Saturday, 8 September 2012


Fiji: A Paradise in conflict!
Community conflict often arises in the face of, or perceptions of, lack of access to political power and the minority will take action against a domineering majority. In Fiji, the majority are trying to keep the minority out of power. In fact they are running ‘a racist system’.
Native Fijians, the majority, believe that the Indian Fijians gain greater  benefits of  social provision and educational opportunities and land rights than they do! The Indian Fijians object to the favours given to the native Fijians!
Fiji is a democratic country which has been riddled with political conflict, rooted in the mistrust of one community of another. It is an example, also, of a country where democracy, representation and voting are not seen as securing the rights of the native citizens. Dr. Connie Marsh, a colleague of mine in Nottingham,  worked for a number of years in Fiji. She reports of tensions, conflict, and coups and whole neighbourhoods setting up protection against crime, and assault.. Tourism is a major industry. Peace and tranquility are essential to the prosperity of such a tourist paradise. But the government has been subject to four military coups since 1987! two in 1987;one in 2000; and another in 2006-07.

Fiji volunteered to be a British colony in 1874. It was granted independence in 1970, under the crown. It declared itself a Republic in 1987. Since then there has been continual community conflict between the native Fijians and the Indian Fijians.  The two military coups in 1987 triggered major emigration of Indian families out of Fiji, following the expulsion of all Indian members of Parliament and the Government. Long-standing economic and political tensions between the native Fijian majority (51% of population), and the Indian Fijian minority (44%) came to a head again on May 19, 2000, when a small group of armed men stormed Fiji’s parliament and took ethnic-Indian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, elected in 1999, and 30 members of his cabinet, hostage. The coup leader, businessman George Speight, declared himself interim prime minister and demanded the ousting of the president and the removal of the 1997 Constitution, which had allowed ethnic Indians to hold the post of Prime Minister. The military, led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama, declared martial law on May 29, obtained the resignation of President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and scrapped the 1997 Constitution. Speight claims to be the voice of native Fijians, whose traditional monopoly on land ownership was seen to be threatened by land reform measures supported by Chaudhry. There was some looting of Indian-owned shops and beating of Indians in the days after the coup. The standoff between the two contingents continued and the United States, Australia, and New Zealand have all threatened sanctions, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed concern and sent his Special Envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello, to the island. 2001 saw new elections and a new government.  In 2005, amid much controversy, the Qarase government proposed a Reconciliation and Unity Commission with power to recommend compensation for victims of the 2000 coup, and amnesty for its perpetrators. However, the military strongly opposed this bill, especially the army's commander, Frank Bainimarama. He agreed with detractors who said that it was a sham to grant amnesty to supporters of the present government who played roles in the coup. His attack on the legislation, which continued unremittingly throughout May and into June and July, further strained his already tense relationship with the government. In late November 2006 and early December 2006, Bainimarama was instrumental in the 2006 Fijian coup d'etat.

Bainimarama handed down a list of demands to Qarase after a bill was put forward to parliament, part of which would have offered pardons to participants in the 2000 coup attempt. He gave Qarase an ultimatum date of 4 December to accede to these demands or to resign from his post. Qarase adamantly refused to either concede or resign and on 5 December , President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, was said to have signed a legal order dissolving Parliament after meeting with Bainimarama. On January 4 2007 , the military announced that it was restoring executive power to President Iloilo, who made a broadcast endorsing the actions of the military. The next day, Iloilo named Bainimarama as the interim Prime Minister, indicating that the Military was still effectively in control. This government was declared illegal by the Fiji Court of Appeal on April 9th. 2009. Bainimarama was ordered by the Court to give up power to President Iloilo, leaving the way clear for new elections. The order was obeyed, effectively leaving Fiji without a government. Bainimarama assumed his role as the leader of the military! But on April 10th he was declared Prime Minister again by President Iloilo. The Pacific Island Forum of 16 nations demanded that Fiji call elections by May 1 2009. Fiji's refusal has led to their exclusion from the Forum, and their exclusion from all development grants.

It has been reported that on July 22, the government of prime minister Bainimarama has moved against the leaders of the Methodist Church in Fiji, arresting them all. At the same time the police have arrested groups of freemasons for witchcraft. Since April, President Iloilo and his prime minister have suspended the constitution, detained opponents [ or at least those that are perceived as opponents], and suppressed freedom of speech. In September 2009, the Commonwealth of Nations [a group of 53 British former colonies, dependencies, and territories] suspended Fiji on the grounds of the rejection of democracy, and the refusal to hold elections. Fiji will be excluded from all activities of the Commonwealth. On November 3 2009 the prime minister took retaliatory action - banning the envoys of New Zealand and Australia, after these governments had blocked Fiji's invitation to invite lawyers from Sri Lanka to adjudicate in the courts. October 2010, the President of Fiji is Epeli Nailatikau, following the retirement of Iloilo. The prime minister Bainimarama continues to control the military government , even though Fiji has deep financial deficits, and is totally dependent on foreign aid. The latest act of defiance against the Commonwealth has been the announcement in March 2011 by the Prime Minister Bainimarana to remove the head of Queen Elizabeth from all new currency. The Press was curtailed. There is likely to be little, if any, public dissent against the country's new order, and under emergency measures military censors have moved in to stop the press publishing stories that could cause disorder or promote disaffection or public alarm. Sweeping new media controls announced by the military government of Fiji in April 2010 have drawn howls of protest from international media groups. In New Zealand, the Newspaper Publishers' Association chief executive and NZ Media Freedom Committee secretary Tim Pankhurst said the new media decree is aimed at totally muzzling an already repressed media. Soldiers overseeing the media is a characteristic of a dictatorship, Mr Pankhurst said. Fiji Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum said all media outlets must pledge allegiance to Fiji.  Amnesty International says the human rights situation in Fiji is worsening, with government critics being abused. In a recent statement, Amnesty International said the severe beating of government critics amounted to torture and indicated that the human rights situation in Fiji was worsening. Human rights activists in Fiji have given us harrowing accounts of how politicians, trade unionists and government critics have been taken to military barracks, beaten and detained for days without being charged, said Amnesty's New Zealand branch. Emergency laws were enacted in April 2009 after the government of Commodore Frank Bainimarama dropped the constitution and sacked the judiciary.

May, 2011: BBC News : Cmdr Bainimarama said Tonga had illegally sent a navy patrol boat last week to pick up Fiji's former army chief Lt Col Tevita Mara. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said the flight of Col Mara highlighted the fragility of the Bainimarama regime. Tevita Mara  was Bainimarama's right-hand man when he undertook the coup back in 2006, so the fact that he's jumped ship is a very interesting development there, Mr Key told New Zealand TV. Australia and New Zealand have seen their representatives expelled from Fiji. The two countries have urged Mr Bainimarama to return to civilian rule as soon as possible, but he has said elections will not be held before 2014.
Jan 2012 Commander Bainimarama announced the end of emergency laws in Fiji as from January 12. Bainimarama pronounced the onset of a consultation process for a new Fijian constitution, designed to establish a government that guarantees equal suffrage [as reported by the NZ Herald]. These plans were welcomed by the leaders of Australia and New Zealand, and the members of the Pacific Forum. But they all demanded the return to civilian rule. March, 2012 Commander Bainimarama disbanded the Great Council of Chiefs, dismissing the 55 tribal chiefs as undemocratic. He confirmed that elections would take place in 2014.

Who are the losers ? the winners?
Indo-Fijian struggles for political equality in Fiji.
Sanjay Ramesh, University of Fiji 2011.

Both communities see themselves as victims and each side documents the disadvantages they face compared with the other group. The consequence has been the virtual collapse of the main industry on the island .The rise in unemployment and poverty has developed into a situation in which there are no winners, everyone loses. The beautiful island paradise suffers from rising crime rates, residents lock themselves behind  gates, fences and burglar-proof bars. Attempts at constitutional change flounder on the burden of racist ideologies.  Fijians proclaim their right to keep Fiji for the Fijians, Fijian Indians are seen as outsiders and migrants. Fiji is a segregated society. Yet this is now the third and fourth generations to be born, live and die in Fiji. Many have little or no actual contact with India. The need which Fijian Indians feel to retain their difference prevents them from recognizing any value in the Fijian culture. Similarly native Fijians are so busy fighting to retain their own difference that they lose the opportunity to benefit from the Indian influence. If native Fijians and Fijian Indians recognize their interdependence, the differences between the groups could become assets upon which both communities could build. It could lead them to recognize that although they may not like each other, they are nevertheless totally interdependent. They have lived together for many generations and their coexistence informs their whole way of life. In Fiji there was political democracy and widespread discrimination which generated a political coup and continuing feelings of discontent. Fiji continues to be a segregated society. There is poverty in Fiji and a lack of educational opportunities which severely curtails the freedom of many to escape their disadvantage. On May 31 2012, it was announced that 32% of the population are living in poverty .The illegal military government of Fiji has not resolved the situation, which is now worse with all development aid being stopped by the Pacific Island Forum. However, recent evidence shows that tourists give little thought to politics. During the year, June 2011-2012, Fiji welcomed 643,000 visitors, more than before; and was declared top as the world family holiday destination.

January 31 2013. There was an announcement by Commander Frank Bainimarama that the new draft constitution will be 'dumped'. [Bainimarama has ignored the fact that a Constitution cannot be approved by the Military . It has to be approved in Parliament.] The final version of the new Constitution was released in August 2013; and approved by the President in September 2013. Plans for the new Elections in September 2014 are being set up.Of course the new constitution will not resolve the divisions in Fiji. The New Constitution does establish the authority of 'Parliament'; outline the system of elections, and legislation, and justice. It asserts clearly the immunity of those persons who were responsible for the state of emergency e.g. Commander Frank Bainimarama.

The Election Office reports on March 1 2014 that Commander Bainimarama has announced that he will resign from command of the Fijian Military and put his name forward as a candidate for the first Democratic elections on September 17th. 2014.

The Elections Office urges ‘Raise your voice and use your vote for a truly democratic Fiji’

September 21 2014 Commander Bainimarama is sworn in as the Prime Minister of Fiji following the election of the FijiFirst Party with 32 seats out of 50 in Parliament and an outright majority.

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