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Tracking Fiji's Latest Coup - A roundup of the second week
Specialist in Pacific media and journalism and their contexts, Dr Mark Hayes, is a very close Region watcher, as well as often a traveller Out There.
He's been closely following developments in Fiji for several years, peering into his tanoa (kava bowl) to make deeper sense of what's really going on in what he calls the Barmy Balmy Isles, because Fiji can be a pretty crazy place at times, at least to a Vulagi (White person, outsider), and, particularly in summer, can be brain fryingly, sweatily, humid, as well as hot. Great place and time to catch tropical heat rash.
His earlier contributions to Webdiary on Fiji, which contain useful background information to better understand the current situation were What's Really going on in Fiji, from early January, 2006, Peering into a kava bowl, again... predictions for Fiji's election outcome, from late April, 2006, and What's Really going on in Fiji, Redux, on November 7, 2006, based on his Daily Briefing contribution from the previous day.
In that last offering, Dr Hayes predicted that a coup was not looming in Fiji at that time, and he was right. But events escalated through November and into early December, using a strategy being followed by Fiji's military head, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, which Dr Hayes called 'the Bainimarama Screw'. The target of the Screw was the Qarase government, and the strategy reached its tactical conclusion on Tuesday evening, December 5, when Commodore Frank pulled Fiji's latest coup.
Dr Hayes spent the second 'coup week' of December 11 - 15, 2006, continuing to produce special daily editions of his Pacific News Wrap - 'Mo oe mai i le Pasifika (For you, from the Pacific)' - for the subscriber-only alert and digest service, The Daily Briefing.
Webdiary publishes those daily Fiji Coup/Crisis Special Editions with kind permission from Dr Hayes and The Daily Briefing, as a unique account of the second week of the year's major story from the Pacific.
Some of the Links to which Dr Hayes refers below might not work, as newspaper and on line news services may have archived particular articles in the days since the original Daily Briefing editions were published. Also, some of the text here might differ from the originally published material due to last minute, on line editing on The Daily Briefing's site.
'Mo oe mai i le Pasifika (For you, from the Pacific)'
An idiosyncratic wrap of Pacific news compiled by Dr Mark Hayes.
Compiled by Dr Mark Hayes.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Ni sa Bula Vinaka - Fiji Coup/Crisis Edition No 7
We all need some good news from the Pacific to start the week, so visit the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme's web site for the 2006 SPREP/PINA Environmental Awareness Awards, which, we think, were announced last week (no indication of actually when the awards were announced on either SPREP's site, or Pacific Magazine's site, which lifted the story off the Cook Islands Times, whose site is unevenly updated).
Anyway, congratulations to all the winners, but it's a pity there were no radio entries this year. Radio is still by far the most important medium in the Pacific, with the needed reach to get to remote communities and islands, and it's cheap to broadcast and receive. And we note the gratifying number of woman among the winners too. Excellent work.
While your correspondent's got a profound aversion to commercial media, loathes celebrity, fashion, and all that stuff, we alert TDBers to the January 2007 edition of Marie Claire Australia , starting at Page 78. An excellent spread on global warming, starting with its effects on Tuvalu. My Kiwi photographer friend, Jocelyn Carlin's classic, heartrending, evocotive picture of Tuvaluan teenager, Nancy Uelesone, in the middle of a Taisala (pond, borrow pit) on North Funafuti, Tuvalu, opens the spread. Her bewildered expression sears into the reader's heart. Or it, and her story told in the opening paragraphs of the spread, damn well should. 'Why are you rich, developed world, people doing this to us? What have we done to you?' she seems to be asking the reader of this expensive and glossy mag.
"The place Nancy Uelesone calls home is far from a secure and happy childhood dwelling. Every morning, the young girl gazes out to the opal-blue sea waters in trepidation, knowing that in a few weeks time the annual high tide will again begin to creep menacingly over her remote Pacific island, licking the front door of her wooden home. It’s an event she has learnt to dread and, as the water comes closer, the 13-year-old sits huddled in the darkness night after night with her parents and two brothers, all wondering helplessly whether this time the sea will wash over their island for good," starts the Marie Claire story.
(A nit to pick. Your correspondent's quoted in the article, but we have no affiliation at all with the Brisbane Institute; never have. I asked Marie Claire to correct my affiliation, but they obviously didn't. We have some other issues with Marie Claire's, and similar, depictions of Tuvaluans as passive victims of global warming - they most certainly aren't - and point TDBers to our Pacific Magazine piece back in May . But, through Marie Claire, the Tuvaluan story gets to an audience fairly accurately who might never otherwise have heard of the place.)
Ms Carlin's been in Fiji this last week, and we're trying to get some of her reflections on what she saw and photographed. We've seen some of her typically powerful recent pics from Fiji and will try to link to them before week's end.
Radio Australia's In the Loop programme continues to re-define the definition of ecclectic, this week with items on new Pacific writing, spice recipes, an exhibition at Auckland Museum tracing the voyages of the world's greatest oceanic navigators - Islanders -, a female Indigenous singing duet, and bees for fun and profit in the Pacific (Podcasts off their part of RA's Site).
For more Regional news, we point TDBers to Pacific Islands Report , out of the East West Centre in Hawai'i, which trowls Regional media with a practised eye and loads weekdays early afternoons Australian time. Vinaka, Peter Wagner and crew.
The December edition of Islands Business magazine is On line too, which is always worth a visit. Check their always ascerbic Whispers column, and, this edition, their Letters section too. When their November edition was published, Laisa Taga's 'Letter from Suva' column ran an attack on PINA and its President, Fiji TV's Ken Clark, claiming he was handing PINA over to Australian control through AUSAid funding. Mr Clark went ballistic, and your correspondent was very soon in receipt of his extremely strong riposte, Off the Record, unfortunately, so we couldn't promptly share it with TDBers. December's Islands Business runs his Letter, and it's worth a read. (Ken's been very busy this last week, joining the media freedom fight against the Fiji coup, but more about that below.)
Pacific Magazine , based in Honolulu but edited in Sydney, often sources daily news from Northern Equatorial Pacific sources, reflecting its somewhat USA-influenced perspectives, but also has correspondents in Fiji and elsewhere in the Anglophone Pacific.
We've neglected Francophone Pacific News in recent weeks and days, but we do claim to be 'idiosyncratic' and never claim to be comprehensive; nobody can be across such a diverse Region as the Pacific. We always recommend Oceania Flash , compiled in Suva and funded by the Suva-based French Embassy, for the best news bridge between the Francophone and Anglophone Pacifics. (Free subscription and English e-mails and site headlines and digests available.)
The recovery of Tonga after November's riots continues, and Matangi Tonga's the best place for news from the Friendly Isles.
Earlier in the week, Pacific Beat's On the Mat ran a two parter on Tonga which is worth a listen too (Podcast off their Site).
Oh, and last Monday lunchtime, we attended another Pacific-focused Seminar sponsored by the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland, where Hope Alvarez Cristobal, from Guam spoke, and quite frankly, scared the s*it out of your correspondent, and that takes some doing. She sketeched out the effects of the massive US military buildup on her island, and on her people, the Chammoros . Back in July, 2006, Pacific Magazine did a cover story on this military buildup . It's really, really scary.
Now to the Barmy, Balmy Isles.
If TDBer's want to revisit last week's coverage and analysis, we've passed it on to Web Diary , who've loaded it, in full, to their site. Be assured, TDB gets our Wraps first, and we leave a decent interval before we re-publish elsewhere.
We left off last Friday's edition of the Wrap mid-morning, and, of course, developments and reportage continued apace.
Predicting the next moves in continuing coups is like trying to juggle poorly set jelly, but the signs in Fiji are ominous that Commodore Frank's coup is on extremely shakey grounds. It's vital to look very closely and carefully at each of the fractures, as each has their own dynamics in play.
There have been several statements, such as from New Zealand PM, Helen Clark, who met with Commodore Frank in Wellington a fortnight ago, along with Laisenea Qarase, in a failed attempt to stave off the coup, to the effect that Commodore Frank's 'deranged'. Several reports have also pointed to Commodore Frank's narrow escape from mutineers in November, 2000, and police investigations into the fatal beatings of captured former-CRW soldiers later that terrible day, as major motivations for his coup. The Weekend Australian's story on these angles was especially graphic. Certainly, Commodore Frank was profoundly shaken back in November, 2000, and that's the kind of traumatic experience which can trigger several well known mental disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. But newspaper and magazine 'psychoanalysis' is the worst around, and only his doctor could shed light on Commodore Frank's mental state now.
Oh, he's the fellow Commodore Frank appointed, at no notice, apparently, as interim prime minister, who helpfully told ABC's AM the next day that the coup was illegal, but motivated by 'higher' demands and standards.
"JONA SENILAGAKALI: Takeover, there's no doubt about it, that is correct. It is an illegal takeover. It's an illegal takeover to clean up the mess of a much bigger illegal activity of the previous government. So what choice do you have?
To me, it's better that you do this illegal activity to clean up a much bigger illegal mess so that it can bring peace and joy to the people of Fiji. Not only to the Fijians, not only to the Indigenous Fijians, but to all the people of Fiji.
MICHAEL VINCENT: What moral authority then do you have, if you accept that what you are doing is illegal?
JONA SENILAGAKALI: Well, I have this conviction that I've been called by divine authority to do something for the people of Fiji. I'm a Christian, and I go by Christian teaching."
A smart media advisor would strongly counsel not to let the interim PM anywhere near a 'hot mic' or a telephone with an experienced Australian journalist on the other end, at least until he got his messages sorted out.
The Fiji Times on Monday has a profile of Dr Jona Baravilala Senilagakali .
We don't think Commodore Frank's mad, or strung out with some mental disorder like PTSD. We rather suspect that he's largely motivated by a profound disgust at contemporary Fijian governance and could well be driven by an equally profound, almost religious, desire to act decisively to fix it. But he's also not a raving religious fanatic, despite being a regular church attender. We wonder what effect the condemnation of the coup from the Roman Catholic Church's, Archbishop Petero Mataca , would have on Commodore Frank, who's a Catholic.
The 'Book on Coups', which Rabuka followed very carefully and successfully in 1987, stresses that a coup plotter must grasp and control communications channels, including the media.
Speaking of Rabuka, his trial for allegedly inciting the deadly November, 2000, mutiny is expected to conclude in Fiji this week, as the SMH reports .
When the military came for the Fiji media on Tuesday night last week, key media operators glared at them, faced them down, refused to publish their propaganda, alerted overseas affiliates and media freedom proponent organisations, and by Wednesday morning, the military backed right off (see also, Pacific beat's On The Mat for Friday, below). Later in the week, however, the military started monstering some media correspondents, which attracted appropriate reports, as well as attention from the Fiji Human Rights Commission, which has statutory fiat under the 1997 Constitution.
Some coup opponents are just opportunists, hoping to get some advantage from the fallout. Others are out for long nurtured revenge against individuals they believe wronged them back in 2000 and 2001, and those out for revenge need to be carefully examined - nationalist identities out to get Commodore Frank for squashing their Speight-fronted putsch; Labour identities out to get nationalists for their putsch against the Chaudhry government, and so on. This 'smelly' group of opponents are jostling for attention and support, variously framing their pleas to sound like they're ardent pro-democracy supporters. The mix is murky, complex, shifting, and potentially explosive.
The awful continuing dilemma is for pro-democracy activists who, as we have reported, largely had no time or support for the Qarase government, for many of the same reasons as did Commodore Frank. But their support for democracy, the rule of law, and the constitution overwhelms their distaste for Qarase, and fuels their opposition to the coup. The military views them as Qarase supporters, or at least acts against them as if they are. The idea of Qarase trying to return to Suva this week, and even taking on the aura of a martyr to democracy, is almost literally nauseating.
Saturday night saw the military monstering some harmless pro-democracy protesters , which, if handled tactically, would provoke further destabilising backfire against the coup. ABC News also ran a story on military harassment of resistance to the coup, drawing on AFP as well, on Sunday night.
The Fiji Women's Rights Movement issued a statement on other, related, monstering, involving respected human rights lawyer, Imrana Jalal, and FWRM chair, Virisila Buadromo, getting threatening telephone calls.
“I received a phone call on Monday afternoon (4th December) – an anonymous male voice threatened me with rape and attempted to intimidate me,” said Jalal, who has reported the criminal threat to the police.
When she asked the caller to identify himself, “I was told that they would ‘shut me up forever’ and I was to wait because they would come and get me.”
FWRM Executive Director Virisila Buadromo was also told to ‘stop what she’s doing’ by a male caller who identified himself as being from the military.
“These threats against unarmed peace activists by the armed forces seem extreme. We have simply been advocating for the basic principles of the rule of law and democracy,” said Ms Buadromo, in a media release your correspondent received late on Sunday afternoon.
Memo to whoever was responsible - Don't go messing with these two formidible NGO operators. It simply isn't worth your while. You won't believe what you'll bring down upon yourself and your cause with this kind of idiocy. They have no fear, and can mobalise civil society like nobody else in Fiji.
A player to watch is Ratu Epeli Ganilau , who reckons he could play a mediating role through the current crisis . He's certainly got more than sufficient traditional, and relational, as well as career, mana or status, and he's got no reason to support Qarase, if only because of his disrespectful dumping from chairing the Great Council of Chiefs back in 2004. He was kicked out of that role because of his criticisms of Qarase government policies.
Of course, we're always alert to anything Vice-President, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, is doing or saying, but the military's apparently sent him back to his home village.
The police seem to be supporting the coup, but if we look closer, they're really doing what police should actually be normally doing. If routine policeing helps keep opportunistic criminals out of the military's way, that seems to support the coup, sort-of.
The Fiji Law Society has disbarred military lawyers, who owe professional duty to the rule of law and the constitution above all else, and the courts have pledged to continue 'business as usual', including hearing closing submissions expected this week in the Rabuka alleged mutiny incitement case, as the SMH reported on Monday .
The FT on Monday also reports on a Fijian constitutional lawyer considering the 'doctrine of necessity' as a legal basis for the coup, and it looks pretty shakey in his view.
Civil servants are in a similar bind as the cops. Their CEOs seem to be subjected to the Bainimarama purge, but lower level civil servants appear to be conducting 'business as usual' too. A cash crisis could also cruel the coup, with the Finance Ministry CEO last week slapping a small limit on government expendiature, and then disappearing, along with other key ministry CEOs.
The Churches also seem to be split over the coup, as RNZI reported. The Ecumenical News Service reported the Fiji Council of Churches condemned the coup early last week. But one can always guarantee somebody from some church, or two, will pipe up with a 'yes, no, and maybe' position, that churches must stay out of politics, all they can do is pray for peace (but keep passing the contribution plate), etc and so forth. Christians in Fiji range in theological sophistication from being as learned and wise as anybody else in the world, witness Rev Dr Ilisea Tuwere, though based in Auckland, and several theologians at the Pacific Theological College, through to sincere but confused, to raving idiots, racists, religious pornographers, leeches, and con artists who should not even be let anywhere near a Sunday School. One that's been closed for a very long time. Hindus and Muslims seem to have been extremely quiet indeed, for obvious reasons.
The Fiji Times on Monday also reports on come Church reactions to the coup .
There have been several reports about how the military might be also deeply divided, even after Commodore Frank's apparently purged the ranks of known dissenters in the last few years, months, and weeks. To be sure, given the Vanua affiliations of the almost exclusively Indigenous Fijian military, many soldiers would be torn between the messages they'd be getting from their Vanuas, chiefs, and even families, as well as uneasy about the treatment handed out to respected high chiefs such as the President and Vice-President, pro-democracy messages from some, but by no means all, church leaders, their loyalty to their fellows in uniform, and strongly influenced by the military's internal propaganda and discipline. And given Fiji's 35% poverty level, having a male breadwinner in uniform means a regular meal ticket and some income for extended families all over the islands who would otherwise experience extremely dire circumstances indeed.
Another Fiji Times story about how Christians are responding, or not , to the coup points to how one congregation at a pentecostal church prayed for the military.
Graeme Dobell on ABC Radio National's Correspondent's Report explored the Fiji military with Bob Lowry, who knows the military better than most Vulagi, suggesting that banning Fijian soldiers from lucrative, and fairly safe, UN peacekeeping duties would erode support for the coup for purely economic reasons.
We especially point TDBers to Mike Field's very worrying piece on Stuff.co.nz on Sunday . As we've said several times already, Mr Field's one of about two or three Vulagi journalists loose in Suva who really know what's going on. Sean Dorney's been filing for ABC TV News.
"Something messy and bloody is lurking ahead for Fiji. Military dictator Voreqe Bainimarama is giving off the stench of unfinished business and a coup or a mutiny or just plain old civil war will result," Mr Field wrote.
"With the experience now of four coups in 20 years behind them, Fijians are a patient people. The credit and the blame rests mostly with the Methodist Church, which has preached that in the face of injustice, wrong or disaster, it's best to pray rather than do anything practical.
"We saw that in May 2000 as traitor George Speight held the government of Mahendra Chaudhry hostage for 56 days. Today a very different undercurrent is at work as Bainimarama tramples on democracy, Fijian traditions and its churches.
"The political and cultural tapa has a complex and sophisticated fibre, but it boils down to one thing - power and the need to have and hold it," Mr Field wrote on Stuff.co.nz.
We slightly disagree with his emphasis on Indos versus Indigenous as a factor in all this, but Mr Field certainly knows his stuff, and he's there and we're not. We suspect, however, that the Indos versus Indigenous angle could, again, become a lightening rod in the continuing crisis, with an added Chinese flavour too, as Chinese have tended to replace Indos who have closed their businesses and left Fiji, particularly since 2000. In both Honiara and then Nuku'alofa, Chinese businesses were targeted along with businesses owned by 'interesting' associates of local 'business identities' who were also political players. If Commodore Frank's coup appears to be favouring Indo business identities and/or Indo or Labour political interests, and/or - and this could be a crucial element - the Indigenous 'coconut wireless' rumour circuits successfully put it around that that's what he's really up to, the already restive clans and confederacies could erupt. Soldiers are already stationed in many villages, almost certainly not even in their own provinces, against precisely such eruptions.
Another, quite different, perspective on ' Fiji's Typically Laid Back Coup' was also published on Stuff.co.nz on Sunday. Just remember that, this time of year, Fiji's also typically hot and extremely humid. It's too hot and humid to think about doing anything particularly strenuous.
The 'Book on Coups' suggests that Easter and over Christmas - New Year are the best times to pull a coup because many folks are on holidays, the country or region's in relaxed holiday mode, and a coup's the last thing to be expected, especially if it's an 'ambush coup' plotted in secret, like this one wasn't.
The timing in Fiji may play into Commodore Frank's hands somewhat because tie climate makes folks drowsy and reluctant to want to do much, it's towards the end of the year so folks are weary, looking forward to holidays, and he has Christmas - New Year to consolidate his hold on power.
Worth considering anyway.
Also, 'reporter fatigue' could shift attention away from the coup. Local journalists would be tired, strung out, and worried. They, and their families, have to live there, and Fiji, particularly Suva, are small places, with an even smaller media crew. Everybody knows everybody else. Of course, after 2000, media operators have implemented strategies for media worker rotation and crisis reporting. Overseas journalists, and their home editors and newsrooms, would be pulling out as well, with nothing much dramatic to report. With reductions in close media attention, and thence less opportunities to engineer backfire, coup plotters can ratchet up their repression.
Another point worth considering is from whence would Fiji source aid and some international support, even finance, given it's been suspended from the Commonwealth, the European Union is reviewing its major sugar restructuring assistance plan, the military could lose its UN peacekeeping funding, and so on. China's been mentioned more than once, and the Chinese have full diplomatic representation in Fiji.
Graham Davis' piece in the Weekend Australian is also extremely perceptive. We haven't noticed that he's reporting from Suva, but he certainly knows his stuff too, having been born there, the son of an expatriat Methodist minister, and reported from Fiji many times. He castigated Alexander Downer, and the Howard Government, for their hyprocisy on Fiji:
"This is the fourth coup in 20 years but the first in which Australia has advocated civilian resistance. Why weren't such calls made in the two coups by Sitiveni Rabuka in 1987 and the coup by George Speight in 2000? Was this because they were coups against Indian-dominated governments and Australia feared a racial bloodbath? The potential for violence now is arguably much worse. Fiji's Indians are traditionally passive but indigenous Fijians have a relatively recent history of clubbing each other to death. A more plausible explanation for a frothing foreign minister is abject frustration that Australian efforts to influence events in Fiji have failed. The Government's policy of active engagement in neighbourhood affairs has already produced messy outcomes in East Timor and the Solomons and alienated leaders such as Papua New Guinea's Michael Somare," Mr Davis wrote.
"Now that its policy of strong support for the ousted Qarase government has unravelled, it's time to examine the wisdom of siding with a particular local cause, especially one so flawed. Constitutional niceties and talk of upholding the rule of law have drowned out the real reasons for the crisis in Fiji," Mr Davis wrote in The Weekend Australian.
His piece was picked up by the Fiji Times on Monday morning .
Also, the FT's published a selection of comments added to their Web Site in the last few days, and these are worth a look, as is their pictures gallery .
Last Friday's RA Pacific Beat , of course, had a comprehensive wrap of the Fiji situation, including a story about how The Anti-Coup Handbook found its way from the Albert Einstein Institution in Boston, USA, into the hands of several pro-democracy NGOs in Suva, Fiji. Seems that as the balloon appeared to be going up in Suva, a staffer at the Albert Einstein Institution fired off e-mails, with the 175k 75 page PDF format Handbook attached, to every e-mail address she could find in Fiji, which included several NGOs we know well there. This was how Ms. Vakaivosavosa's Blog was able to Link to it. (We still don't know who she/he/it is; been too busy to track them down.) PacBeat for Friday, December 8, is Podcast off their Site .
Memo to Radio Australia's Accuracy Police - the Founder of the Albert Einstein Institution and the West's leading scholar of nonviolence is Dr Gene Sharp , NOT Dr Gene Strong.
And we've grimaced more than once as non-Suva located ABC announcers and even journalists have stumbled over Fijian names. Never would have happened when your correspondent was labouring mightily at the ABC. SCOSE would have briefed us thoroughly, and flogged us soundly if we stuffed up pronnunciations. This modern laxity is something taxpayers up with which should not have to put, we declare!
PacBeat's On The Mat ended the week with a look at how the Fiji media's been navigating the crisis, with PINA and Fiji TV's Ken Clark, and the Fiji Sun's Russell Hunter. (Podcast off their Site.)
If there are any emerging heroes out of the Fiji crisis, they include the Fiji media, led by The Fiji Times and Fiji TV, for facing down the military on Tuesday night last week, and then for steadfastly reporting developments, despite some harassment, including of some of their sources, later in the week. TDBers can always read the Letters to The Fiji Times to see the published opinions of readers. We predict extremely hot competition for Pacific Media Freedom Awards at next year's PINA Convention in Honiara mid-next May (we're going, of course).
The Sunday FT carried a feature by Amelia Vunileba, who wrote on 'Facing up to Fiji's Culture of Coups' , a very servicable, local, piece on why Fiji seems to keep changing its governments in decidedly odd ways, necessarily attracting international condemnation and sanctions in the process.
Local journalist, Seona Smiles, whose daughter's a friend of ours (former USP Journalism student actually), has been trying to fill the sandles left by the late Robert Keith-Reid, whose Sunday FT reports on the strange doings of the stranger people of Rotfi were always essential, and often hillarious, reading over breakfast at a suitable downtown haunt. Her column on Sunday was a sad attack on some recently converted 'pro-democracy advocates' . Just call them opportunistic hypocrites, and leave it at that.
Your correspondent's keeping a very close eye on Fiji, and will UpDate TDBers accordingly during the week.
'Mo oe mai i le Pasifika (For you, from the Pacific)'
Compiled by Dr Mark Hayes.
Ni sa Bula Vinaka - Fiji Coup/Crisis Edition No 8
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Two main stories out of Fiji this morning - the aquittal of Sitiveni Rabuka on charges of inciting mutiny in the Fiji Military Forces, and Commodore Frank\'s address to the media, and the implications of that address.
There’ll be some people in Suva this morning wondering why they just can’t make it illegal to be Sitiveni Rabuka in Fiji, charge and convict him of being Sitiveni Rabuka, and ship him off to Nukulau Island to drink kava with George Speight.
The Rule of Law still operates in Fiji’s courts, so he was aquitted because the judge decided the evidence against Rabuka did now show beyond reasonable doubt that he incited the deadly November 2, 2000, military mutiny. The Fiji Times has a comprehensive report this morning.
On another law story, late last week, the Fiji Law Society suspended the registration of the military's lawyers. This morning, the Fiji Human Rights Commission reportedly says the Law Society breached the military lawyer's human rights under the 1997 Constitution.
The Fiji Women's Crisis Centre weighs into the intimidation and harassment of pro-democracy activists over the last week, also drawing on the human rights provisions in the Constitution, and calling on the Human Rights Commission to investigate the intimidation and harassment. An earlier story reports Citizen's Constitutional Forum's Rev Akuila Yabaki also criticising the harassment and intimidation of pro-democracy activists.
The Fiji Times' Editorial warns the military that it will, eventually, experience the wrath of Fijian families for the economic and social effects of the coup:
"Christmas is only days away and the families already facing hardship have nothing much to look forward to. What is usually a time of joy and festivities will this year be bleak for them," the Fiji Times says.
"In fact, they foresee many more dark days ahead if the political climate persists.
"They know the effects of the military takeover will affect their lives for some time to come.
"The military will have to answer them one day," the FT warns.
The Bainimarama regime may have avoided a cash crisis, when the Finance Ministry CEO, Paula Uluinaceva, reportedly reappeared from hiding and went to the military HQ at Nabua for discussions. He's earlier slapped a tight cash expendiature limit on government departments, and then disappeared for several days.
Late yesterday, Commodore Frank addressed the media and, if your correspondent reads reports of that address correctly, it could well give some insights into his deeper thinking. Fijivillage.com has a short report of the speech , and links to the Windows Media audio file, which makes for very interesting listening.
Most reports range across further threats to opponents of the coup to expect reprisals, including violence, a warning to Laisenia Qarase not to return to Suva, and that 300 applications had been received following newspaper ads seeking interest in government positions. The Australian's report points to Commodore Frank criticising Alexander Downer for inciting opposition to the coup, and looking to China as having a totalitarian government but with peace and prosperity.
The Sydney Morning Herald's wrap traverses the same territory of the Rabuka aquittal and Commodore Frank's comments yesterday afternoon criticising Downer for inciting resistance to the coup. He called on Australia to leave Fiji to sort out its own problems.
Your correspondent will dig around to see if there are more substantial reports, or even transcripts, of this media address by Commodore Frank, as we think it could be more significant than most reports appear to indicate.
Monday's Pacific Beat On The Mat featured Professor Brij Lal from ANU. "As time has passed since the coup in Fiji, reports are emerging of threats of physical violence, rape and even death threats. Many of the country's NGOs, former politicians and members of the general public have been on the receving end of the military's wrath," runs the promotional blurb for the item. Podcast on their Site soon.
We got an e-mail from a well-placed Fijian contact in Suva on Tuesday morning which is rather thought provoking, so we'll pass it on -
"Just wanted to say that Suva is and feels safer than ever.
"You might get the impression that the majority is in support of the 'democratically' elected Quarase government and so-called 'democracy'. There are however many of us who support the military takeover, and say that democracy should not be used to hide or justify corruption.
"More and more evidence is coming out of the corruption in the government, and they have been operating completely 'undemocratic'.
"Moreover, governments such as NZ and Australia support coups when it serves their own interests (in 2000 they hardly imposed any sanctions at all), this time they are extremely harsh - because their neoliberal interests are under threat!! Quarase was very much protecting A/NZ interests in the region," our source told us.
Very interesting take from one of our sources in Suva. Very interesting. We'll be following this up, for sure.
Fiji's rapidly slipping away from world, and even, Regional attention, as there's nothing much dramatic to report, and Vulagi reporters are withdrawn from Suva, leaving it to locals. This suits Commodore Frank just fine as it keeps, particularly, world attention off his consolidation of the coup.
Something that's struck your correspondent while reflecting on our intensive On Line troweling, summarising, and analysing over the last week is that we might have a clearer idea of what's been going on in Suva than not a few reporters on the ground, who only see some developments, and report only on what they see and hear. We only seem to be missing out on the atmospherics and the "feeling" of being there, which adds colour and movement to one's reports. Still not sure about this, and am still thinking it through.
Your correspondent will keep watching Fiji closely and bring daily reports to TDBers as needed to the end of this week.
'Mo oe mai i le Pasifika (For you, from the Pacific)'
Compiled by Dr Mark Hayes.
Ni sa Bula Vinaka - Fiji Coup/Crisis Edition No 9
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Your correspondent's been working the Skype circuits to Fiji, trying to update our, and thence TDBers, deeper understanding of what's going on in the Barmy, Balmy Isles.
Dr Steven Ratuva pretty much agrees with our reading of the progress of the Bainimarama coup, now quite quickly moving into its consolidation phase. We needed to kick our remote understanding of developments around with Dr Ratuva as, if there's anybody of a scholarly bent who would also have his dibbs on what's really going on inside the Fiji military, and Indigenous Fijian thoughts and feelings around Suva, it would be him.
The meeting of the Great Council of Chiefs, scheduled for next week , is very important, Dr Ratuva told your correspondent.
While Commodore Frank's taken executive power, he doesn't want to remain president, and wants Ratu Josefa Ililo back in that role as soon as possible, to confer legitimacy on his takeover. Ratu Josefa, other sources have told us, remains quite capable of taking up his duties despite his severe illness, He's also the Commander in Chief of the Fiji Military Forces. Under the Fiji Constitution, only the GCC can appoint the President and Vice-President. Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, the universally respected Vice-President, was deposed last week, remains in his home village, and his absence, and wisdom, is sorely missed in many Suva circles. Rumblings from several important villages about the disrespectful treatment of Ratu Josefa and Ratu Joni, who have not the slightest taint from the events of 2000, have been countered by soldiers being stationed there, while other villages, including some associated with the mayhem in 2000, have been supporting the military's 'clean up' campaign.
So, the GCC meeting could be a major factor in legitimating Commodore Frank's coup, or it could decide to remain indecisive, or, and this could be just as likely, the GCC could condemn Commodore Frank. He has a rather dim view of the GCC, so it's a question of who needs whose support more, or who hates whom less, hardly a good way to achieve decisive and credible legitimacy for an illegal change of government.
The Fiji Times reported yesterday that Commodore Frank attended a sevusevu at Nabukavesi Villagers in Namosi where he was presented with a tabua. (Sevusevu is a Fijian ceremony of apology, asking for forgiveness, and reconciliation, and the presentation of a tabua, or whale's tooth, to an honoured visitor is a high honour and indication of sincerity of will and purpose. Very serious traditional Vanua ceremonies, never taken lightly.) Namosi, inland from Pacific Harbour on the south coast of Viti Levi between Suva and Sigatoka, was one of the sources of support for the Speight-fronted putsch.
But Fairfax New Zealand's reporting, sourcing their story to Wednesday's Fiji Sun , that Fijian warriors are stirring against the Bainimarama regime .
"Traditional warriors from the 14 provinces of Fiji said Commodore Bainimarama would face the wrath of his people if he did not withdraw his troops and return the islands to democratic rule by Christmas day, The Fiji Sun reported this morning.
"The newspaper said the military, which took power in a coup last week and is ruling through means of intimidation and threats to anyone who publicly criticises the new regime, had launched Operation Tuvakarau to protect the Commodore and investigate the threat.
"Land Force Commander Colonel Pita Driti challenged the warriors to come forward.
'"If these traditional warriors decide to take us on, we are ready for any sort of action. And they should come out prepared instead of hiding and playing mind games,"' Colonel Driti reportedly told the Fiji Sun (or Stuff.co.nz).
The Sun's Web Site hadn't been updated by the time this edition of the Pacific News Wrap was finalised, but RNZI was running the story , talking with the Sun's Russell Hunter. RA's Pacific Beat may also buy into the story later on Wednesday.
Obviously, the military has all the firepower, so if anybody's crazy enough to try to cause serious trouble, the military would deal with them really fast, and extremely decisively. The crushing of the deadly November 2, 2000, mutiny, with its deeply shocking dynamic of Fijians killing Fijians, still haunts the country, and particularly locals in Suva. I could hear the shooting in the military camp at the northern Suva suburb of Nabua from USP's campus about four kilometers away that terrible afternoon.
Fairfax New Zealand also reported how they tried to hire a plane to go visit Laisenia Qarase , in internal exile on his home island in the eastern Lau Group, but the charter operator knocked them back out of fear of military reprisals.
Harassing and intimidating even harmless pro-democracy activists, and rounding up public servants, and others, and taking them to Nabua for a little chat continues, providing Alexander Downer with more excuses to criticise Commodore Frank's regime, and helping him harden his opposition to overseas criticism.
We can't find out if the Australian High Commission, located half way between Suva city and the military camp at Nabua, has been handing out copies of the Albert Einstein Institution's The Anti-Coup Handbook, e-mailed widely into Fiji last week, congruent with Mr Downer's call for 'passive resistance' to the coup (idiot!). We've contacted the Albert Einstein Institution seeking more information on this fascinating part of the Fiji coup story.
Commodore Frank took time out for another touch football game in Albert Park too - pic in the Fiji Times - and his regime announced that public servants would get a slight pay rise through a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) . The same story also notes that a VAT increase announced in the Qarase budget would not go ahead, and economists, as economists do, warned of the impacts of a COLA payment, not raising VAT, and of the coup in general. The interim prime minister also announced he'll take a ten percent pay cut.
The Fiji Times' Editorial warns about the COLA payment and not hiking VAT:
"There is no way this illegal administration or any government for that matter can survive without observing strict financial controls and prudent measures on public funds," the FT says.
"We can only hope that the chief executive officers of each ministry keep a tight control of government spending and ensure all financial regulations are followed by everyone, including the military, which, according to the finance ministry, has already overspent its budget.
"The Reserve Bank of Fiji has thankfully ruled out any devaluation for now but for how long it will hold it off, only time will tell. We can only hope that we won't reach the stage where one will be inevitable because that'll surely put a further strain on the poor people and the family budget.
"For many citizens, what happened to the economy in May 1987 and May 2000 and how long it took to recover from that are still fresh in their memories. They dread what they'll face this time," the FT Editorial for Wednesday concludes.
At yesterday's press conference, Commodore Frank also warned that Qarase was plotting to set up an alternative government in Fiji's west, which sounds a bit far fetched, unless you factor in the reality that, while almost all of the action's been in Suva this last week, the tourism and sugar industries are significantly based in the west of Viti Levu, as is the power base of Fiji's Labour Party, which has been pretty quiet this last week too. Westerners, hurting already from the crash in tourism, occasionally growl about the crazies in Suva causing them grief.
Your correspondent's also been talking with a few NGO contacts in Suva. We happen to know about a few extremely interesting meetings recently but are bound by an Off the Record agreement to say no more. We do know there's a Fiji Blue Ribbon prayer vigil scheduled for 1.00 - 2.00pm on Thursday in Suva's Anglican Cathedral.
Our sources remain firm in their position that, while they opposed many of the Qarase government's policies, and largely agreed with Commodore Frank's criticisms of Qarase's policies, they are vigorously opposed to the methods Commodore Frank is using to 'clean up' Fijian governance, steadfastly calling for a return to democracy and the rule of law.
Suva, by all accounts, including from our Kiwi photographer friend, Jocelyn Carlin, who returned from Suva at the weekend, remains calm, with a 'business as usual and Christmas is coming' atmosphere. People seem to be getting on with life, keeping a low profile, Suva's water supply problems being something not even Commodore Frank can fix, and the place remains balmy with its stifling summer humidity.
Your correspondent's puzzling through our own deeper analysis of how Commodore Frank's coup is travelling, adding inputs from our own sources, and the media sources we closely read, stirring the mix in his mental tanoa, and may share the preliminary brew with TDBers on Thursday.
'Mo oe mai i le Pasifika (For you, from the Pacific)'
Compiled by Dr Mark Hayes.
Ni sa Bula Vinaka - Fiji Coup/Crisis Edition No 10
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Still puzzling through the deeper currents in the Bainimarama coup in Fiji, talking with contacts in Suva, stirring the yangona in our mental tanoa, and will bring our tentative conclusions to TDBers on Friday. It's an odd sort of coup, that's for sure, but then Fiji's a rather odd place.
Meanwhile, some worrying stories from Tonga, with this piece from the ABC's Peter Lewis in Auckland on PM last night :
"Central Nuku'alofa has been locked down and guarded by armed troops since November the 16th and the riots that claimed six lives and caused an estimated $200 million worth of damage to buildings and businesses.
"According to an official statement the extension of emergency powers has been made so the Tongan military and police can preserve public order and secure public safety.
"An army spokesman says it will give the Ministry of Works time to demolish the many buildings gutted by fire and clean up the city prior to reconstruction.
"But according to Australian Gus McLean, author of a report alleging human rights abuses, that's not the only clean-up now underway in Nuku'alofa," Mr Lewis reported on PM last night.
Nothing about this part of the story on Matangi Tonga, but here's their Tuesday report on the extension of emergency powers available to the Tongan Defence Forces and the police for another month. Yesterday, the police said they's arrested 702 suspects in association with the November riot and arson in Nuku'alofa, and were still holding 107 suspects in custody. The first court cases from the riots were expected to begin on December 20, Matangi Tonga reported on Wednesday .
In Fiji, Commodore Frank's holding press conferences almost daily, and yesterday was no exception, as Radio Australia's Pacific Beat reported ( Podcast off their site ).
The military's also woken up to Cyberspace, and i s posting its media releases and statements on its web site . Worth a regular visit, because these give something of an insight into Commodore Frank's thinking and plans.
It's an odd coup in Fiji, and the Fiji Times' pictures area of the crisis has added a rather stern looking young soldier reading a copy of their youth newspaper, Kaila!, while taking a break from watching for miscreants ( Pic number 11 in the show ). Kaila! - Fijian for 'shout' - is a great little newspaper the FT's cooked up to attract and hook more young people to reading a newspaper. Loud, busy, and in yer face.
Talking with some of our contacts in Suva yesterday, most locals seem to be just wanting to get on with daily life, the Christmas shopping frenzy is almost as one would expect, and folks are just wanting 2006 to be over peacefully.
Next week's Great Council of Chief's meeting is looking like being crucial to the 'success' or otherwise of the Bainimarama coup. The Fiji Times' report suggests that the GCC remains deeply divided over the coup.
The Bainimarama purge continues as well, with more senior public servants sacked, and their replacements steadily being announced, including Commodore Frank's brother, a long-serving public servant. This shouldn't reek too much of nepotism because Ratu Meli Bainimarama has a reputation of being an entirely competent operator. (It's not been widely noted but Commodore Frank's actually a junior chief in his own right, as are two of his brothers. Oh, and a correction. We said that he was a Catholic. He's not. He's a Methodist, but he did attend that training ground for many Fijian leaders, the Marist Brothers High School in Suva.)
On the purge, the Fiji Times reports :
"So far the military has given termination of employment letters to Public Service Commission chief executive officer Anare Jale, chief executive in the Prime Minister's Office Jioji Kotobalavu, Parliament Secretary-General Mary Chapman, Solicitor-General Nainendra Nand, PSC chairman Stuart Huggett and Supervisor of Elections Semesa Karavaki.
Others sacked on Tuesday were National Reconciliation Ministry CEO Apisalome Tudreu, Mr Ditoka and the principal legal officer in the PM's Office, Ilaitia Tamata," the Fiji Times reports.
And the head of the Fijian Affairs Board , Adi Litia Qionibaravi, also got her marching orders from the military regime. (Adi, pronn. An-dee, is the female equivalent title for a Ratu, which actually translates as 'Lord'.)
But Fijilive.com reported on Wednesday morning that Adi Litia's sacking could postpone the GCC meeting because her office acted as something of a secretariat for the traditonal body, which, Commodore Frank's probably hoping, will re-appoint Ratu Josefa Ililo as President.
The FT's picked up an odd story from The Courier-Mail we saw earlier in the week, by John McCarthy, and runs it as a feature . The piece rambles over Fiji's 'coup culture', touches on allegations of shadowy Indo-Fijian businessmen being possibly behind Bainimarama, and tries to make these points as well:
"Well known in Suva is that Bainimarama is woefully advised. The fact that he cited the Kerr dismissal of the Whitlam Government as a precedent for his coup shows a serious lack of understanding," Mr McCarthy wrote.
"Bainimarama is said to have little patience for those who do not agree with him. "In the last two or three years all his good officers have gone. It looks like it has been orchestrated by the army to get rid of the better quality officers who would stand in the way," a businessman said.
"The coup itself is likely to be remembered as ill-conceived, badly executed and lacking in any strategy.
"The growing opposition to it has been a humiliating experience for Bainimarama and has caused him to search among ageing military men for people to fill his Cabinet because of the fear that anyone who supports him will eventually end up in prison.
"The call by Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer for passive resistance was too late," Mr McCarthy wrote.
We'll have more to say about the above kinds of arguments on Friday, but we don't think Commodore Frank's coup is "... ill-conceived, badly executed and lacking in any strategy...". It's actually developing in rather clever ways, just as the lead-up strategy, which we called The Bainimarama Screw, was calculated, escalating, and quite savvy. As an example of a coup which broke all the rules for these things, certainly in its tactical and consolidation phases, the Speight-fronted coup was a classic.
The FT's Editorial has both another warning on the economic, and thence social, impacts of the coup, but also has a resigned tone:
"Some people have already accepted the fact the military has made its point. It's too late to undo what had been done. The army should now return to barracks and allow the nation to move forward.
"If the military, because it is speaking from behind guns, won't allow the legal Qarase administration to return to power then it has to hand back executive authority to the President and let him decide what the next best and legal option is. But it is in the best interest of the nation and that should always be the priority that all legal avenues be followed to move this nation forward," the Fiji Times says.
Sadly, but entirely predictably, Fiji's all but disappeared from the main newspaper pages and web sites - the New Zealand Herald has zip on Fiji on Thursday - but Fairfax New Zealand's Stuff.co.nz's story leads with the threat of some Fijian warriors coming for Commodore Frank and his officers, and provides a wrap of the continuing government purge in Suva. While visiting Stuff.co.nz's front page , let the pictures rotate, and you might see a pic of Sitiveni Rabuka holding court on a plastic chair near the pool at Suva's Holiday Inn on Victoria Parade. Lovely spot for lazing around when in Suva.
Sitiveni Rabuka, aquitted of mutiny incitement charges on Monday - can't they get him on a jay walking or littering charge and slap a life sentence on him for these most terrible of crimes? - said during his 'court' that PM Qarase and President Ratu Josefa were weak leaders for not standing up to Commodore Frank .
And if you're looking for leadership from the Methodist Church and the Assemblies of God church , forget it. At least the Suva Anglican Cathedral's hosting a lunchtime prayer vigil for the pro-democracy movement today.
PacNews yesterday ran a story which broke earlier in the day, but seems to have developed some momentum, to the effect that the province of Ba, on the west coast of Viti Levu, was seriously considering setting up an alternative government to the military regime in Suva. This may well fizzle out, with some military encouragement, but it indicates the East - West divide is a factor in the continuing Fijian situation.
"Province confirms rival government plans" is the story's headline off the Islands Business Fiji Crisis portal for Wednesday, December 13 .
But the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) - the 'former' government party - denies it's behind these parallel government plots, and FT's story also notes that Speight's brother, Samisoni Tikoinasau, a junior minister in the Qarase government, was taken to the military camp at Nabua on Tuesday for a little chat.
And Yellow Bucket on Fijivillage.com has either taken their holidays, as many in Suva have probably also done, been too busy keeping the military out of their newsrooms and away from their kava bucket, or thought it prudent to take a vow of silence for the duration lest the military come for them and nick their kava stash. Pity; we'd like to see The Bucket's take on recent developments in the Barmy, Balmy Isles.
Until tomorrow, and our last outing for 2006, so our Esteemed Editor has told us... (sniff and sigh...)
'Mo oe mai i le Pasifika (For you, from the Pacific)'
Compiled by Dr Mark Hayes.
Ni sa Bula Vinaka - Fiji Coup/Crisis Edition No 11
Friday, December 15, 2006
Strange sort of coup Commodore Frank Bainimarama's running in Fiji.
But a story on RNZI yesterday, unfortunately posted too late to make TDB's unforgiving deadline, makes it all clear:
Fundamentalist churches in Fiji see links between coup makers and witchcraft .
OK. Now we've at long last had this explained to us, we can get back to reading our Bibles, but not our newspapers, and making our large contributions to the appropriate church's weekly collection plates. Or to a couple of churches, just to hedge our eternal bets.
Two other stories appeared after TDB's Thursday deadline.
As we knew would occur, an NGO's for democracy protest was held in Suva on Thursday lunchtime , with a small group of protesters dressed in black, for the death of democracy, and with blue ribbons, marched from Sukuna Park up the hill to the Suva Anglican Cathedral for a prayer vigil. RA's PacBeat had their reporter out with the small group of protesters (the story also got a run early on ABC Radio National Breakfast on Friday morning).
And the SDL party was apparently planning for nonviolent resistance to the Bainimarama Screw as early as October, 2006. The Fiji Times also ran that story , but the longer, original Pacnews version was on the Islands Business Fiji Crisis portal under the heading 'Ousted PM calls for mass civil disobedience'. Quite frankly, it's probably too bloody hot and especially humid for these kinds of activities to be mounted now in Fiji, despite everything else as well. Most people seem to be voting with their shopping feet to leave this political stuff until the new year, to see how it all pans out.
And at least some churches seem to have remembered what theology's for, issuing a statement condemning the coup :
'"We as churches take responsibility to expose the Biblical truth surrounding the present crisis the nation is going through,'' the statement said.
'"We wish to remind the Commander that it was the church that brought light and civilisation to this nation and not the military."
"They warned the people of dealing with a dictator who capitalised on using military propaganda based on conspiracy, lies and deceit to suit his own purposes.'
"Such an evil force characterises itself through domination, intimidation and manipulation.
'"These are clearly evidences of the commander's lies, irresponsible and inconsistent behaviour and actions.
'"We condemn the dictatorial action of the commander demonstrated in the sacking of high ranking officers within the army and has now spilled over into the public service," they said,"' the Fiji Times reported.
Catholic Archbishop Petero Mataca eloquently pleads against the imposition of sanctions on Fiji following the coup as these will only hurt the poor of the country. Well worth reading.
And the military came for the editor in chief of the Fiji Daily Post , Dr Robert Wolfgramm, a Fijian by birth but an Australian citizen. He's been ordered to leave Fiji forthwith.
The Fiji Times' Editorial on Friday praises the payment of the two percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) backdated to January, 2005, by the military regime , noting that in 1987 and 2000, the Public Service Commission cut public servant's pay because of the economic effects of the coups. But the money will have so come from somewhere.
And the money may come from downsizing of several pubic service organisations and institutions, as the Fiji Times' report of further sackings lists.
Oh, and to show somebody's bleeding in Fiji, with a shortage of blood in Fiji's blood bank, the Fiji Times called for volunteers to come to its offices where the Fiji National Blood Service was waiting to help folks bleed. More than 120 people, including 14 soldiers, helped out. Nice one, Tony Yianni, and crew!
Now for some reflections...
Islanders usually like telling and hearing stories. Their oral traditions are very alive and very deep, as we had strongly confirmed at the wonderful Vaka Vuku Pacific Epistemologies conference we attended and reported upon from Suva for TDB back in early July, 2006. We know all about sitting around in a Tuvaluan fale, yarning with friends in the cool of the tropical evening, as we were privelaged again to do back in late February and early March while reporting on Tuvalu's highest high tides on record and the effects of global warming on Funafuti Atoll for Griffith Review's May, 2006, themed edition, and Pacific Magazine .
Let your correspondent tell you a story, patient TDBer.
When we were much younger, we worked as a journalist for the ABC in Brisbane. Necessarily, during the latter 1970s and into the 1980s, we reported upon and tangled with elements of the Bjelke-Petersen regime, as did our esteemed Editor, who, on occasion, also laboured for the ABC as well.
On a peaceful Sunday afternoon in April, 1978, we (- your correspondent -) had occasion to be at the all but empty Queens Park, on the corner of Elizabeth and George Streets, Brisbane, where a small group of harmless Concerned Christians, protesting about the government's treatment of Aboriginal people in far north Queensland, had gathered to pray. Problem was, Queens Park, once the site of the Moreton Bay colony's first Anglican church, is the only place in Queensland where it is illegal to pray or do anything religious. Of course, the then ever vigilant Queensland Police Special Branch, omniscient as always, knew a dastardly illegal act was being committed, so they sent their uniformed cousins in to arrest the praying miscreants and drag them away to Brisbane's dire and dreary watchhouse. The story was duly all over the Queensland and national newspapers the next morning, replete with pictures of a couple of University of Queensland chaplains being dragged away.
Like all serious reporters, our esteemed Editor included, we were also outraged at this activity, and much more besides, not the least because several of those arrested that Sunday afternoon, for praying, in an all but empty inner city park, were, and still are, close personal friends of ours.
Several years later, while reporting on the Fitzgerald Inquiry , often alongside our esteemed Editor, we necessarily learned an enormous amount about how, by Australian standards, a seriously malfunctioning, corrupt, governance regime came to be entrenched, operated, and witnessed, first hand, that regime's dismantling, partly through the work of courageous media and journalists, largely through the work of the Fitzgerald Royal Commission, and then in the Queensland state election of 1989.
Fast forward to Sukuna Park, central Suva, on a Sunday lunchtime, late October, 2000.
Having arrived in Fiji less than a month earler, at very short notice, desperately trying to figure out how Suva and Fiji "worked", so he would have a common frame of reference with his eager journalism students at USP, your correspondent stood in an all but empty city park with a couple of them. Two days before, he'd attended the launch of an anti-domestic violence campaign, funded by AusAID, and met some of the key NGO operators in the Fiji Women's Rights Movement, and the Women's Crisis Centre. The Guest of Honour was the very first Fijian High Chief your correspondent was to meet, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, then a consultant lawyer after stepping down as a judge. The interim military installed government, and its police, with a Commissioner strongly suspected of knowing more about the Speight-fronted coup than he was prepared to admit, had allowed this NGO group to mount the first legal mass gathering since the Speight-fronted putsch, in Sukuna Park the following Sunday.
But on the Friday, with no explanation, the government pulled the permit, annoying the NGOs most mightily.
So, just to see what might be happening, yours truly and a couple of students, toddled down to the park anyway. Nothing much else to do on a humid Suva late October Sunday lunchtime.
On the city side of the park, in a couple of unmarked cars, sat some of Fiji's constabulary, occasionally taking photographs of us watching them. They didn't have much to say when your reporter wandered over to chat to them, almost looking like they wanted to be anywhere but there, being politely grilled by a Vulagi reporter, as he used to do to Queensland Special Branch cops back in his native environment.
On the harbour side of the park were two heavy wire meshed military busses full of soldiers in full kit, all watching us watching them.
Maybe they thought we were going to do something illegal. Like pray.
By this stage, your correspondent was almost fainting, with David Crosby wailing in our head, "And I feel like I've been here before!"
'NOW I get it!' your correspondent thought loudly as the Deja Vu rush faded enough so he could think clearly. 'This joint operates sort-of like how Bjelke-Petersen's Queensland used to operate. I'm feeling right at home. I know how to handle this place.'
Chilling, to be sure, but also extremely clarifying. Nothing much has come your correspondent's way in the intervening six years, and many subsequent trips to Fiji, and long, sometimes kava or Fiji Bitter lubricated, yacks with genuine Fiji experts like Dr Steven Ratuva, to shake that sudden, deep, and Deja Vu fueled existential understanding of Fiji, in dynamics only, resembling Bjelke-Petersen's Queensland.
Believe it or not, as Dr Anthony Van Fossen from Griffith University nailed down, in an article published in 2000, in Queensland Review, Vol. 7, No. 2 entitled ' George Speight's Coup in Fiji and White-Collar Crime in Queensland', Speight actually learned several of his highly dubious business practices while living in Queensland in the final years of the Bjelke-Petersen regime.
We also opined occasionally that Fiji post-Speight putsch, needed a Fitzgerald-style excoriation to get to the bottom of all the conspiracies, corruption, plots, counter-plots, and very well-sourced rumours.
As Queensland in the latter 1980s demonstrated, what's needed is a vigilant, vigorous, fearless media corps, a public generally sick and tired of endless rumours, denials, threats, and pretty obvious nepotism, perhaps some catalytic disclosure, a rattled senior government minister or two, relentless media pressure for a serious inquiry, the choice of probably a remarkably skilled and astute inquisitor properly equipped and resourced, an excoriating report, subsequent trials and convictions, and a landslide election outcome to 'clean up' at least some of the previous regime's mess.
Then the practical realities snapped, and still snap, into focus. Fiji's a small place, with a diverse population about three quarters the size of metropolitan Brisbane, a GDP a fraction the size of Queensland's, with shakey governance systems at the best of times, and a small, basically competent, but not investigatively equipped, media corps. Who could mount, resource, and fund a Fitzgerald-style Commission of Inquiry into Fiji's governance, and could Fiji's governance systems withstand such an investigative 'clean up', to use Commodore Frank's description of his expressed agenda?
It is inconceivable that Commissioner Hughes, as he studied the fruits of his 'untoucahables' investigations, did not repeatedly think about what a Tony Fitzgerald, QC, could do were such an inquisitor unleashed in Fiji. We've never met Commissioner Hughes in person, but we very much would have liked to ask him, not if Fiji needs a Fitzgerald-style Inquiry, but if he thought Fiji could mount or sustain one.
The only local we can think of who could, or should, lead such a Commission of Inquiry is Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi because he has the necessary combination of traditional 'mana' or status as a High Chief, and senior, and very experienced, legal training and judicial experience.
As our knowledge and understanding of Fiji rapidly deepened, which it still is doing we readily admit, the detailed differences between Queensland circa 1978 - 1988 and Fiji circa 2000 to now have obviously filled in many of the pieces in the jigsaw puzzle, and the missing pieces are a lot smaller than they once were.
So when we read about a small group of harmless pro-democracy activists, many with strong church connections, having prayer vigils, wearing symbolic ribbons, and having their houses raided, or their members monstered, of a 'smelly' but democratically elected government's party preparing for nonviolent resistance against a looming military coup d'etat, some fundamentalist churches dennouncing the coup plotters as satanic or practising witchcraft, and all the other events and activities we've been recording from the Barmy, Balmy Isles here for TDBers, nothing much surprises us, because we've seen, experienced, and reported upon many of the same kinds of things years ago. Not that Fiji doesn't also always permanently fascinate and intrigue us, as it certainly still does.
We trust the foregoing story, told Islander-style, weaving the strands together like a taapa mat, was interesting, patient TDBer. Pity we couldn't share some yangona around the tanoa while we engaged in talanoa, which is how these story telling sessions often occur Out There.
Now, to the Bainimarama Coup.
Obviously, the ursurpation of power by the military in a constitutional, democratic, Westminster-style polity and society is profoundly abhorrent, even one such as Fiji which, we have argued, cannot be properly understood as such a normally functioning, etc and so forth, polity and society.
A detailed knowledge of recent Fijian history, reinforces the argument that, abhorrent though the Bainimarama coup clearly is, critics of it who do not deeply factor that history into their criticisms are making something approaching a 'category' or fundamental error. They are opening themselves up to having their criticisms dismissed by precisely those key players, like Commodore Frank, they are trying to influence. Bunging selective sanctions on to Fiji to demonstrate outsider, Vulagi, repugnance at the coup is the diplomatic equivalent of a road accident, as the Catholic Archbishop wrote in Friday's FT (above).
Such is the awful dilemma embracing the pro-democracy protesters with their black mourning garb, their blue ribbons, and their prayer vigils. Almost all other objectors to the coup in Fiji are doing so from their own partial interest positions, glossing their partisan interests by reference to their, hitherto variously and variably, questionable support for democracy, the constitution and the rule of law.
A Blogger, commenting on the Fiji crisis, put it extremely perceptively :
"...I'm coming to realize exactly what I can't stand about this coup. The most powerful of the forces opposed to the coup are among the most venal and reactionary in Fiji, and if the takeover unravels, it will be they rather than liberal civil society who will win. By destroying the one thing that can successfully oppose both arbitrary power and stifling customary authority - i.e., the constitution and the rule of law - Bainimarama has set the clock back a generation. This kind of cure is a hell of a lot worse than the disease," Jonathan Edelstein wrote.
The 'Book of Coups' - which is a combination volume of Luttwak, Machiavelli, Sun Tsu, Clausewitz, whatever they learn in military officer training, detailed, and comprehensive, knowledge of the coup plotter's tactical terrain, flexibility, and ruthless rat cunning - sets out the historically known steps necessary to stage a successful coup.
In Fiji, Sitiveni Rabuka followed 'the rules' successfully, twice, in 1987, the gang fronted by George Speight, who really should have known much better, almost completely ignored 'the rules' in 2000, and Commodore Frank's adding some extremely interesting sections to the 'Book of Coups' in 2006.
Professor Brij Lal reckons that Fiji's coup culture will continue because the real plotters have never been apprehended, particularly in 1987 and 2000.
Thankfully, Commodore Frank's not gone all out to crush any opposition the way another ruthlessly viscious coup meister in the news this week, Augusto Pinochet, once did. That's not the Fijian way.
To be sure, the military has intimidated opponents, and that's damn scary as well as reprehensible, but it's also entirely expected during a coup. Some have been taken to the military HQ, some humiliated or verbally interrogated with vigour, threatening phone calls made, harmless pro-democracy activists monstered, and the media's been pressured. But none have been detained at the Fiji Post National Stadium, or choppered out past Nukulau Island on a one-way trip as shark food.
Commodore Frank's difficult for real politic hard heads to figure out because, at least so far, he doesn't seem to be acting as a front man or stooge for a shadowy cabal, despite what Police Commissioner Hughes claimed in the last fortnight. He doesn't appear to want power for himself.
His targeted purge throughout the public service might be to shift known Qarase and SDL party supporters and appointees, or it might be to seriously clean out time-servers, bludgers, and downsize a bloated institution. Problem here is that not a few dedicated, experienced, hard-working, and respected public servants appear to have been caught in the net.
What Commodore Frank now needs to do is produce hard, incontrovertable, evidence of endemic corruption, gathered from the raids his soldiers have conducted on public service offices, the SDL party, and some businesses. This stuff has to be sufficiently solid to convince both the court of public opinion, the DPP, and the courts, as well as overseas observers and governments.
The latter won't be convinced anyway, because they'll see any such evidence as tainted due to the coup, and how the evidence was gathered. Maybe the court of public opinion might see Commodore Frank eventually through to being recorded in Fijian and world history as a tragic figure, rather than as a complete pariah, like Speight.
Much, perhaps everything, depends on next week's Great Council of Chief's meeting . Commodore Frank's no doubt hoping the GCC will legitimate his coup by re-appointing Ratu Josefa Ililo as President, who will then constitutionally legitimate the mechanics of the coup. A transparent set of legalisms, to be sure, and the courts could be kept busy for years sorting out how this is to finally be decided.
Throughout, Commodore Frank and his key off-siders and advisors must always deeply understand that they're not dealing with a disciplined mulitary operation. Civilians are not trained, and do not expect, to have to instantly obey orders in the ways soldiers usually do.
As Bob Dylan once sang, "But don't speak too soon for the wheel's still in spin".
If there are any significant developments, we'll try to post them on Web Diary , where this week's Fiji Crisis/Coup Wraps will appear over the coming weekend. Best time of the year to pull a coup, actually, so says the 'Book of Coups'.
While TDB, and our esteemed Editor, take a well earned break over the Christmas - New Year season, your correspondent, who doesn't believe in holidays, will continue to trowel the Regional news sources, keeping deeply across developments, so that when TDB returns in 2007, we'll be right on top of things to plunge once again into Mo oe mai i le Pasifika.
All the usual and expected blessings, goodwills, pleas for safety, etc and so forth for the holiday season.
As my Tuvaluan friends say at this time of year:
"Ke manuia te Kilisimai mote Tausaga Fou. Faifai malie kae sa rush gina a otou fiafiaga mote festive season tenei ko oko tatou kiei."
Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. May God guide us throughout this festive season. Take it easy and dont rush the activities/functions/festivities for this festive season
Moce mada & 'Tofa