12 September, 2009

Fiji latest

Fiji is a Pacific island nation whose dysfunctional politics keep it in the news. The other day it was a visit by a Commonwealth envoy, who was there to discuss a possible return to democracy with the country's military ruler. It was previously part of the British Empire, and in that period many people from India came to the island, eventually playing a major role in the economic life of the island. After independence, the institutions of the state were initially dominated by ethnic Fijians. Over time, a politics based almost entirely on ethnicity surfaced in the country, with parties for ethnic Fijians squaring up against ones for ethnic Indians. In the 1980s, a coup by the ethnic Fijian dominated army blocked a government of mainly ethnic Indian parties (but to be led by an ethnic Fijian) from taking office.

Mahendra Chaudhry succeeded in taking office as the country's first ethnic Indian prime minister in 1999, but in 2000 he was imprisoned in a bizarre coup attempt by failed local businessman George Speight. Speight's coup failed, but the fall-out from it lives on. One consequence was that many ethnic Indians have given up on Fiji. They had constituted c. 50% of the population, but the manifest unwillingness of many ethnic Fijians to accept a prime minister from their community led many ethnic Indians to take the hint and leave the country.

Another consequence of Speight's coup is that it exposed fissures within the ethnic Fijian community. The 1980s coup against the instatement of an ethnic Indian prime minister was staged by the army, with that body seeming to maintain a formidable degree of cohesion as it acted to advance the interests of ethnic Fijians. Speight's coup, however, was staged by a failed businessman and his cronies. The army performed badly in the coup – its leaders (ethnic Fijians, like the rank and file; ethnic Indians seem to have better things to do than join the armed forces) declared for the constitutional government, but many of the rank and file seem to have sympathised with Speight.

Speight's ability to break the army's cohesion seems to have rankled with Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the army's commander in chief. My impression is that much of Fiji's politics since Speight's coup attempt is explicable by Bainimarama's personal animus towards Speight. To Bainimarama, Speight is responsible for the army's humiliation during his coup. It was moves by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase to pardon Speight and his pals that saw Bainimarama stage a coup in 2006 that has brought democracy in Fiji to an end.

Bainimarama has promised elections at some stage in the future, but no one is holding their breath. His regime has reputedly become increasingly dictatorial, arresting and harassing its opponents. It nevertheless represents an interesting development – an authoritarian government of ethnic Fijians justifying itself by fears of how a democratic regime would lead to political oppression of ethnic Indians. Bainimarama might simply be paying lip-service to the lofty goals of inter-communal fairness as a way of seizing power for himself. Even so, the army's advancing of its own corporate interest cuts across the ethnic issues that torment Fiji.

Increasing cross-community opposition to Bainimarama is, paradoxically, another positive consequence of his coup. This might be a sign that Fijians are hoping for some kind of more normal politics, one based on constitutions and rules as opposed to poisonous inter-ethnic competition and coups every couple of years.


Children of Fiji said...

hmmmm. interesting to read what an onlooker can see with the going ons in Fiji.

Just a point to remember, Bainimarama was linked to Speights coup in a 'twist of tales & facts'. Though you have pinted out the reason of his executing the 2006 coup was because Qarase wanted to pardon Speight. Check your source if I were you.
Hard core evidence of minutes taken @ the military camp in 2003 clearly shows what vb was thinking when he executed the coup. It was more than what meets the eye.

Anonymous said...

Yep. The 2006 coup was VB mopping up his mistakes in 2000.

ian said...

Thanks for the comments. Yeah, I am very much writing as an outsider, forming an impression of your country basically from what I read on the BBC News site. I'm sure anyone living there would have a very different perspective.

Children of Fiji said...

Its good to read what those observing the Fiji saga are thinking however, problem arises when the stories begins to take a strong position on for or against. Thats when the debate gets heated up as is the current case.

For those of us who are Fiji citizens by choice & by birth rights one must take a stand either way otherwise we are left sitting on the fence.

Theres one thing for sure that most of us wants our families in Fiji to enjoy the free spirited Fiji it used to be before this coup-madness. Not discounting the fact that Fiji has slid back in its economy, tourism arrivals, joblessness[force retirement of all civil servants @ age 55yrs ilo 65 yrs per current regime], increase in poverty & squatters populace [if Fiji is not careful- we'll have a mini mumbai slum city in the Pacific soon].
Thanks for your interest anyway.
Heres two links you may wish to read more on Fiji:http://intelligentsiya.blogspot.com/

Children of Fiji said...
This comment has been removed by the author.