#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important; #header-inner {text-align: Center ;} Fiji Coupfourpointfive: Fiji: Behind the Headlines

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fiji: Behind the Headlines

By Father Kevin Barr for the Pacific Media Centre

Many believe that coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama’s intentions are good and are in opposition to the aims of the previous indigenous supremacy coups. Some think he is power-hungry but others say that he needs time to carry out the necessary reforms and set in place a new non-racial vision for Fiji.

In order to understand the current situation in Fiji we need to go back a little.

In 2000 the democratically elected People’s Coalition Government of Mahendra Chaudhry was ousted by George Speight in a coup involving civilians and some elements of the army. The proclaimed aim of the coup was to protect indigenous Fijian rights. Political hostages were taken, parliament was trashed and orgies held for almost a month. Finally Commodore Frank Bainimarama (newly appointed head of the army) tricked Speight and put down the rebellion and released the hostages.

He took over the reins of government temporarily until he was able to appoint a civilian interim government led by Laisenia Qarase (a banker). The deal he struck was that Qarase and his interim government were not to seek election but be a caretaker government until elections were held. However, Qarase and his team used their position to fight the election. They won and proceeded to introduce very racist or pro-Fijian legislation which discriminated against Indo-Fijians and other races. They even took back into their government a number of people associated with the 2000 coup. Bainimarama objected and by 2006 friction between Qarase and Bainimarama was high and Bainimarama threatened to take over the reins of government if Qarase did not back down on his pro-Fijian legislation. He was very stubborn and refused. Finally on 6 December Bainimarama took over in a bloodless coup.

Bainimarama in charge
Unlike the 1987 and 2000 coups, which were carried out in the name of “indigenous Fijian rights”, this coup was in the name of multiculturalism. Moreover, while the 1987 and 2000 coups sought to protect the economic interests of certain business and traditional elites, this coup aimed to address corruption and economic mismanagement and see that the economy works in the interest of all Fiji’s people (35- 40 percent of whom live below the poverty line).

Despite some opposition from various political parties and other groups, Bainimarama took over and appointed an Interim Government. There was strong opposition from the SDL party (Qarase’s Party) and the Methodist Church (which took a very strong pro-Fijian nationalistic stance in the 1987 and 2000 coups).

Bainimarama tried to unite people by inviting everyone to come together and draw up a People’s Charter – a way forward for Fiji. The Catholic Archbishop (who had firmly stated his opposition to the coup) agreed to be co-chair of the People’s Charter Committee with Bainimarama. Unfortunately the SDL Party and the Methodist Church refused to be part of the Charter and stood in opposition. After 6–8 months of work, the People’s Charter was promulgated by the President. It is a very good document and tries to address Fiji’s problems and show a way forward.

Since December 2006 life in Fiji has been very calm and relatively peaceful. There were three unfortunate incidents of men being taken into police or army custody and dying because of the severe treatment they received. (Courts have since brought the perpetrators of two of the incidents to justice.) Some women’s NGO groups have taken a strong stand in opposition to the Interim Government and the army and have spoken up against any appearance of human rights violations. However, they have a very narrow interpretation of human rights. Other prominent NGOs (such as the Citizen’s Constitutional Forum and ECREA) while condemning the unlawful take-over of government and occasionally voicing opposition to some decisions, have tried to work with the Interim Government in helping to find a way forward.

One constant problem has been the holding of elections. Australia, New Zealand and the countries of the Pacific Forum have been pushing for elections as soon as possible in order to return Fiji to democratic rule. Early on Bainimarama (under pressure) said elections would be held in April-May 2009 but he withdrew this promise. In fact he does not want to have elections until some of the big problems underlying previous coups have been addressed. These are ethno-nationalism (often mixed with religious fundamentalism), the position and authority of the Great Council of Chiefs, economic mismanagement, and most of all the biased electoral process enshrined in the Constitution. Many agree on the need for electoral reform but it was difficult to undertake this because it was part of the Constitution. Unfortunately Australia, New Zealand, the US and the EU have been obsessed with pushing Fiji to have immediate elections. If this happened we would almost surely have another racist government followed by another coup. Elections alone will not ensure democracy.

The media (newspapers and Fiji TV) have taken a very negative approach to Bainimarama and the Interim Government and have often been very unbalanced in their reporting of the news. Despite many calls for a better reporting of the news from within the country the media have taken a very negative stance. The Government expelled the expatriate publishers of two of the newspapers.

Court cases
Qarase took out a court case to challenge the authority of the President to appoint Bainimarama as Prime Minister after the 2006 coup. The three local judges of the High Court unanimously (and without any pressure) declared the President did have the power to do so and that the Bainimarama Interim Government was legal. The case then went to the Court of Appeal. The three judges were from Sydney and they declared Bainimarama’s regime illegal. They said he must resign and that the President should appoint a new caretaker Prime Minister (not Qarase) to be in charge until elections were held as soon as possible. Bainimarama resigned but the President then abrogated the Constitution and said he would rule by decree. He appointed Bainimarama as Prime Minister and basically reinstated the Interim Government. Bainimarama said elections would not be held until 2014. A state of emergency for one month has been declared, foreign journalists expelled and a curb placed the local media. Constitutional appointments are being re-negotiated. The currency has been devalued by 20 percent

To all intents and purposes the country goes on as usual. There is the usual peace but everyone knows that temporary controls have been set in place. No public protests and gatherings are allowed. But day to day life goes on without interruption. Kids go to school, workers go to work, tourists arrive (in slightly less numbers maybe) and no-one is harmed.

With the Constitution abrogated the way is open for electoral reforms to be carried out so that a more free and fair non-racial election can be held. Almost surely the People’s Charter will provide a road-map for the way forward.

After the Supreme Court decision of the Sydney judges (which hopefully was not biased but which nevertheless upheld Australia’s position) I think the rest was inevitable – abrogating the Constitution, the President ruling by decree, clamping down on the media, the appointment of Bainimarama as Prime Minister and the re-appointment of the Interim Government.

Many believe that Bainimarama’s intentions are good and are in opposition to the aims of previous coups. Some think he is power-hungry but others say that he needs time to carry out the necessary reforms and set in place a new non-racial vision for Fiji. Maybe he does not always get the best advice and certainly some mistakes have been made. There is division in the political parties, the judiciary, the churches and the NGO community. Your position depends on the perspective you take.

There has been some religious mirth surrounding the coup. Some called it a “Catholic coup” because many of the army officers involved were Marist Brothers Old Boys (and then the Archbishop became co-chair of the People’s Charter and two catholic priests had non-political positions on the electoral and other boards). Some called it a “Muslim coup” because a number of Muslims took up positions of authority under the Interim government. Again, others called it a “Hindu coup” because it received support from a number of Hindu organizations.

Very recently New Zealand seems to have taken a different stance towards Fiji. The Foreign Minister says perhaps they should not criticise Fiji and harp on about elections. Perhaps they need to offer their assistance and leave Fiji decide what is best for itself. They recognise that Fiji needs to be allowed to solve its own problems in its own way. This has been a dramatic change and a very welcome one. Hopefully Australia and the US will take a similar approach. Because of the strong opposition from Australia and New Zealand, Fiji has been turning for help to India and China and receiving it. This “look north” policy may in effect be a good balance to the previous strong influence of Australia and New Zealand.

Picture: Squatters in Suva - up to 40 percent of people in Fiji live in poverty. Photo: Fiji government.

Father Kevin Barr is economic and social justice coordinator of the Ecumenical Centre for Research, Education and Advocacy (ECREA). He is an outspoken advocate on the issue of poverty and squatters in Fiji.



Anonymous said...

He forgets to mention the investigation for the deaths CRW members as being the reason for events in 2006 and that no one ever said the laSt elections were rigged and corruption cases in court were never proven.

Anonymous said...

Not at all surprising Father Barr. Now that you genuinely believe in Bainimarama's vision for a corrupt free, accotanble and transparent Fiji, why don't you walk your talk and tell Fiji as to whether it is true you were defrocked as a Catholic Priest for a despicable act? I am giving you 24 hours to tell the truth. Only then will there will be any credibility in what you say and write.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

The above comment is very true. But Frank abrogated the Constitution in May 2000 and not 1997. And he was ridiculing it left, right and centre at RFMF's QEB Barracks.
i know because I was part of RFMF. So Father Barr stop kidding and for starters why don't you start calling spade a spade and fork or knife as you have been doing?

Voresara said...

All Barr is trying to do is justify an unlawful act. No matter the raeson, the fact remains Bainimarama comitted treason and as such any government he forms lacks credibility let alone legality. No Barr you are wrong ...life goes on as normal on the surface but people are suffering, being supressed by the threat of being detained without a hope of a fair trial.

Anonymous said...

"Barr" should just 'bar' his bloody mouth..you say there is 'usual peace'....the reality is that people leave in fear in this country Barr...people are NOT at PEACE...coz everyday our people have to fight with hiking food prices...fight to survive a illness in case they might just end up dead in our illfated country's hospital, fight to protect our limb and life coz you dont know when thugs will rob and kill you and the police crusade wont be able to do anything..fight to get water in our taps...fight to hang onto our jobs because this Govt has no monies to pay us...fight for our own monies at FNPF, fight to love our neighbours coz you just never know that you might just be attacked by your own neighbour if there is a upraising....YES BARR we are FIGHTING to live and survive in FIJI you bloody idiot.....WE ARE NOT AT PEACE...coz as I write this response to your nonsensical article...I am fighting the thoughts of leaving this country for ever for the sake of my child....

FijiGirl said...

Kevin Barr focuses on the minutiae of who did or said what, rather than focussing on the overriding principles because he knows that in context of the overriding principles in this situation, Vore is wrong wrong wrong. The overriding principle in this situation is the Rule of Law, which PM Qarase obeyed to the letter, although not always obeying the spirit of the law. Barr's refusal to acknowledge the overiding principles is bizarre, especially for a man espousing himself to be of the cloth. It is like a paedofile trying to justify his sin because at least it means he loves children. It completely misses the point.
God bless Fiji

Anonymous said...

I Have just read this artical of Father Kevins and wonder at it's contents has he had his ears and eyes shut for the last few years .....I have lived that life of hardships through the last years and as one who had been brought up to live life without many things that people think are important....such as flash houses fancy clothes cars etc....When dose it come to and end in Fiji that all people want to do is to live in PEACE and school clothe and feed themselves and their familys as is the normal thing to do.Haveing lived in Labasa for 30yrs In a Fijian Village married to a Fijian man....Yes I came from overseas to that village and everything was shared with all our neibours.We looked after each other as though we were as one race....Never thinking that one was different to the other I lived through all the coups from 1987 till 2000 and each time they happend we all still drank KAVA out of the same billo as we had always done ......So Father Kevin take a look long and hard arround all of Fiji and you will see that people just want the normal love of one another first and formost... We were from all different religions but it didn't matter a bit......Fijians Indians and Little old White me loved and still love each other. I have just written a book on my life in Fiji and all that have read it have been amaized by the love and plain life things in it.

Anonymous said...

Father Kevin Barr needs to look at his ethics as a man of God. He probably knows that he is supporting a man who has ripped up and stolen our rights to a free normal, unopressed life. A life given to each one of us by god to do our best while on earth. Kevin is certainly not doing his best, he has chosen to support a military dictator. He has chosen to turn his back on the people and support a man who has killed people. He has chosen to side with Frank. Kevin you will answer when you stand before God as to why you supported satan in the form of Frank.

Anonymous said...

Well Father Kevin seems to have had a few comments written to him none of which agree with him really.......I think that should tell the world at large a story in itself don't you?.....As the days go bye and folk like me that now live in other countys get the news of our beloved Fiji and the things that are happening we just have to play the waiting game and help our family ones over there as best we can..which meens to most of us we send money so our family ones can still survive..... So if you don't have anyone to do that ...HOW DO YOU SURVIVE>........Now Father Kevin you better pray for us to keep our jobs in the overseas world ression times for us to continue to do so.......I think that would be a better thing for you to do than Trying to be a polition.....Instead of a Priest....Ok.

Anonymous said...

Like all politics in any part of this planet, he who has power rules.Wether it is money, guns or personal authority (like Hitler).Fiji's tribal laws and systems are known to most and those who don't just talk whatever they can to be in the lime light.There were under-currents during Ratu Mara and A.D. Patel days as well.Most issues were dealt with dialogue. What happenned to the Vaka Vanua attitude? Is this tradition no longer welcomed by the people of Fiji?Why do we have soldiers and guns on the streets? These things are ok in the Middle East where our own soldiers provide peace keeping resource.No, we cannot let anyone get away with injustice or our well earned taxes.No, we cannot let people in authority abuse the position.No, we cannot allow unruly behaviour anywhere- in our own house or anywhere else.
This does not mean we take up arms and go out on the streets protesting and supporting anyone's agenda.
Dialogue is the way to go, but between people with some common sense in their heads.

Anonymous said...

I think banimarama needs to seriously think about what hes doing, its not only affecting the fijiian residents but also the world. i believe should make FIJI a democratic country!
that is the best solution!