|KEY PLAYER: Tui Cakau Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu|
By Jone Baledrokadroka
After all the WikiLeaks brouhaha involving US diplomatic cables from Australia and New Zealand on Fiji’s military regime, at the end of the day it will all boil down to a local solution.
That the meeting between the turaga Tui Cakau Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu and interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama took place is the most significant local dialogue breakthrough for a nation in dire straits.
For any ruler, authoritarian or democratic, the ability to navigate among various political forces and to build coalitions is important for survival.
What is certain is that next year, for the military regime to stay on its present course limits its survival options in a crumbling economy. With all the fallout from the high echelons of the regime, this year, the interim PM is now surrounded with even more “yes” men unable to transmit bad news of impending economic disaster. Weren’t we all duped by Governor of the Fiji Reserve Bank Sada Reddy’s soothing economic assertions, before he jumped ship?
Anyway, we understand, Bainimarama took on board the advice of the leader of the all important Matanitu Tovata confederacy and his once political antagonist, the former front bencher in the SDL government.
After the usual Fijian tauvu pleasantries, the political nut that was laid bare was the issue of the role of the Great Council of Chiefs in providing legitimacy to the regime, now that almost all Provinces seem to have acquiesced to the regime’s rule.
Fiji is fortunate in having the existence of the erstwhile GCC as a ready-made institution capable of organizing political rule and cracking hard local political nuts as it did in 1987 and 2000, albeit flawed to critics. In addition with the Methodist Church being granted its annual conference next year, Bainimarama’s two alleged primary source of political insecurity may well lend him a helping hand, vaka Viti style.
More importantly, the fact remains; the GCC is the constitutionally appointed body for selecting the President. International credibility in this high office may, therefore, be restored should the GCC be convened to do so.
With a legitimate President as guarantor, the interim PM can then present his road map to democracy plus an exit strategy for him and his regime to the GCC, for endorsement. The phase after can be to address policy caveats to the IG’s road map with political parties to solicit co-operation.
The quid pro quo may then be international Presidential legitimacy from regional stakeholders for the GCC choice versus the IG’s road map to democracy on a negotiated election date with the military disengaging from government.
Even authoritarian rulers fear threats from important segments of society and seek co-operation by concessions in terms of sweetener policies. With the recent pay increases to the police and nurses that are conveniently pegged to the SDL’s Job Evaluation Exercise of 2003, the raise was obviously directed to both essential government services to garner crucial support despite the national public debt at a bloated 57% GDP. Obviously, the nine other occupations minimum wages increases, as promised, was not national priority for the IG and has been further postponed till May next year - if ever.
Meanwhile, Bainimarama’s once loyal lieutenants Brigadier Pita Driti and Lieutenant Colonel Tevita Mara’s decommissioning letters from the Minister of Defence Joketani Cokanasiga lays on the interim President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau’s desk waiting his signature, sealing their fate.
Without a case to answer, the Minister of Defence is on orders to end both officers’ military careers for being threats to national security.
Ratu Epeli as Commander in Chief of the military is not buying the set up as his predecessor did. He is between a rock and a hard place and diffusing this impasse, in which he has the biggest personal stake, is a tad more complicated.
Convening the GCC may save face for all and may well be the light at the end of the tunnel for what is surely shaping to be another rut of a new year.