousted by the "Rabuka" coup in 1987) and Adi Teimumu Vuikaba Speed, Deputy PM in the Mahendra Chaudhry Labour-led government (ousted by the "Speight" 2000 coup).

It is, of course, an over-simplification to equate patterns of voting with geographic areas, but there is some relationship.

So if each person's vote is to be of equal importance -- as the UN requires -- you wouldn't recommend the Fiji system, whatever its ethnic predispositions.

And this is not even taking into account the one in five voters who in 2006 either did not vote (many because their name was not on the roll) or had their vote declared invalid (because the system is too complicated for many to understand.)

I wonder if Forum leaders are aware of these inequalities, and whether they would tolerate them in their counties.

* For 2006 (and earlier 1999, 200o) election results, see and for full analysis by Prof. Robbie Robertson, see pp 360-383 in Walsh: Fiji: an Encyclopaedic Atlas, advertised on this blog site.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

(G) Electoral reform first, A-G tells Forum
Fiji Live. 27 Jan 2009

Fiji's interim Attorney-General has told Pacific leaders that Fiji will only hold elections when all of its political players agree on electoral reform. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told the special Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) meeting in Papua New Guinea today that electoral reform has to come first before PIF demands of free and fair elections, TV New Zealand reports.

Fiji's membership of the PIF is one possible sanction up for discussion given Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama's broken promises on a timetable to restore democracy following his December 2006 coup. The 15 PIF leaders, including Australian and New Zealand prime ministers Kevin Rudd and John Key, will discuss what they see as the best measures to get Fiji back on the route to democracy.

Once an electoral system has been established through the reforms, the process for elections can be created within 12-15 months, Sayed-Khaiyum told reporters in Port Moresby. "As the PM (Bainimarama) has said, the holding of elections for the sake of holding elections is not going to achieve any proper outcome nor will it achieve any long term democratic stability in Fiji," TVNZ reported Sayed-Khaiyum saying.

"Once we have an agreement with all the political parties it does give us the moral and the legal ability to make the necessary amendments to that process (of elections). "Sixty-four percent of the Fijian people have endorsed the electoral reforms suggested."

Fiji has had four coups in the past two decades. "That's precisely the point, the reason why we've had these interruptions to democratic parliamentary governance has been that the system has not been working and that is a fundamental principle people seem to neglect," Sayed-Khaiyum said. "We are not a military regime ... we are a valid interim Government."

Sayed-Khaiyum was sent to the summit by Bainimarama who said he is needed at home to manage devastating floods that earlier this month killed at least 11 people.

(o) Deportation of Fiji Times Publisher
Opinion: Crosbie Walsh 27 January 2009

The deportation of Fiji Times publisher Australian Rex Gardner has been widely criticised by many parties in Fiji. Media Council chairman Daryl Tarte said the action sent a "damaging message to foreign organizations." The Law Society questioned the "process". The Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) claimed further evidence of attacks on a "free press." Citizen's Constitutional Forum chairman Akuila Yabaki said the act was "unreasonable and ineffective" (no improvement in media reporting had occurred after three previous deportations.) And a Fiji Times editorial asked who was offering such "dubious advice" to the Interim Government . "It is inconceivable", it said, "that a government would take such drastic action on the eve of a regional forum to discuss the nation's future."

One cannot but agree with these judgments, whatever their motivations. Gardner was deported in the wake of a High Court decision fining his paper $100,000 for contempt. Its editor was given a suspended three months jail sentence but Justice Hickie made no judgment against Gardner because a judgment would have visa and work permit implications. The IG, however, thought otherwise, arguing that in pleading guilty to contempt of court Gardner had automatically breached work permit conditions. Immigration Director Viliame Naupoto said "It is consistent with other foreign nationals that were deported. Once they are in breach, they leave.”

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this incident, it provides the IG's critics with more fuel for their fires, and is another example of the IG's diplomatic ineptness. The Government desperately needs wise advisers and spokesmen who think very carefully before they speak. If its cause is just, as it believes, it is certainly not winning any friends by Gardner's deportation.

The irony is that Gardner's work permit expired in a month's time and he was returning to Australia on Saturday, anyway.

For the court decision, see

Sunday, January 25, 2009

(o+,o-) Three Letters to the Editor, DominionPost
20 December 2008 on

(o+)In no position to scream
I’d hoped that the new Government would lift the petty, yet vindictive, sanctions on Fiji.It has never done New Zealand any harm and it’s both presumptuous and arrogant for us to try to dictate its form of government, especially when former prime minister Helen Clark welcomed to Wellington and effusively praised Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf, who, like Bainimarama, used the military to overthrow a corrupt civilian government that was robbing the country blind.A cynical and unprincipled government such as New Zealand’s, which happily concludes a free trade agreement with communist China - probably the most murderous, odious and environmentally destructive regime on earth - is in no position to preach to Fiji.The campaign against Fiji, driven by an elite of Left-wing, liberal ideologues in the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry, is clearly against our national interests, because it will only drive the Fijians into the arms of China, which is busy extending its hegemony and making mischief throughout the South Pacific.More for our own sake than for Fiji’s, it is time to make a magnanimous gesture by lifting the sanctions and talking constructively with Fiji instead of screaming at it.
J McLLean (Khandallah)

(o+) Hoist by their own petard
No one, least of all TVNZ executives, should be surprised that reporter Barbara Dreaver was refused entry into Fiji last Monday.The manner in which TV One news reported Fiji’s alleged threat to expel New Zealand’s acting high commissioner by misleadingly featuring old footage of Fiji soldiers on patrol, dressed in combat attire, was sufficient to raise the ire of Commodore Frank Bainimarama and his staff, especially when they remembered the outrageously misleading film clips broadcast during the first coups, which showed tanks charging through the local jungle.It seems TV One was hell bent on boosting a minor diplomatic incident into war.Its reporters made sure we were facing a major crisis by over-emphasising the situation beyond its newsworthiness.If they had bothered to ask Ratu Isoa Gavindi, Fiji’s permanent secretary for foreign affairs, they would have been told that expelling diplomats would not solve the current dispute with New Zealand. And taxpayers would have been able to save the cost of Dreaver’s abortive trip to Nadi.
Jim Carney (North Shore City)

(o-) Isn’t there a better way?
Would it not be better to encourage the sons of Fijian government officials to finish their education in New Zealand (Dec 17)? Who knows they might learn something about democracy to pass on to their parents.
Ian Cook (Taupo)
(o) No wonder Fiji looks to China
Dominion Post Letter to the Editor 19.1.09

The grant of $100,000 to Fiji for the floods that have devastated the lives of thousands, with hundreds fleeing their homes, is another example of the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry’s childish and pathetic response to anything Fijian.It is not even enough to buy a bottle of water for those affected by the floods.How much did New Zealand give to Indonesia?We gave more in special aid to Tonga to buy its support for dismissing Fiji from the Pacific Island Forum. No doubt, Niue will be offered a substantial amount to support New Zealand when Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully visits it.I thought that, with the change of government, our dealings with our Pacific neighbours would rise above being childish, but I was wrong. Nothing has changed at the ministry. Our minister obviously has the strength of a wet bus ticket so there is little prospect of change.Is it any wonder Pacific nations are turning to China for assistance and advice?
Stuart Keene (Tauranga)
[Ed.Corrections: Tonga did not, and could not, dismiss Fiji from the PI Forum. NZ Govt flood assistance remains surprisingly low but now exceeds $100,000.]
(o+) NZ and Australian Policies Hindering Democracy Moves in Fiji

Letter to NZ Listener Jan 31-Feb 6 2009

I wholeheartedly support the sentiments in the well-balanced letter on Fiji by Crosbie Walsh of the University of the South Pacific in which he calls for a review of New Zealand's policy against that country (January 17).

As a New Zealander who has been resident in the Pacific Islands for most of the past 60 years, I think the hard-line policy of New Zealand and Australia against Fiji has been a disaster. Most Pacific Islanders feel Frank Bainimarama had no option but to move against a corrupt and racially divisive Government in Fiji. They also believe he is doing the right thing in refusing to hold an election until the voting system is truly democratic.

The travel ban imposed by New Zealand against family members of the Fiji regime and military has severely reduced the goodwill New Zealand has built up over the years throughout the Pacific.

Worst still, it has hampered Bainimarama's efforts to move towards a democratic government, and to improve the economy, because some of Fiji's best people have not wanted to lose their family's right to travel to New Zealand by co-operating with the regime.

The excuse offered by New Zealand leaders --that its "big stick" approach has the support of Pacific Forum leaders -- does not carry much weight, for Pacific leaders don't always represent the will of their people and most got to their position through corruption of varying degrees. They, more than most, know which side of their bread is buttered and are unlikely to bite the hand that has been feeding them so liberally for so long.

Certainly, there has been fault on both sides, but one would expect better of New Zealand political leaders than the childish posturing evident to date.

I hope some appreciation of the real situation will emerge and moves will be made towards a logical solution and a return to normal friendly relations.

Bob Rankin (Otahuhu, Auckland).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

(-) DominionPost Editorial: Floods offer way back for Fiji
The Dominion Post Friday, 16 January 2009

[A typical example of the media's bias and lack of knowledge. The floods were the worst in human memory. Many towns and cities are without drinking water. Thousands of people are homeless. Sugar and food crops have been ruined, and roads and bridges damaged. Damage in Nadi alone is estimated at $100 million. And all the editor can see is an opportunity to force Fiji's Interim Government to toe the NZ line. Do what we say and we'll give you more aid.]

Every once in a while, catastrophe has its uses. To borrow a cliche, every cloud has a silver lining, even a cloud that has delivered rain of biblical proportions across the Fiji islands since last Friday, The Dominion Post writes.

Flash floods have forced Fiji's people out of their homes, caused officials to urge them to head for higher ground and ruined tourists' holidays. At least 11 people are believed to have died because of the weather and at least 9000 have been displaced.

The miserable weather might just, however, provide New Zealand and Australia with an unexpected opportunity to reconnect with a renegade Fiji regime led by a military figure who seems incapable of grasping why both neighbouring governments find his illegitimate.

This week, the National-led Government announced it would donate $100,000 to the Fiji Red Cross to assist locals to cope with the emergency and its aftermath. Pointedly, the sum went to an aid agency, not to interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who has appealed worldwide for cash for a disaster relief fund that he controls.

Nevertheless, the message sent was that, though tensions bedevil the relationship, old friends can still be relied upon in an hour of need. Sentiment has its value.

The donation is a gesture that, if Commodore Bainimarama is smart, his administration will capitalise on because it says, in essence, that though New Zealand disapproves of his pretence of a government, its door is not closed to Suva. The next move is his.

New Zealanders might sometimes wonder why this Government and its predecessors have bothered themselves so much with the antics of the succession of bullies that have subjected the Fiji islands to four coups in 21 years. The answer is simple they comprise the largest nation in the Pacific and, like it or not, what happens in our backyard affects New Zealand. Take the migration here of hundreds of Indian families who fled Fiji after the first Rabuka coup of 1987.

The commodore's approach since he seized power in December 2006 does not make maintaining a relationship easy, however. Before Christmas, he crossed unnecessary verbal swords with new Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully over this country's refusal to extend the student visa of George Nacewa, whose father works for the Fijian president, and thus fell foul of New Zealand's travel ban.

In retaliation, Fiji expelled our acting high commissioner, Caroline McDonald, saying she had indulged in "undiplomatic behaviour". Such a claim, the returning diplomat said, was "arbitrary and unwarranted".

Young George and his father no doubt feel aggrieved. But their wrath should be directed at the proper target their interim prime minister, who might have had good intentions when he ousted what he saw as a corrupt government, but whose blatant lie about when new elections would be held and oppressive style lost him much of any empathy felt around the Pacific, within the Commonwealth, and by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

Nonetheless, natural disaster sometimes brings together the unlikeliest of people. If the awful Fiji floods encourage that, some good will come out of bad.
(0+) Fiji Floods Coverage -
What Happens when the Cameras Leave?
James Murray's blog:

[See especially the underlined comments by Robie towards the end of the interview.]

AUCKLAND (TV3/Pacific Media Watch): Fiji has been under the media spotlight in recent times following the expulsion of the New Zealand High Commissioner and the ensuing diplomatic row and more recently the devastating floods which have seen thousands displaced from their homes. The intense media coverage of these stories has no doubt assisted in bringing much-needed aid to Fiji – desperate for basics such as blankets and rice because the interim government can only budget for one major storm a year. But what happens when the cameras go home? Do we in New Zealand concentrate too much on disaster and damaged democracies and as a result miss important stories from the Pacific region that need to be told?I asked Dr David Robie, associate professor in journalism and director of AUT’s Pacific Media Centre, whether New Zealand media was doing a good job in the Pacific region. “Of course the disasters need to be well covered – and the appeals running in support of Fiji at the moment are great, thanks to media coverage,” he says.“However, as soon as the parachute reporting of whatever the current disaster or crisis ends, the regional reporting drops away and becomes almost negligible. It is one of the ironies of our technological information age that regional Pacific coverage today is often inferior to what it was a couple of decades ago.To my mind this is not for want of trying on the part of journalists at the coal-face. Correspondents such as our own Sia Aston and Michael Morrah have been energetic in bringing some very interesting news stories from the region in recent times. I am sure they would jump at the chance to be able to report more thoroughly from the area. TVNZ’s Barbara Dreaver is another example of a journalist with good local knowledge providing in-depth coverage of the region – often with the disapproval of undemocratic regimes like the interim government in Fiji.”Disaster and coup stories need to be seen as stepping stones to a greater amount of coverage of the Pacific Islands. These stories are often fascinating and are certainly relevant to our population – Statistics New Zealand estimates there were around 300,000 Pacific Islanders living here in 2006 and the figure is rising steadily.“You would think that a neighbouring country that has had a history of four coups in two decades would warrant far more comprehensive coverage in NZ than it gets,” says Dr Robie. “Fiji politics is very complex and needs journalists who have a better appreciation of the history and cultural contexts while reporting the nuances and twists in development.”

Dr Robie criticises the mainstream media’s simplification of the issues in countries like Fiji.

For instance, how many people are aware that the military government currently residing in Fiji actually ousted a government that was accused of being racist and corrupt?

Early elections will not solve Fiji’s problems, according to Dr Robie. “Without fundamental changes in the Fiji electoral system such as abolishing the communal-based electoral system and ensuring that politicians have strong cross-cultural support, for example, we'll end up with a similar government to the one ousted by the coup. And the same coup cycle will start all over again.”It is imperative to our understanding of the region that this kind of detail is reported in our newspapers and television stories.

The New Zealand media is well placed to become a leader in reporting Pacific Island affairs even if our budgets cannot hope to match those of the Australian media, who channelled a lot of resources in this area some time ago. But according to Robie, many of the Australian media’s stories are, unsurprisingly, told from an Australian perspective and the region should also be covered through a New Zealand “prism”. He says we would do well to focus on niche reporting and cites the example of Papua New Guinea. It is a goldmine of “developmental and human interest stories”, the largest land mass in the Pacific region, the largest population and has a significant expatriate community in New Zealand with aid and business links – but only a handful of “bizarre-type” stories get published each year. It is important though that the Australian and New Zealand media does not dominate the media organisations of the Pacific. They should be encouraged to thrive through mutually beneficial relationships that foster rigorous journalism in the region - by people who know the region.Let's hope that as the floodwater recedes our attention is not entirely directed elsewhere. We should take a deep interest in our neighbours' affairs – to not do so neglects many people’s need for representation but also ignores many an interesting story. * Dr David Robie is associate professor in journalism and director of AUT's Pacific Media Centre His blog is Café Pacific:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

(+B) Fr Barr's Letter for the New Year (extracts)
Everyone who writes to me wants to know how things really are in Fiji as they get such negative reporting of our situation in their national newspapers. In fact life goes on very normally for most people. A military dominated Interim Government under Commodore Frank Bainimarama has been in place since the coup in December 2006. The aim was to clean up corruption, oppose racism and recognize that Fiji is a multi-cultural country (while appreciating the privileged place of the indigenous Fijians), and to work for a better distribution of the country’s wealth in the face of so much poverty (about 40%).

Unfortunately, while much has been achieved, strong opposition from Australia, New Zealand and the US (and also from the EU and the Commonwealth to a lesser extent) has meant that development has been slow and barriers have been set in place to economic development. Travel bans from Australia and New Zealand have slowed down progress and have created ill-feeling. Instead of helping the much needed reforms they have put obstacles in the way. Yet when the previous Qarase government was pursuing its racist agenda and mismanaging the economy, they said and did nothing.

Within Fiji we have about six or eight people who are constantly on TV or in the newspapers speaking out against the Interim government. Some have termed them the “cry-babies” because they are constantly lamenting, condemning, and finding fault. They are courted by all our local (and overseas) media who themselves have proved to be extremely biased in their reporting. (Who owns them anyway?) They regularly publish articles from critics of the Interim government but rarely publish articles from those who have something positive to say about what it is doing. Actually many of those who have only negative things to say are those who have lost political (or religious) power and influence or prefer to pursue a racist agenda.

It is understandable that outsiders are concerned that military personnel have been put in positions of authority in the country – as Police Commissioner, Commissioner of Prisons, Director of Immigration etc. Yet the immigration office has never been run more efficiently and the compassionate prison reforms that have been set in place are achieving wonders. It seems that most of the military people who have been given these roles are very competent and disciplined and have really got things moving and achieved what has never been achieved for years.

The size of government and the civil service has been cut back. Although there is a lot of wrangling among lawyers, judges have been appointed to clear up a big backlog of cases. In the coming year plans are underway to improve roads, ports, airfields and to build more low-cost housing (15% of the population live in squatter settlements). New Labour legislation and environmental legislation (which had been moving slowly under the previous government) has been put in place. Indigenous Fijian landowners are getting better returns for leases and are encouraged to become partners in business enterprises.

The military do want a return to real democracy but there has been a reluctance to have elections until electoral reforms are put in place. Otherwise if elections are held under the present system they will always be racially biased and are also biased against urban Fijians who make up 50% of the Fijian population. Currently Rural Fijians get 17 seats while urban Fijians only get 6 seats. The current obsession of Australia, NZ, US, EU and the Commonwealth to have elections as soon as possible is most unrealistic until electoral reforms are set in place.

Seemingly Australia and New Zealand etc do not want to assist for fear of giving approval to an illegal regime. But the regime is trying to accomplish a lot of good things despite some occasional big and small mistakes.

Recently a well-known academic said that Fiji was becoming the laughing stock of the world. Yet at a recent NGO meeting held in Papua New Guinea, representatives of the various Pacific Island countries loudly applauded Fiji’s military leader for his courage in standing up against the neo-colonial and bullying tactics of Australia and New Zealand and demanding respect for Fiji’s independence.
(+B) Will Elections alone Solve Fiji Problems? Asking the Wrong Questions Fr Kevin Barr

There seems to be a great deal of international concern that Fiji should have elections and return to democracy as soon as possible. Calls for democratic elections have come from Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the European Union and the commonwealth. We have had the report of the Eminent Persons group. Recently we have been inundated with overseas visitors – the UN fact finding mission as well as the Commonwealth Human rights fact finding mission. Two visits have been made from the European Union. Then the Pacific Islands Forum has organized a Ministerial committee to advise on the holding of elections.

This great flurry of activity is very interesting. It seems that the international community thinks that as soon as Fiji holds elections and returns to democracy, all its problems will be over. It will be accepted back into all the organizations from which it has been expelled and all will be right with the world. There can be great rejoicing and everyone can sit back satisfied that democracy has been restored.

All this is well and good. But it has all happened before. After previous coups in 1987 and 2000 Fiji was urged to have elections and return to democracy as quickly as possible. This happened and the International community was overjoyed to welcome Fiji back into the democratic fold.

But elections did not solve Fiji’s basic problems and when those problems raised their heads again and caused serious tensions and upsets (as they did during the Qarase regime) the International community seemed quite unconcerned because a democratic government was in place. No fact finding missions came from the commonwealth or the UN or the EU. No Eminent Persons were selected to look into the problems. Our closest neighbours did little to put pressure on a racist regime to act in the interests of all its citizens. They had seen to it that a democratically elected government was in place and that was all that was required.

Yet, by now we should have learnt that democracy measured by elections is not a panacea. Rudi Guliani noted recently that “elections are necessary but not sufficient to establish genuine democracy”.

A visit was made recently by Ministers from Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and other Pacific Island Forum Nations. But they asked the wrong questions. Their main concern (or obsession) was “How soon can Fiji have elections?” They should have been asking: “What issues need to be addressed by Fiji before elections can be expected to return Fiji to real democracy?”

Every coup exposes wounds that need to be healed and the deep underlying problems that need to be addressed. Before Fiji can gain stability and effectively return to some degree of real democracy a number of serious issues need to be addressed and resolved.

1. The agenda of the extreme nationalists needs to be addressed. This includes those who want “Fiji for the Fijians”, calls for “Fijian unity” and the demand for a Christian State.

2. The explosive mix of fundamentalist religion and extreme nationalism found in the Assembly of Christian Churches in Fiji (ACCF) which seeks to have a strong influence on the political and social scene.

3. The current electoral system which is unfair to Fijians, encourages racial divisiveness and is contrary to human rights.

4. The conflicts and power tensions within some of the Fijian chiefly families and confederacies.

5. The “culture of silence” which ensures that, at election time, Fijians – especially those in rural areas – are strongly influenced (or required) by culture to vote for the candidates selected for them by their Chief, their Provincial Council or their Church Minister (thus making a mockery of individual choice and true democracy.

6. The culture of mismanagement, corruption, nepotism and cronyism.

7. The current economic policies which are creating greater poverty and inequality and giving rise to “two Fijis”.

Besides all this we need:
· a well conducted Census (now hopefully nearly completed);
· the establishment of fair and proper electoral boundaries;
· extensive voter education about the nature and purpose of democracy.

We don’t just need a timeframe for a return to democracy, we need strategies that will address the big problems underlying our instability and giving rise to constant coups.

We do not have a “coup culture”, rather we have a number of serious unaddressed problems which will continue to cause instability (and possibly further coups) until they are effectively acknowledged and addressed. Any attempt to throw a cloak of superficial democracy over them will be counterproductive.

So elections alone are no panacea for Fiji’s problems. Much more is needed is we are to gain and sustain stability. As Guliani noted above, “elections are necessary but not sufficient to establish genuine democracy”.

The recent events in Thailand should offer some warning signs that having elections and returning to democracy do not necessarily bring peace and stability. Only one year after the people of Thailand had elections, the nation is in turmoil again because the fundamental problems of the country were not addressed.

Those nations and organizations which are currently demanding Fiji to return to democracy through immediate elections may unwittingly be promoting further future conflict and disharmony.

Everyone wants Fiji to return to democracy. But, if we are wise, we will “hasten slowly” and make sure that basic problems underlying Fiji’s instability have been addressed. Only then can we hope to really return to sound and sustainable democracy.

Some say Fiji’s underlying problems are best addressed by an elected government – not by an Interim government. But this has not happened so far and the danger is that, once elected according to the present system, a new government will continue racist policies and inequality and fail to get to the root causes of the nation’s problems.

What Australia, New Zealand, the US, the EU, the UN, the Pacific Islands Forum and the commonwealth should really be looking at is whether or not the basic problems underlying Fiji’s instability are currently being addressed by the Interim government – not simply how soon Fiji can be forced into having elections for some questionable quick “return to democracy”.

Moreover if the Interim government is addressing the basic problems underlying Fiji’s instability our so-called friends and neighbours should be assisting (not hindering) this process of development.

Monday, January 12, 2009

(o+B) Living under the ‘Barrel of the Gun’
Fr Kevin Barr
Fiji Sun 21 April 2008

[Fr Barr discusses Fiji’s so-called “coup culture” by analysing the interests of the instigators and their hidden and stated goals, and the role of the military, in the 1987 and 2000 coups. He concludes by comparing these coups with the military takeover in 2006 and the very different stated goals of the Interim Government. In a separate paper Dr Sitiveni Ratuva describes the composition of the political factions in post-2006 Fiji.]

When one thinks of the so-called “coup culture” in Fiji, one immediately thinks of the Royal Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) and casts the blame on them as being primarily responsible for ousting democratically elected governments and holding the country to ransom by the force of their guns and military weapons. We often hear the expression “they came to power through the barrel of a gun”. There can certainly be no doubt that the Fiji Military have played a major role in Fiji’s four coups - either as perpetrators (as in 1987 and 2006) or as bringing about a resolution to a civilian coup in which some rogue elements of the army were involved (2000).
But is it as simple as that? As Joseva Serulagilagi said at the recent debate on the People’s Charter, Father Kevin Barr sheds light on Fiji’s Coup Culture, “Don’t kid yourselves that the RFMF is responsible for the coups. That’s far from the truth. Even passionate defenders of democracy should be scrutinised for their role in Fiji’s coups.”

Overseas Governments
It is well known and well documented that overseas/foreign governments (and one in particular) have been the instigator of so many military coups around the world in the past seventy years. The military (the men with guns) certainly played a key role in the carrying out of the coups but they were not always the real instigators of the coups.

Over the years almost all the former colonial powers (Britain, France and Germany) are on record for encouraging or instigating coups in various parts of the world in which they had political or economic interests. The United States in particular has a well documented history of instigating coups. The books of Blum and Perkins in particular provide amazing detail. John Perkins (2004) explains how a special group of US “economic hit men” were trained to operate in the interests of the big US companies so that they could gain more easy access to resources in other countries which those companies wanted to control. Uncooperative government leaders could be conveniently forced out of power or even dispatched through some “accident” so that the corporatocracy (as he calls the leaders of the big companies) could have its

William Blum (formerly employed in the US State Department) in his book Rogue State (2000) provides 68 case studies showing how, since 1945, the US has intervened in the internal affairs of various nations of the world to have democratically elected governments overthrown and sometimes replaced by military regimes if it was in their interests to do so. Blum specifically mentions US involvement in the 1987 coup in Fiji and there does seem to be a lot of evidence to support his suggestion. At the time Fiji, under the Bavandra government, upheld the policy of a nuclear-free Pacific (which the US was opposed to). It also began to move in a more socialist direction e.g. by suggestion the possible need to nationalise the Vatukoula gold mine. Even some US newspapers (e.g. USA Today) carried the story of US involvement.

Other Suspects
But it is not only foreign governments who interfere in a country’s political life by instigating coups. There are also powerful vested interests within the country which can interfere with democracy. Strong business interests can exert tremendous influence. Their involvement in the 1987 and 2000 coups has been strongly rumoured by never proven because governments have never allowed proper commissions of enquiry to be held. Coups usually need to be financed in one way or another and the million dollar question is who provided the finance? Policies which advocate “economic reforms”, cleaning up corruption, the introduction of new tax policies can all make some business interests very, very nervous.

Then there is the influence of powerful traditional elites who want to maintain or manipulate or gain power - especially if they feel they have been pushed aside by various historical events and subsequent changes that are taking place in society. The conflicts and tensions between chiefly families and confederacies in Fiji can play an important part in power struggles. More on this will be noted in the work of Winston Halapua and Simione Duratalo quoted below.

The Media
Again the influence of the media must be considered whenever a coup takes place. Newspapers, radio and TV play an important role in shaping people’s opinions and attitudes. A serious academic study by David Robie (2000) set out to show that the Fiji Times through its strong opposition to Mahendra Chaudhry (the Prime Minister of the People’s Coalition government) had created the atmosphere and fuelled the fears that led to the 2000 coup. He is not just registering his own opinion but quotes in support of his analysis the research of Nwomye Obini and the opinions of people like Michael Field, Jone Dakavula, Ganesh Chand, Jale Moala, Sitiveni Ratuva and Father Kevin Barr. Speaking of Prime Minister Chaudhry’s bad start with the media especially after a TV interview, Robie writes: “Far more worrying for Chaudhry and the People’s Coalition than Fiji Television was the Murdoch-owned Fiji Times, arguably the country’s most influential news organization.

Over the next few months, the Fiji Times appeared to wage a relentless campaign against the fledgling Government, both through its editorials and ‘slanted’ news columns.” Others, including Nwomye Obini in her 2000 analysis, noted that the Fiji Times continually bombarded Chaudhry’s Coalition with problems (big and small) in both editorials and news reports with the aim of discrediting it and preventing it getting on with the work it had promised to do in its manifesto. By highlighting issues such as nepotism, the tea lady, and other similar things and not giving fair coverage of the governments accomplishments, it diverted attention away from the larger issues of nation building. The Fiji Times was also accused of feeding into (if not helping to create) the rising tide of Fijian ethno-nationalism. Jone Dakavula in an interview with Robie (2000) stated:

“The agenda of the Fiji Times was to delegitimise the elected Government by creating a climate of scandal, loathing and fear so the Fiji Labour party, at least, would not be able to effectively implement its manifesto.” Michael Field is quoted as saying that “the election result was remarkably clear but the media or elements of it, were reluctant to accept it. There was an element in the media which was arrogantly anti-democratic, practising a we-know-best approach to democracy”. He adds: “I left Fiji wondering how much of the coup and its twists and turns was the product of the media itself.”

When Chaudhry spoke up at the Media Council against the unethical behaviour of the media -especially the Fiji Times - many voices in the media supported the Fiji Times against Chaudhry’s strong criticisms. However Ikbal Jannif (then President of the Fiji Chapter of Transparency International) noted: “It seems to me that the media wants accountability - for everyone except itself”.

An interesting thing is that the Editor in Chief of the Fiji Times during this period was Russell Hunter (Deported by the Interim Government for playing a similar role after 206.)

The media may certainly not be the main force behind a coup but its influence can be enormous and those who own and operate the media have a powerful tool at their disposal to push their agenda. They can orchestrate campaigns, magnify problems, promote scandal mongering, and distort important issues. If confronted, they can conveniently hide behind the slogan “freedom of the press”.

People and governments must carefully scrutinize the media and require that the “freedom” it demands for itself is used responsibly. Moreover a more effective and prompt means must be found to make it accountable. The present processes are quite inadequate.

Thesis of Winston Halapua
Writing of the 1987 coups, Winston Halapua (2003) in his book Tradition, Lotu and Militarism in Fiji explores a very interesting thesis. While highlighting the complexity of Fiji’s situation, he maintains that the self-interest of certain groups of traditional and business elites and not a search for the common good has been a persistent thread running through the recent history of Fiji. As he defines it, militarism involves a collusion between privilege and power and has maintained the interests of some over those of the many. He writes:

“Militarism in Fiji is closely identified with and perpetuates the interests of a section of the ethnic Fijian upper and middle classes and their allies within the Fijian chiefly aristocracy and elements of the capitalist class.” He clarifies his understanding of the term “militarism”: “In this book, the meaning of militarism goes beyond its most visible manifestation – military”.

Militarism also embraces the less visible, and sometimes unspoken, collusion between the ruling class and its alliances in the army to directly or indirectly control national decision making and the governing of a nation”. He maintains that in Fiji the complexity of militarism has been compounded by the manipulation of ethnic Fijian culture by the instigators and supporters of coups with slogans of “fighting for indigenous Fijian rights”. The instigators managed to get the military and the police to serve. Halapua (2003:2) writes:

“In 1987, the Royal Fiji Military Forces colluded with the ruling class, made up of senior and powerful Fijian chiefs and elements of the capitalist classes, and a small segment of the middle class, to subvert the democratic institutions and processes under the façade of maintaining law and order. … In justification of its actions, the military embarked on imposing a system of ethnic supremacy - in this case, ethnic Fijian political paramountcy vis-à-vis perceived ethnic Indian domination. It also gave the justification of ‘returning’ Fiji to the folds of the Western system of political alliances.”

Thesis of Simione Duratalo
To a large extent the suggestions of Winston Halapua are confirmed by the earlier thesis of Simione Duratalo (1986) who wrote just one year before the 1987 coup predicting that it would actually take place. The title of his booklet sums up its thesis - The Paramountcy of Fijian Interests and the Politicisation of Ethnicity. In simple language he maintains that the rich, powerful and privileged elite of Fijian society have deflected the criticism of the lower classes (farmers and workers) away from themselves (the upper class) to the myth of “Indian domination of the economy” and so used ethnicity to cover up what is basically a class issue. Because many Fijians have fallen for this strategy of their leaders, they have developed a strong nationalistic consciousness (based on ethnicity) rather than a class consciousness (based on economic inequality). The elite realizes that if the masses of people become united on a class basis which cuts across ethnic lines, their wealth and privileged position will be seriously questioned in the political arena. In fact this began to happen with the emergence of the Labour Party in 1985. Labour’s dominance in the elections of 1987 and 1999 could not be tolerated and so we had coups in 1987 (as Duratalo predicted cf pp. 42-43) and an attempted coup in 2000. Both coups were said to be executed for ethnic reasons - the protection of indigenous Fijian rights against fears of an Indian take-over. Thus, in Fiji, ruling class political domination has used ethnic divisions to prevent the masses from understanding the true dynamics of capitalist society and so gaining their rightful place in the economic and social development of the nation.

What emerges is that it is really class issues not ethnic issues which explain the problems currently facing Fiji. However it is in the interests of the rich and powerful elites in Fiji to perpetuate ethnicity as the explanatory factor and so deflect attention from themselves and the growing poverty and inequality emerging in the country.

“Communalism” (the division of the masses along ethnic lines) has been used as an “ideological device” to prop up and support class interests. As Duratalo (1986:3) writes: “Communalism in Fiji seeks to deflect the economic and socio-political grievances of the indigenous Fijian masses from its objectively anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist content into an ideological support for the indigenous Fijian ruling class and its local European and international allies.” Ethnicity becomes a smokescreen for class privilege. The masses are confused and manipulated into seeing their problems in ethnic terms - not as class concerns. Consequently the masses are prevented from acting as an integrated and unified political force. And so communalism emerges
as “the particular political form in which the economic exploitation of the oppressed is obscured” (p.9).

“The ruling class enjoy its position at the top of the pile in the social stratification order due to its unequal access to material and non-material rewards. These include the best food, best housing, best jobs, an unequal access to educational opportunities, health services and particular participation. They therefore are strong supporters of the status quo, in which they benefit the most, and will oppose any individual or group who aims to bring about any significant social change. One technique used by the ruling class is ‘divide and rule’. They seize upon and use to the fullest extent possible any ideological rationale that will aid in dividing the exploited population into mutually distrustful groups … and weakening opposition to a ruling class.

Historically, perhaps the most important such lines of cleavage has been the division of society into different racial groups.” (p.7) It is not untypical of right-wing political regimes to wage what amounts to a desperate ideological battle to defend the status quo by minimizing and labeling to their advantage the ever-increasing complexities that occur in a class society. They can create fears among the masses and then turn these fears to their advantage. (p.52) There is a need for most ruling classes to create a “devil” or a scapegoat. In Fiji the devil is “Indian economic dominance” (p.6-7).

According to Duratalo, the primary purpose of bodies like the Fijian Association and the Alliance Party was to protect and promote the interests of indigenous Fijians (read the chiefs) and their local European and transnational allies.

More Recent Events
While Duratalo and Halapua strive to help us understand the forces behind the 1987 coups (and perhaps the 2000 coup as well) their analysis is almost certainly not adequate to explain the December 2006 Military takeover. Some would think that the 2006 coup had very different motivation:

It was not to support “indigenous Fijian rights” and extreme nationalism but rather to promote multiculturalism, reconciliation and greater racial harmony; rather than promoting the interests of traditional and business elites, it sought to address corruption and mismanagement of the nation’s resources and wanted to see a better distribution of the country’s wealth so that growing poverty and inequality would be addressed.

The gradual build up of tension between PM Qarase and the Military Commander and the clear naming of the issues of strong disagreement between them would suggest that there was far more clarity about this coup than in the previous ones. The motivation for the 2006 coup seemed to be in direct opposition to the motivation for the previous coups. Despite talk of it being a “Muslim coup” or a “Catholic coup” or an “Indian coup” there was not the same degree of rumour involving “suspicious and shadowy figures” as their had been in the 1987 and 2000 coups. The Military saw it as its role to address racism, to clean up corruption and mismanagement and set new standards for good governance, transparency and accountability.

Nevertheless it was a Military coup and an illegal overthrow of a democratically elected government (however faulty the electoral process may have been). Many question the army’s perception that it was their role to step in and set the country on a new course. And so we are left with the question as to what the acceptable role of the army should be in Fiji today?

Christian Fundamentalism and Extreme Ethno-Nationalism
One of the extremely dangerous issues behind the 1987 and 2000 coups was the explosive mix €of fundamentalist Christianity and extreme nationalism. It remains a very serious threat to democracy and real reconciliation in Fiji in the future.

For many years now Christianity has been used to justify ethno-nationalism by extreme Fijian Nationalists (cf Barr 1998). The demand for Fiji to become a Christian State is just one manifestation of this trend. As Rev Paula Niukula pointed out, the demand for a Christian State has almost nothing to do with Christianity but everything to do with Fijian paramountcy because if all Fijians are Christians and most Indo-Fijians are not, then making Fiji a Christian State is a way of declaring the dominance of Fijians over Indo-Fijians.

The recent influx of many new Fiji-led fundamentalist churches from the US has helped to reinforce and justify for Fijians the ethno-nationalism (or racism) previously found in some certainly not all) sections of the Methodist Church. This explosive mix of fundamentalist Christianity and extreme Fijian nationalism has become a very serious threat to democracy especially since 2000 when the Assembly of Christian Churches in Fiji (ACCF) was formed in opposition to the Fiji Council of Churches (FCC). The ACCF was formed around the same time as the SDL political party and both have worked in close collusion until the military takeover of 2006. The Churches belonging to the ACCF sought to have a strong influence on the political scene in Fiji - including the elections. Two of their stated aims are to have Fiji declared a Christian State and to have only “good” Christians in positions of political leadership.

Until this use of Christianity to justify extreme Fijian nationalism is seriously addressed (hopefully by the Church leaders themselves), Fiji can expect to face more very serious problems.

These few pages have tried to widen the discussion about Fiji’s so called “coup culture” and the role the military should play in the life of Fiji.
I have tried to point out that we should not place the blame for military coups entirely on the army as though they were the sole agent at work. History shows that the instigators of coups elsewhere (and maybe also in Fiji) have been foreign governments, business interests, traditional elites and a complex mixture of all of the above.

Ethnic issues and racial tensions and misunderstandings have also been manipulated by the instigators of coups to muddy the waters and obscure the real motivation behind a coup. Some of the Churches in Fiji have also often been in collusion with the instigators of coups or have supported the coup after the event.

Speaking at the recent People’s Charter Debate, Kamlesh Arya suggested that the military should not be blamed for today’s problems for they were manipulated by those with vested interests - “The military were the henchmen used to do someone else’s dirty job”. So there can be many stakeholders behind a coup whether we call them the “suspicious and shadowy figures” lurking in the background or whether we can identify them and call them by name.

The army may be the executor of a coup but the instigators may be quite a different set of actors. The “men in suits” (or more contextually the “men in sulus”) may, in reality, be far more culpable than “the men with guns”.

Friday, January 9, 2009

(G) Qarase was killing the sugar industry
Government Release. Jan 7, 2009.

Laisenia Qarase should be the last person talking about saving the sugar industry as he did nothing in his six years to resolve the expiring land leases situation, the political interferences and the inefficiencies which plagued the industry. These are the comments of Voreqe Bainimarama, Prime Minister as he hit back at Qarase’s comments that polls can save the sugar industry.

Commodore Bainimarama said the Interim Government has been bold enough to improve the ground rental which landowners received through implementation of a 4% rental subsidy. The Government as a result paid just over $3.5 million to landowners just prior to Christmas being for 6 months. These are the types of benefits which landowners stand to gain if they agree to continue to renew expiring land leases.

With regards to bringing about improved efficiencies in the production of sugarcane, industry facilitation and milling operations, I have already announced of my plans being the following;

  • Effective implementation of the recommendations emanating from a ‘snapshot’ review of the financial and operational viability of FSC recently undertaken by Messrs Rasheed Ali and Ram Karan. This Report will be made available to all industry stakeholders once the FSC Board has considered and accepted it.
  • Expediting the mill upgrading programme under the Sugar Technical Mission (STM) assistance;
  • Giving further support to the work of the Committee on Better Utilisation of Land (CBUL) in an effort to ensure that land is made available for sustaining the existing industry and/or further expansion thereof;
  • Ensuring that agricultural inputs such as fertilizer and herbicides are readily and competitively available to farmers;
  • Reviewing the functions of Sugar Cane Growers Council (SCGC), Sugar Commission of Fiji (SCOF) and Fiji Sugar Marketing Authority to ensure that the overhead costs for farmers and the FSC are reduced and in return they get maximum benefits in areas of cane development, industry facilitation and export marketing;
  • Strengthening of the Board of FSC Ltd; and,
  • That appropriate provisions in the Master Award are reviewed and modernized to ensure survival of the industry on a sustainable basis.

Whilst EU assistance would be of help, I am not prepared to compromise the vision which the Interim Government has mapped out for building a peaceful, better and progressive Fiji just because some ‘carrots’ are being dangled at us. The Interim Government will do all it can through its determined leadership, political will and existing resources, to save the sugar industry, assured Commodore Bainimarama.

Government Refutes Reported Poll Dates

Government Release. Jan 6, 2009.

Government has refuted reports that elections will be held in December 2009. Government spokesperson and Deputy Secretary for Information, Major Neumi Leweni said today that the reports on Fiji returning to the polls in December 2009 have been taken out of context. He stressed that at the recent Bose ni Turaga meeting Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama explained the process towards the elections but did not confirm a poll date.

“The Prime Minister explained to the chiefs that the elections can only be held after the Peoples Charter for Change, Peace and Progress has been implemented and electoral reforms put in place.” He also explained that the electoral reforms itself will take about 15 months.

“There definitely was no mention of a confirmed date for elections,”Major Leweni said
(oB) Multiple Battle Lines
Dr Steven Ratuva
Fiji Times. October 07, 2008

[This is a "must" read because it identifies the many factions which make up the pro, anti, and neutral camps. ACW]

What we are witnessing now is not the normal ethnically bipolar political contestation between indigenous Fijians and Indians, a scenario we are used to and bored to death with, but a multi-dimensional political vortex with intersecting fault lines, never seen in Fiji's history. This has the potential either to lead to more fractures in an already volatile situation, or create a situation of calm as the competing forces reconfigure to create new alliances.

So where on earth are we heading, or rather, appear to be heading?

The indigenous Fijian anti-coup axis
No doubt the most visible fault line is between the anti-and pro-interim government power blocs. Beyond this simple dichotomy, the situation becomes murkier and outright confusing.

The anti-coup alliance consists of an array of diverse groups, some of which are even sworn enemies of each other. Perhaps the largest and most powerful group in the anti-interim Government alliance is what we may call the indigenous power bloc, consisting of the Great Council of Chiefs (the former, not the new version), Provincial Councils, Methodist Church, SDL Party and an array of indigenous Fijian groups.

Paradoxically, many in these groups supported the 1987 and 2000 ethno-nationalist coups on ethno-political grounds. However, they were opposed to the anti ethno-nationalist 2006 coup on the grounds that it purportedly undermined indigenous interests.

But things are more complicated here. Not all indigenous Fijians support the political ideology of the mainstream indigenous bloc. There are intra-communal differences in terms of interpretation of national politics as well as diversity of political interests and loyalties.

Some indigenous Fijians who do not support the mainstream indigenous power bloc are not necessarily supporters of the coup, but nevertheless are attracted by the coup's claim for non-ethnic and progressive reforms.

However, some of these people, disillusioned by the aggressiveness of ethno-nationalism and the extra-legal excesses of the military, have turned inwards and now see themselves as guardians of "impartiality" and middle of the road politics. Often this group is caught up in a complex dilemma because they are perceived as both pro-and anti-coup at the same time by both sides of the divide.

Some "moderate" indigenous Fijians have openly embraced the coup for a number of reasons such as their disdain for ethno-nationalism, potential to extract benefits from the new order, attraction of the promises of the coup reforms and the perception that the coup is irreversible anyway and "it's time to move on".

Interestingly some moderates have also joined forces with the anti-coup bloc on the grounds that the 2006 coup had entrenched the dreaded coup cycle which they vehemently detested. They were opposed to the 1987 coups, 2000 coup as well as the 2006 coup. The cycle of coups has destroyed their professional ambitions and optimism for a stable country.

Many members of the emerging and expanding indigenous Fijian middle class, many of whom were products of educational affirmative action of the 70s, 80s and 90s, see themselves as victims of the anti-affirmative action stance of the regime and have shown opposition to it.

For many indigenous Fijians, the perception that the coup was anti-Fijian has had a deeply entrenched impact and has shaped their negative attitudes towards the coup. Interestingly the Methodist Church, which is one of the most powerful institutions within the indigenous Fijian community, has cleverly indulged in political semantics, publicly branding the coup "illegal" rather than "anti-Fijian," although the latter seems closer to their hearts. This has provided the Methodist Church with the ideological and moral firepower to get back at the military, while at the same time mobilise local and international support.

Within the Fijian power bloc there are age-and newly created political fault lines which have been sharpened and given a new sense of resurgence after the 2006 coup, and more so by the Charter process. Some traditional high chiefs are supportive of the coup and some are against it.
Many of these are related by blood. The fault lines are shaped by an interesting interplay between traditional power struggle, kinship rivalry and modern power politics. Fijian politics has never been monolithic. It has always been characterised by diversity and often a mixture of power contestation and strategic compromises, from the pre-colonial era to the present.

Non-indigenous anti-coup blocs
There are other powerful anti-coup blocs outside the indigenous Fijian alliance. While it is generally assumed that the 2006 coup was "Indian-supported," the reality is much more complex. Some of the most vehement critics of the coup are from the Indian community. Amongst these are the Indian dominated National Federation Party which, although has not been successful at recent polls, still maintains its claim to represent "genuine" Indian interest; a claim which, for plausible electoral reasons, is seriously contested by the Fiji Labour Party.

Then there is an ensemble of Indian coup critics ranging from lawyers, civil society organisation activists, businessmen, academics, politicians and others. Their oppositions to the coup are based on different reasons. For some lawyers, it's simply a question of legality. Their entire professional disposition depends on being seen to be supportive of the rule of law, although some may harbour political and ideological sympathy for the coup in private.

For some Indians, the coup is a politically evilish activity which has ruined this country since 1987 and coups have to be resisted by all means and at all cost. For many Indian businessmen, coups undermine investor confidence and disturbs the business climate in a way that militates against their commercial interests. Many in this group would support any political party which promotes their commercial interests.

By and large, the legality question is an outwardly pervasive one and provides the common ground on which the ensemble of anti-coup critics stand, at least in terms of their public utterances, although their private political motives could be somewhat different. It's a morally strong ground to stand on, but the problem is that politically it does not allow for middle of the road engagement and compromise especially in this time of crisis when mutual dialogue and compromise is most needed. This is one of the reasons why we are still swirling around in a political vortex.

The pro-coup axis
The pro-coup axis could be represented as a series of concentric circles. The inner circle represents the Commodore and the military, the immediate outer circle is the interim Government, the circle outside that are the members of the NCBBF (many of these are independent with the aim of national unification) and outside that are the members of various civil groups and the general public who, for different reasons, are supportive of the coup.

As mentioned earlier, ethnic support is divided. The indigenous Fijian supporters of the coup are diverse in their justification. Some "moderate" Fijians see the coup as a vehicle to de-ethnicise the political discourse in the country as well as "cleanse" the country of what they perceive as undesirable leaders. Some, disgruntled with the developmental record of the previous indigenous governments, see the interim administration as a chance to fast track the development process by any means, legal or extra-legal.

The Indian supporters of the coup do so for a number of personal reasons but by and large are united by the promise of political salvation and liberation from perceived indigenous Fijian threat of political exclusion and domination. To many Indians (like other indigenous Fijians who suffered during the 1987 and 2000 coups), the 2006 coup was a reverse of 1987 and 2000 trend and provided just the perfect "sweet revenge."

Again, there is no single reason which makes people support the coup. Some are attracted by its initial promise of "clean up" and reform, some are lured by its anti-nationalist stance and some critics of the SDL Party see it as a good political omen. Some extreme indigenous nationalists even supported the coup because they were not happy with how the SDL maneuvered to destroy the nationalist Matanitu Vanua Party during the pre-2006 election merger.

Some have resigned themselves into believing that they must support anyone in power, as long as the services continue and as long as order prevails. Some even think that opposition to the coup could lead to instability thus the best thing to do is to support the regime and hopefully, as in past coups, things will sort themselves out.

The Chaudhry factor and de-ethnicisation
The Chaudhry factor has complicated the situation and has blurred the fault lines even more. Chaudhry's departure from the regime has reconfigured the fault lines in a significant way.

Firstly he has taken with him his Indian supporters who provided one of the initial justifications for the coup. Secondly, he has considerably weakened Bainimarama's political fortress and at the same time strengthened the resolve of the anti-coup opponents, many of whom have never liked Chaudhry anyway.

History has shown (as the Tupeni Babas, Kenneth Zincks, Atu Bains and Krishna Dutts have learnt) that whoever steps on Chaudhry's toes would eventually lose his or her own toes through Chaudhry's sharp, vengeful and Machiavellian politicking. He's an unrivalled master tactician in strategic maneuvers. Bainimarama has stepped on Chaudhry's toes, perhaps unsuspectingly, and now the Commodore needs to guard his own toes from now on.

At the time of Chaudhry's exit I predicted through the media that he was going to get back at the Commodore and even possibly link up with the anti-coup bloc. Although there is no formal alliance yet and there does not need to be one, the similarity in the political tunes of the two sworn political enemies, Chaudhry and Qarase, is slowly taking shape and an informal linkage of views is in the process of formation. The fact that these old adversaries now have a "common enemy" in the form of the Commodore is a significant twist in the quickly unfolding political episode. Ironically, this has de-ethnicised the political scene in a significant way.

The ethnic fault line which we have struggled over the years to eradicate is somewhat withering away as a result of an unintended political twist. This has reconfigured the cold war dynamics with Bainimarama on one side and Qarase and Chaudhry together on the other. But Bainimarama's job will probably be made easier by the brigade of anti-Chaudhry troops in the form of the NFP and even Labour Party members revolting against their leader.

For the first time in this country, since independence, the political fault lines no longer take an explicitly ethnic character. Have we now achieved what we have failed to achieve all this time?

The future hope?

Now that the ethnic fault line seems to be disappearing, half the job is already done.
We can then take this as point of departure to converge into a new political consensus.
As newfound accidental political twins, now Qarase and Chaudhry have a real chance to engage in their own dialogue to sort out their differences. The NFP can now be roped in to complete the multi-ethnic political equation of peace. They can then approach the interim Government for further dialogue and as a multi-ethnic group, they will no doubt appeal to Bainimarama's sense of multi-culturalism.

This process can take place informally at first and then transferred to the proposed political forum later for further engagement. Other stakeholders can then join in at this point and the process will then take its own course and dynamics, hopefully towards an achievable peaceful solution. So nobody wins and nobody loses, in fact everyone wins.

It's possible to turn a situation of conflict into peace, of disagreement into consensus, of division into accommodation, of vengeance into humility. Let's, as they say, turn swords into ploughshares.

Dr Steven Ratuva is a political sociologist at USP and these views are his own and do not represent those of the institution.