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The Bainimarama Screw

Mo oe mai i le Pasifika (For you, from the Pacific) - December 5, 2006

An idiosyncratic wrap of Pacific news compiled by Dr Mark Hayes.

Ni sa Bula Vinaka - Fiji Crisis Edition No 3.

The Bainimarama Screw is relentlessly tightening on the Fijian government of 'Smiling' Laisenia Qarase.

And if you listen carefully, you'll hear a very clever lawyer whispering in Commodore Frank's ear, guiding his calculated steps through the constitutional minefield his strategy, and now overtly displayed tactics, have mapped out.

Commodore Frank does not want to pull a 'technical' military coup d'etat, such as Rabuka or the Speight gang did, as this would shred the constitution, and eventually have him sharing accommodation with Speight on Nukulau Island off Suva, or in one of Fiji's noisome jails, where still rot several 2000 coup plotters. The continuing Rabuka mutiny incitement trial underway in the old Parliament House complex is a vivid reminder of both an earlier textbook (lifted from Luttwak's Handbook), and successful, military coup, and several of the reasons why this whole situation has come to pass.

Anyway, back in late May 2000, Commodore Frank abrogated the 1997 constitution as part of what we yesterday called the Get Mara coup, and, in the careful judgement from the Appeal Court in the Prasad case, was found to have done so illegally, irrespective of the extreme exigencies of the moment.

The Bainimarama Screw has the military exerting escalating psychological coercion on the government, and now, in its overt tactical phase, rehearsing the needed moves to secure key infrastructure like communications and power, securing major thoroughfares, disarming potential threats such as the police armed tactical response unit, circumscribing, but not totally restricting, the movement of key government officials, and restricting government access to the one figure able to bring the whole plan undone by reference to the rule of law, President Ratu Josefa Ililo.

It might be a 'nice' point, as lawyers are wont to say, but if Commodore Frank does just about everything but physically apprehend the government or the Prime Minister, storm Parliament, and sieze and control key infrastructure, he probably can't be eventually charged with treason and with pulling a coup. A very 'nice' point.

Wandering around Suva doing one's business with the military still loose after the November, 2000, mutiny was an extremely interesting experience. The same is happening in Suva right now.

You tend to be extremely respectful, careful, and obvious with your bodily movements, such as when walking into the foyer of Fiji TV, taking one's backpack off, speaking to the receptionist, and waiting for entry into the newsroom, and there are two huge, and extremely bored, Fijian soldiers sitting there with M-16s across their knees, and handguns at their sides. One had his radio poking out of his groin, its antenna looking like a whippy thin erection, and your sensible correspondent refrained from paraphrasing a line like, "Are you always like that or are you just pleased to see me?"

These otherwise friendly 'boys' were midgets compared to the interim PM's gigantic bodyguards we later encountered when going to the top floor of the Government Building, who bent down to walk through doorways, sideways, forearms like tree trunks, the glint of their guns in shoulder holsters, and suspicious glares which would seriously hurt anybody not on their floor of the building for entirely legitimate reasons. That was before they frisked you prior to you entering the inner office. Not quite grabbing this skinny Vulagi by the ankles, with one massive hand. lifting high, and shaking vigorously, but their sausage sized fingers missed nothing during the very thorough frisking. And the mild seasickness one felt in a taxi as it weaved, slowed, and negotiated tank traps, nail barriers, and check points manned by soldiers whose expressions ranged from extreme boredom to extreme suspicion. And struggling hard against going out of one's brain with boredom if one wasn't out and about, as well as not drowing in the rumours flooding the place at times like these.

If the power goes off, and web sites known to originate in Fiji sieze up, we watching events in the Balmy Barmy Isles from this remove will know something's gone seriously away with the Bainimarama Screw, and it's moved into a seriously hot phase.

Weird scenes around the kava bowl.

As TDBers peruse the reports to which we now link, the above brief analysis should, we trust, become extremely clear.

As the military was setting up its checkpoints around Suva last night, Phillip Adams on Radio National's Late Night Live interviewed two key NGO operators, Virisila Buadromo from the Fiji Women's Rights Movement, and Jone Dakuvula from the Critizen's Constitutional Forum.

Start with the Fiji Times, of course. Might not be as fast as other sites, but they're usually extremely reliable.

The FT's Tuesday Editorial criticises the President's office and the GCC for their lack of decisive leadership, which was a feature throughout the 2000 crisis as well, until Commodore Frank acted with the Get Mara coup at the end of May.

The Fiji Times editorialises:

"At a time when the country needs the reassuring voice of the President, there is none."When the people are scared and uncertain about their future, the President is silent."At a time when the people expect this high office to be calling for calm and the observance of law and order, the President is nowhere to be seen."People then should not be blamed for assuming that the President is supporting the clean-up campaign by the military. A statement from his office last week supporting the military's list of demands seemed strange then but now begins to make sense."The President should be more vocal and visible in supporting the democratically-elected Government. By his silence, the people may wrongly draw the conclusion that he is condoning the activities of the military which is bent on pushing aside Laisenia Qarase's government and putting in one of its own choice."The silence is all too worrying. And that goes for the Great Council of Chiefs too whose effort to facilitate dialogue between the army commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama and Prime Minister has obviously failed," the FT said.

In a feature in the FT, ANU-based economist, Satish Chand compares Commodore Frank's activities to a desert snake which poisons its prey and follows it until it dies. We prefer our description of what's happening as the Bainimarama Screw.

Overnight atmospherics are nicely covered by the New Zealand Herald, which Updates the story regularly as each turn of the screw occurs.

Yellow Bucket's moved their Dateline Suva daily commentaries back to their main Tanoa off Fijivillage, and their Monday musings, though a bit dated now, are worth considering.

With Sean Dorney apparently only filing for ABC TV News, and doing brief phoners around the ABC, the most insightful Vulagi On Line coverage comes from Fairfax New Zealand's Michael Field, filing on Stuff.co.nz.

The ABC News On Line site also carries composite reports from Suva, and agencies.

Many outlets are drawing parts of their coverage from Yashwant Gounder's Fijilive.com, which can take a while to load given the probable traffic hitting their Site, and Fijivillage.com lifts its coverage from Communications Fiji's radio reports (they're based in the same building).

And while the pro-government Fiji Daily Post has suspended its print editions allegedly due to threats from the military - we don't entirely disbelieve them, but we remain sceptical - they're UpDating their On Line presence, still asserting they have good intelligence about what the military's plans are.

As a journalist ourselves, who knows several of the local and Vulagi journos covering this constantly developing story, we're naturally concerned for their safety, and for the freedom of the media to report. The Fiji Media Council yesterday issued this statement (Word format download; we got it via Islands Business, which also has a PINA Nius Fiji crisis portal):

"The Qarase-led Government has twice been elected to lead our nation and no person, nor organisation, has the legal right to remove it other than through the processes of the constitution. The rule of law must prevail and if the military has objections to the way the country is being led it has as much legal recourse as any other citizen of this nation ­ no more and no less. It is the servant of the state and the elected Government," Chair of the Fiji Media Council, Darryl Tarte said.

"The media organisations of Fiji that are members of the Media Council, will, at all times, continue to champion the ideals of freedom of the media enshrined in the Fiji Constitution Bill of Rights. They will at all times uphold the rule of law and fearlessly denounce those, like the Military, that seek to undermine article 2 of the constitution, which states "it is the supreme law of the state.

"The Media Council calls on all leaders to observe the due process of law and not bring further international shame on our nation and poverty to our people," Chair, Darryl Tarte, said.

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