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Tracking Fiji's Latest Coup - A roundup of the last 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 'coup week' of December 4 - 8, 2006, producing 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 first 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.


Monday, December 4, 2006

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

Ni sa Bula Vinaka - Fiji Crisis Edition No 2

Monday Morning - 10.00am AEST - Breaking News:

Several outlets - Fiji TV, Fijilive.com, Fijivillage, and Scoop.co.nz, plus Sean Dorney live on ABC News Radio at 9.30am AEST - have reported that soldiers have taken over the police's SWAT squad HQ in Northern Suva. More also from Michael Field on NZ Fairfax's Stuff.co.nz.

But the Acting Police Commissioner, Moses Driver, told the Fiji Times:

"... there is no takeover of the force's armed wing.

"Commissioner Driver confirmed a short while ago that there were soldiers at the Police Tactical Response Division headquarters but it was not a takeover.

"'We received a request from the military for soldiers to view weapons in our armoury, for what reason we don't know," he said.

"'We told them we would need approval for this from the Home Affairs Minister and before we could get that approval, the soldiers arrived at the PTRD headquarters in Nasinu.

"Weve told them to wait while we sort it and the soldiers are there now just waiting for the approval to come through. There is no takeover ... they are sitting there with the police officers awaiting the approval.

"We are hopeful that there is no confrontation," Acting Commissioner Driver told the FT late on Monday morning Suva time.

TDB will have a Third Special Fiji Crisis Edition on Tuesday.

We ask for your patience, TDBers, because we're going to get all constitutional once we get to our predictions for Fiji with this edition of the Wrap. We know constitutional law sends some lawyerly types into paroxysms of delight and delerium, and for we normal people, the only use we have for constitutions is as door stops, or as a handy weapon to protect ourselves against home invasions. Bore the miscreants witless by reading it to them. Or something.

However, as we peer into our tanoa looking for portents, we feel a constitutional coup coming on in the Barmy Balmy Isles, and having been through two of them ourselves - the Kerr Coup in 1975 here and what we call the Momoedonu Two Step in Fiji on March 16, 2001 - we know how to detect the signs.

Both Fijilive.com and Fijivillage.com reported over the weekend that 'Smiling' Laisenia Qarase had raised the issue of dissolving Parliament, and the Daily Post on Saturday also reported that part of Commodore Frank's strategy was to force a constitutional coup, but we'll get to all that later.

A possible constitutional coup, as well as the strategy and tactics being deployed to achieve it, we'll call the Bainimarama Screw (as in thumb screw, for reasons which, we trust, will become obvious).

We'll commence with an admittedly lengthy and complicated summary of the recent story so far. Developments on Monday morning we'll get to at the end.

Back on November 3, when 'coup looming in Fiji' hysteria last was bubbling (and your correspondent accurately predicted there wouldn't be a coup), the then SMH's correspondent in Suva, Joel Gibson, wrote, quoting Dr Steven Ratuva (whom alert TDBers would have seen on ABC TV News last Friday night in Sean Dorney's report):

"The key to understanding Fiji's military boss may lie in what he does not say, rather than in his frequent, colourful outbursts," Mr Gibson wrote on November 3.

"While reports have suggested he has threatened a coup, he in fact said he would demand the Government's resignation.

"When headlines said he threatened bloodshed this week, it was the possibility of Fijians fighting other Fijians he had alluded to, not of soldiers opening fire. It is a tactic he has used for some time.

"Steven Ratuva, a senior fellow in governance at the University of the South Pacific, says the feud between the two is 'more of a cold war than a hot one', in which Commodore Bainimarama hopes that the prospect of violence will affect government policy.

"'The military has been using the tactic of psychological coercion of different intensities,' Dr Ratuva says. 'The level of intensity corresponds with the level of resistance by government,"' Dr Ratuva told the SMH's Joel Gibson on November 3.

TDBers would also be advised to re-visit Dr Ratuva's critique of 'parachute journalism' on Fiji from late October too.

One example we caught (and saved for future reference) was this, from Philippa Mcdonald, in a telephone interview with ABC's The World Today on Friday lunchtime:

"Philippa McDonald: Well, it's pretty quiet, Eleanor, on the streets of Suva. There are some queues for petrol and at some automatic tellers. I'm told there are fewer shoe cleaners, who are a feature here, but there are none of the signs that we've seen in previous coups.

"We don't see road blocks, there are not tanks in the street, nor are there hundreds of troops in the streets at there were a couple of nights ago," Ms McDonald breathlessly told Eleanor Hall.

Memo to ABC Accuracy Police: The Fiji military does not have any tanks.

Echoing Dr Ratuva, as a media scholar, your correspondent's alert to Vulagi reportage with a sub-text along the lines of - 'Here we go again! Those brown skinned fuzzy headed natives are getting restless, again. We'll have to bail them out of self-inflicted chaos, again. Why can't they follow our version of democracy we've given them?!' and variations thereof.

We're also alert to a parallel sub-text along the lines of - 'Why can't these people pull a coup to schedule?! I've got deadlines to meet! It's costing us a mint to have a reporter swanning around over there, so why can't they just get on with it!?' A sure sign a story has stalled is when journalists start interviewing each other, rehashing at steadily more boring breathless intensity the same hard information they filed in their earlier stories, or worse, speculating, like lawyers, about what might, could, may, possibly, happen, or not. The Fiji standoff would be driving 'parachute journalists' and their editors and paymasters crazy. The danger with this kind of reporting is how it influences policy responses from their home governments, often equally as poorly informed as the scribes.

(An interview we heard on ABC Newsradio early on Monday morning with Sean Dorney had him wryly commenting on the behaviour of 'parachute journalists' hanging around waiting for something, anything, to happen, and, because they know little about Fiji, getting steadily more frustrated.)

It is to these kinds of sentiments, rarely explicitly articulated to be sure, that USP's Dr Jon Fraenkel was also partly responding in last week's piece on Open Democracy (more below)

Two stand-out exceptions we've seen were Graham Davis' piece in The Weekend Australian ten days ago, and (much as we prefer to cavail about this, but fair's fair...) Greg Sheridan's piece in last Saturday's Weekend Australian.

With respect to Mr Davis' piece, which we critically nuanced last week because of what we felt was his over-emphasis on race - Indo-Fijians versus Indigenous Fijians - as a major dynamic in the current crisis, it was picked up by the Fiji Times on Wednesday last week, and drew an immediate riposte from leading Fijian human rights lawyer, Imrana Jalal, in Thursday's FT. Yellow Bucket, in a special portal called Dateline Suva, published Mr Davis' and Ms Jalal's pieces in Word format, commenting, "We think [the exchange] speaks for itself". We'll get to Ms Jalal's arguments later.

It would also benefit TDBers who have access to these kinds of things to dust off a copy of Edward Luttwak's classic from 1967, 'Coup d' Etat - A Practical Handbook' as well as review how Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka planned, executed, and consolidated his first coup in May, 1987. This was a standard, bloodless, military coup which, no doubt, has been closely studied by the current coup plotters in Suva.

As an example of how not to mount a coup properly, the Speight fronted putsch, has, no doubt as well, been closely studied. The plotters behind Speight broke just about every rule in Luttwak's Handbook, and largely ignored the Rabuka additions as well. This was really, really extra stupid because most of the tactical mistakes were made by disloyal elements from the Rabuka-created Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit (CRW) elite 'Prateorian Guard', whose 'father' was former British SAS Warrant Officer and, at the time, retired FMF Major, Illisoni Ligairi. About the only key point this bunch got at least initially right was that Speight, enrolled in the gang very late in the plot, was a valuable front man and media performer.

Evidence that Commordore Frank and his plotters have carefully studied Luttwak and Rabuka was vividly on display in and around Suva from late last Wednesday night into Thursday early morning when the Fiji military all but rehearsed their moves should they need to secure Suva and surrounds by force. We didn't see any specific details of media operations, such as Fiji TV, the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation, conveniently located downtown close to the Government Buildings, Communications Fiji Pty Ltd up on Waimanu Road, or newspaper offices being also 'secured', though Vodaphone, the FINTEL satellite facility at Vatuwaqa, and major electricity facilities, were on the military's list. Rule One in Luttwak's Handbook is 'Secure and Control Energy, Communications, and the Media'.

The Speight Putsch rolled into, as well as provided a major justification for, what your correspondent, together with several other close Fiji watchers, maintain was the major point of the events of May, 2000, the coup against then President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. We'll call this second, and quite distinct, coup, the Get Mara coup. The major perpetrator of the Get Mara coup was Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, who went on to install 'Smiling' Laisenia Qarase as interim Prime Minister. Commodore Frank, a Bauan, almost certainly did not personally want to be rid of Mara, a Lauan, because, after all, Qarase is also a Lauan. But Ratu Mara was seen as a major obstacle to necessary, and urgently needed, moves to restore stability and order to traumatised Fiji, so he was persuaded to resign. It would be making far too much of continuing confederacy rivalry withintraditional Fijian groupings - Bau or Bua versus Lau, for example - to argue these were, or are, decisive in the 2000, or the current, crisis, but it would be demonstrative of ignorance not to factor these into one's analysis.

The rest, as they say, is history, though it obviously profoundly informs current events in Fiji. The best book on the Fiji crisis of 2000 - 2001 remains Robbie Robertson and William Sutherland's 'Government by the Gun: The Unfinished Business of Fiji's 2000 Coup' (Sydney: Pluto Press, 2001). Wikipedia's Fiji Coup Portal is also comprehensive.

TDBers interested in the January, 2006, turns of the Bainimarama Screw should review my Webdiary analysis, which also touches on earlier and important contextural material.

Commodore Frank, even while overseas inspecting Fijian soldiers on UN peacekeeping duty in the Middle East, starts turning the Screw with regular comments to the Fijian media, which are then picked up by overseas media, fueling late October and early November's 'coup looming' hysteria. His comments are so extreme that the government and particularly Police Commissioner Hughes allege they were seditious, and investigations are duly commenced.

My November 7 Webdiary piece (based on the previous day's Wrap here) took the story to Commodore Frank's return from his Middle East trip.

So he returns from overseas, is met at Nadi Airport by his bodyguard, conveyed to either his home in the diplomatic quarter of Suva near the Pacific Forum Secretariat and Parliament House or to Queen Elizabeth II Barracks at Nabua in northern Suva, there to confer with his key and trusted officers, who've been a party to his escalating pressure on the government. The cops, wisely, decline to arrest or detain Commodore Frank, preferring to allow the DPP to decide on his alleged sedition. The DPP seems to be taking their time on this extremely tricky investigation.

Recalling reserve soldiers back to military camps for 'exercises', twice, during November, at no doubt huge expense for allowances and food, was another part of the tightening Bainimarama Screw.

With Police Commissioner Hughes and his boys - Fijians habitually call soldiers, police, or rugby players 'boys' or 'their or our boys' - sniffing around on sedition, as well as still on the hunt for loyal soldiers who fatally beat some captured mutineers from the November 2, 2000, horror, Commodore Frank puts Commissioner Hughes in the same sights as 'Smiling' Laisenia Qarase, and demands his dismissal or resignation too. (We disagree with Mr Sheridan's concluding substantive point that Commodore Frank's seriously worried about the police apparently closing in on the fatal beaters, or their officers, from November 2, 2000.)

Commissioner Hughes then goes on a 'Charm Offensive', talking to just about everybody and alleging that a shadowy group of about ten politicians, public servants, and other identities are in Commodore Frank's ear, inciting him to pursue his escalating strategy against the government.

Frank reckons Andrew's shifted to supporting what he sees as a deeply compromised government, acting against the interests of all Fijians, witness the three offensive bills - The Bill, Qoliqoli, and a Land Tenure bill - and the police's establishment of its own armed SWAT squad.

On November 19, Commodore Frank also issues an ultimatum to the government to 'clean up' or else, issuing a series of non-negotiable demands, including the dropping of the three controversial bills (which we've discussed here in earlier editions), the dropping of investigations into the fatal mutiny beatings, the removal of Commissioner Hughes, and purging the government of those even suspected of involvement in the events of 2000. The deadline is Noon, Friday, December 1 (dubbed High Noon by several media outlets. We didn't see any reports of anybody humming, 'Do not forsake me, oh my darlin'.).

Having assured himself the strategy and its tactics were proceeding pretty much to plan, Commodore Frank took himself off to New Zealand the weekend before last for a granddaughter's christening. That's part of the Screw, because he'd hardly wander Off Islands for a few days if a strategy he's been periodically hatching and is now tightening was likely to come unravelled in his absence. The guy's supremely confident the plot's bubbling along to schedule.

Commissioner Hughes, meanwhile, in pursuit of evidence for sedition sends some of his 'boys' to 'raid' Government House, sending Commodore Frank apoplectic. Here's about the only serious threat to his strategy.

The President, as Commander in Chief, is the only power constitutionally able to remove Commodore Frank, and the government's already had a couple of attempts to have President Ratu Josefa Ililo do so, and had their requests declined. If the government, or anybody else, seriously got at Ratu Josefa, who's gravely ill with Parkinson's disease, and convinced him to remove Commodore Frank, it'd be all over, or Commodore Frank could pull what might easily become a hot and bloody coup. To 'protect' the President, Commodore Frank installs some of his 'boys' at the entrance to the White House, just in case.

Commissioner Hughes dispatches his family back to Australia, and several embassies, such as the Kiwis, perched atop the Reserve Bank Building with spectacular views of Suva harbour, send non-essential personnel and families off to the Coral Coast, Nadi, or even back home.

Alexander Downer helpfully repeats his grave concerns that Fiji will have a coup within a fortnight, angering 'Smiling' Laisenia Qarase, who's also the Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum and needs Mr Downer's advice like a second headache, while Dr Nelson keeps the three warships on station south of Kadavu in case Australians need rescue from the crazed, coup-maddened natives. (Mr Sheridan reality tests, and all but dismisses, this 'gunboat diplomacy'.)

Mr Downer also announces that Pacific Forum Foreign Ministers would meet in Sydney on Friday, December 1, to discuss the Fiji crisis. The Biketawa Declaration, which legitimates Forum member's intervention - read, local Superpower and Kiwi - in each other's internal affairs after due consultation gets dusted off, much to 'Smiling' Laisenia Qarase's further irritation.

In this context, and in the broader context of Australia's involvement in the Pacific, USP's Dr Jon Fraenkel's long piece on the UK site, Open Democracy, deserves close attention:

"The political situations in Fiji, Solomon Islands and Tonga differ markedly, but in each case governments face protracted legitimacy crises. None have found a stable political equilibrium. Top-level instability sparks the potential for political crises, and weak economic growth ensures that, when crises occur, there are plenty ofunderemployed youths hanging around urbanised capitals, ready to take advantage of the mayhem," Dr Fraenkel warned.

"The knee-jerk 'instability justifies intervention' reaction to such crises may restore order over the short-term, but it is likely, at best, to freeze existing political alignments or, at worst, to tilt the domestic political balance one way or the other. Instability, after all, unleashes positive as well as negative forces. Some instability may be a critical and necessary, if unfortunate, driving force of political change.

"The interventionist proclivities of neighbouring big powers means that nothing faintly resembling Europe's mid-19th-century 'springtime for democracy' seems possible in the contemporary Pacific, unless it occurs as a smooth, squeaky-clean and untroubled transition. Democratic change tends to be messier than this.

"This is not to counsel, absurdly, against all types of intervention, or even against military intervention in cases of humanitarian catastrophe (the Pacific, fortunately, has no Rwandas, Cambodias or Sierra Leones). But it is to suggest that a greater degree of caution is needed, and a less in-your-face style of diplomacy is required. It is no accident that the most successful peace process in the Pacific region over recent years, that in Bougainville, has remained more or less firmly under local control. And the most politically stable of the Pacific Islands, Samoa, was also the country most able to determine its own constitutional arrangements, and still remains highly resistant to outside pressures," Dr Frankel cautioned.

Australia, New Zealand, the USA, and the UK ramp up their travel advisories for Fiji, warning their nationals: Don't Go There! Get Out Of There! Coup Looming!

The Fijian tourism industry warns they're facing disaster, with Air Pacific reporting a drop of 3,000 bookings into the first quarter of 2007, and some resorts reporting less than 40% occupancies, and dropping fast. The Fiji sugar industry warned that if there was a coup, it would lose what preferential access to the European Union market it had left, and a $FJ 350 million EU funded transition support scheme.

The financial effects across the Region of a coup in Fiji are also indicated in this piece from Fairfax New Zealand's Scoop.co.nz. In summary: Huge!

The ACTU and the NZCTU also issued a joint statement on Sunday, also warning of the damage a coup in Fiji could do to ordinary workers.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan weighed into the situation last Tuesday, warning that if there was a coup, Fijian soldiers on peacekeeping duties would be asked withdraw, necessarily costing Fiji lots in lost income.

Last Friday, the Commonwealth's Secretary-General Don McKinnon also warned against a coup, RNZI reported.

In Auckland, the weekend before last, Commodore Frank meets with New Zealand Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, a Maori, and then agrees to a meeting on Wednesday chaired by Prime Minister Helen Clark (who we refrain from calling Fang), with 'Smiling' Laisenia Qarase. The Kiwis send a New Zealand Air Force plane to bring the PM, and Commissioner Hughes, down to the Windy City.

Meanwhile, as we reported last Wednesday, both Yellow Bucket and Fairfax New Zealand's Michael Field, both deeply experienced Fiji watchers, separately predicted there'd be no coup until at least Monday, December 4, if only because the annual Sukuna Bowl sporting competition between the police and the military was scheduled for Friday, December 1, culminating in the Friday afternoon rugby match at the Fiji Post National Stadium down on Laucala Bay Road near USP.

The Bucket has opened up a daily portal, called Dateline Fiji, which is worth a close study too.

One vital piece of information the Bucket provided on Tuesday was that the Vice-President, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, the key circuit breaker back in January, 2006, had been effectively sidelined by Commodore Frank, largely because, according to the Bucket, he was rigorously sticking to the constitution and the rule of law.

Michael Field opined that it was not so much any mayhem or anarchy unleashed by the military that locals had to worry about, it was the probability of opportunistic violence, looting, and arson unleashed because of a probable coup, this time targeting the growing numbers of Chinese businesses in Suva and elsewhere which had replaced Indo-Fijian businesses, closed as their owners took off after the mayhem of mid-2000. Basically, Mr Field, was saying, a repeat of Suva on May 19, 2000, Honiara in April, 2006, and then Nuku'alofa in November, 2006, could erupt.

Last Tuesday morning, the High Commissioners of Australia and the UK, and the US Ambassador, shared transport to the military HQ at Nabua seeking assurances from Commodore Frank's key offsiders that nothing nasty would happen, at least until Commodore Frank returned, which was expected later that day. They were politely told, in diplomatic terms, to piss off and butt out of Fiji's internal affairs.

We ended our Wednesday, November 29, Special Edition, awaiting the outcome of the Wellington meeting, which, we hoped, would be a new circuit breaker.

Meanwhile, late on Wednesday afternoon a Blackhawk crashes while attempting to land on HMAS Kanimbla, with its pilot killed, a soldier lost, and several soldiers injured and needing evacuation back to Australia, so HMAS Newcastle heads for Noumea at top speed. Not an auspicious omen for a possible rescue operation fraught with difficulties and even dangers into an urban environment where the fierce and experienced local soldiers are already planning for your possible arrival, and some of their senior officers already opining that such an arrival would be considered an invasion. (As Mr Sheridan also accurately observes.) By Monday, the SAS soldier was presumed dead.

The Wellington meeting ended on Wednesday afternoon with Commodore Frank walking out with almost everything he wanted, but not enough for him to back right off. No circuit breaker from the Shakey Isles, but at least Ms Clark and Mr Peters gave it a genuine attempt.

TDBers can get PDF format copies of both the Minutes from the Wellington meeting, and 'Smiling' Laisenia Qarase's subsequent letter to Commodore Frank via the Fiji Times' home page (scroll down beneath the picture of the day, box titled The Wellington Files). Verenaisi Raicola provided a summary of the outcome of the meeting in Saturday's Fiji Times as well.

But at least the door remains open a chink, Mr Peters still has a mandate to continue his diplomacy as best he can, and that's what he'll be trying to do. The government and the military are still only shouting at each other, occasionally.

The other major casualty, aside from the Blackhawk casualties, so far, is Commissioner Andrew Hughes. After the Wellington meeting, Commodore Frank went home on a scheduled civilian flight, 'Smiling' Laisenia Qarase was provided with another RNZAF flight home, but Commissioner Hughes was sent on leave to Cairns.

On Friday, Mr Hughes asserted that he was still Fiji's Police Commissioner: "Despite the rumours that I am stressed and am resigning, I want to state that I am happy and have no intention of resigning," Mr Hughes told The Australian (via the Fiji Times). He also said he'd been threatened by 'those he called "friends in the coup-plotting department of the RFMF"'.

Also on Friday, the Forum Foreign Minister's meeting agreed to appoint an Eminent Persons' Group to visit Fiji, meet with all parties to the stand-off, and see what could be done to resolve the situation.

As the press statement following the Friday meeting put it:

"Ministers expressed their firm support for the democratically elected Government of Fiji and for its right to govern within the tenets of Fiji's Constitution and the rule of law. Ministers noted the assessment of international election observers, including the Forum Election Observer Team, that the May 2006 election was a credible exercise of the will of the people of Fiji and the outcome should be respected. They also noted the establishment of a multi-party cabinet as required under Fiji's Constitution following the 2006 election.

"Ministers urged the RFMF to reconsider its stance and maintain respect for the rule of law, the constitution of Fiji and the democratic institutions and processes established under it. Ministers urged that the differences between the parties be resolved through negotiation, within the Constitution and with respect for the rule of law. In addition Ministers called on all community, church and other leaders in Fiji to encourage a peaceful resolution in support of the democratically elected government.

"Ministers expressed their appreciation to the Government of New Zealand for facilitating the meeting in Wellington on 29 November. Ministers strongly encouraged the parties to build on the discussion held in Wellington and to exhaust all possible avenues within the Constitution of Fiji to reach a resolution of their differences.

"Ministers welcomed the message sent by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressing his support for dialogue between the Government and the RFMF and the UN Security Council's call on the Fiji Military to avoid any action that would undermine the rule of law and run counter to the best interests of Fiji. Ministers called on the international community to continue to underline its concerns with developments in Fiji and to identify what actions could be taken to support the Government of Fiji at this time.

"Ministers offered the good offices of the Forum to help further the dialogue between the Government and RFMF toward a peaceful resolution of the situation, or to undertake any other assistance that may be requested by the Government of Fiji to that end. Ministers asked the Secretary General, in consultation with the Government of Fiji, to urgently convene an Eminent Persons' Group to visit Fiji to meet all the relevant parties to the impasse, and to make recommendations for a way forward to resolve the current standoff between the Government and the military.

"Ministers undertook to remain seized of the issue and indicated their readiness to meet again as circumstances require, and to receive and consider the report of the Eminent Persons' Group," the Forum Minister's meeting press release concluded.

We await the composition of this Eminent Persons' Group with great interest. Mr Sheridan in the Weekend Australian reckoned Peter Cosgrove would be Australia's top candidate, with impeccable military credentials to talk to Commodore Frank as an equal. Howard's really clever with these kinds of appointments, witness his 'appointment' of the very best Australian candidate he could possibly find to Chair the Pacific Islands Forum, Greg Urwin. But we digress a little.

The Biketawa Declaration remains in reserve. For now.

Another couple of ominous elements were added to the mix by Dr Steven Ratuva, on Friday evening's PM. Reporter Philippa McDonald led into Dr Ratuva thus: "And now Fiji is facing yet another challenge to its democracy, the promise of a new government, but unlike it's current one, not elected by a vote".

"You have a new government, consisting of perhaps neutral officers and civilian politicians, and beyond that long-term consequences can be disastrous for the country, not only economically, but also politically, because the Fiji nationalists are already saying that if the Government is removed, Qarase's government came into power through more than 80 per cent of the Fijian vote," Dr Ratuva said.

"And the perception at the moment is that the military has been backed by the Indian population. One of the research that has been done, by one of the professional groups, kind of showed that pattern, and there may be this ... this perception can be played out and articulated in perhaps some violent form," Dr Ratuva told PM last Friday evening.

Not that we've seen much solid reportage along these lines, though Michael Field hinted at it earlier in the week, but some Taukei movement extreme nationalists, some of whom are in the minority CAMV party in the government, and their civil sphere agitators, might be stirring in the hills north of Suva and elsewhere., They'd strongly support the SDLV affirmative action for Indigenous Fijian development agenda, criticised as racist, the now dumped amnesty clauses in The Bill, and Qoliqoli, and still nurture thoughts of revenge upon Commodore Frank for his role in the 2000 crisis. We might have missed something, but known extreme nationalists have been decidedly quiet. It was largely these nasty types, and opportunists, who incited the looting, arson, and general chaos in Suva and elsewhere in May, 2000. Dr Ratuva may be getting better information from his sources, prompting his comments to PM on Friday evening, and hinted at on ABC TV News on Friday night.

In this regard, the SMH's story on Monday deserves a close study as Malcolm Brown names some locals on a probable military 'clean up' list, and a prominent nationalist reportedly has left the country.

NZ Fairfax's Michael Field's piece at lunchtime on Sunday confirmed the immediately above suspicion on our part, firmed by reading between the lines from Dr Ratuva, and recalling what happened back in May, 2000.

What we have also seen are strong NGO objections to a military coup, and these are not to be discounted in the Fijian mix. However, the influential Methodist Church, as far as we've seen, has remained quiet. Elements of the Methodist Church are best understood as the Taukei movement at prayer. The Ecumenical Centre for Research Education and Advocacy (ECREA) has questioned the military's mandate to carry out its 'clean-up campaign,' the Fiji Times reported on Saturday. The influential Citizen's Constitutional Forum has also been quiet, as far as we have seen, but, back in mid-November, their Chair, Rev Aquila Yabaki, opined on the role the Bose Levu Vakaturaga should be playing in negotiations between the government and the military. Commodore Frank's got no time for them either as 'honest brokers' in this context; too compromised and contaminated.

"Concerned Citizens for Peace a coalition of Fiji NGOs, including the NGO Coalition on Human Rights called on Ratu Josefa to urgently encourage skilled mediation between the disciplined forces and the Government," the Fiji Times reported on Thursday.

"It said Fiji needed to solve its problems through lawful processes and democratic institutions such as the courts, mediation and civil society consultation.

"We should not seek external assistance until alternatives in ourown democratic processes have been exhausted,' said a spokeswoman," reported the Fiji Times last Thursday.

We also know the influential Pacific Concerns Resource Centre issued a call on President Ratu Ililo to 'Stay the course on the rule of law':

"The Pacific Concerns Resource Centre (PCRC) is gravely concerned that the highest office in Fiji, the Office of the President is again not being decisive strategically especially in this hour of need for Fiji.

"Director PCRC Ms. Tupou Vere says: 'In spite of the apparent capitulation of the Office of the President at gun-point we appeal to the Office of the President that it increasingly becomes visible to the public and consistently reassure the nation of the steps it is taking to resolve the impasse and differences over the interpretation of the rule of law in the country. 'The Commander-in-Chief's emphatic statement that the Government should bend to the Army's demands and their excuse that they have been kept in the dark' of Government's plans is bewildering as they should have stepped in much earlier,' Ms Vere said in Friday's media release (which isn't On Line).

By Friday afternoon, 'Smiling' Laisenia Qarase and his cabinet had taken themselves off to secret locations around Fiji, he going to Savusavu on Vanua Levu. Actually, he assured Fijians, he'd gone to Nadi and then Sauvsavu, two major tourism destinations, to get local's opinions on the standoff with the military.

Then things started to look much more optomistic, because back into the picture, literally, comes Vice-President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, pictured by the Fiji Times sitting with Commodore Frank at Friday afternoon's military versus police Sukuna Bowl rugby match. In case anybody's interested, the police won 17 - 15 after a last minute penalty. And the rains came down in Suva in ways we in most of Australia can hardly remember.

Saturday ended with the Fiji Times, with an almost palpable sense of relief, reporting that Ratu Joni had met with 'Smiling' Laisenia Qarase and was planning to meet Commodore Frank early this week.

By Sunday morning, there was another skermish of words between Commodore Frank and 'Smiling' Laisenia Qarase as to who was really in control in Fiji, with the New Zealand Herald reporting:

"Fiji's outspoken military commander claims he has taken control of the Pacific nation and was this morning reported as saying there was no scope for further talks with the prime minister.

"The claim from Commodore Frank Bainimarama came as Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase emerged from hiding to return to Suva, saying he was still in charge.

"That led Bainimarama to a personal attack last night, telling Auckland's Radio Tarana that if Qarase did not resign, he would "have nowhere to live in Fiji".

"This morning [Sunday], fijilive.com reported he had ruled out further talks with Qarase saying: "I don't have to meet with him anymore... His time has tun out," the NZ Herald reported (Link to Fijilive.com added).

Just a query here - If Commadore Frank's in charge in Fiji, then who's one to call if one's house is burgled, one's water or power goes off, again, to whom should one pay one's VAT, or present one's passport at the airport (assuming one's a Vulagi and ignored one's government's stern travel warnings)?

The Fiji Times reported along the same lines later on Sunday, adding a police riposte from Acting Commissioner, Moses Driver:

"'It is illegal and unconstitutional for Mr Bainimarama to take over the responsibilities of the police force in Fiji,' Acting Commissioner Driver told the FT.

"'The military has no right to do that under the Constitution."

Mr Driver said despite the "continuous impasse" police still had the power and total responsibility of maintaining peace, law and order in the country.

"'Under the Police Act, the legal responsibility lies with the police unless the situation declines to a stage where, after advising the Government that we (police) cannot deal with those situations, we can seek the assistance of the army to help us deal with that situation,' he said, the Fiji Times reported.

The Fiji Daily Post on Saturday, and again on Sunday, reported that it knew what Commodore Frank's tactical plans were:

"...the military is planning to seal off Suva at 3am Monday morning (4th December) to begin its long-promised 'clean-up' campaign. Just what this entails is hard to say, but a bloody struggle between government loyalists and Frank's rebel military cannot be ruled out.

"Sources say that the 'clean-up' will include a 'constitutional coup' with Vice-President, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, expected on Monday to dismiss the Qarase government and swear-in an interim regime featuring some current politicians and former political players sidelined since Qarase's victory in May this year.

"Some observers say the struggle for democracy in Fiji has a tribal dimension too with the House of Bau leading the overthrow. This is where the potential for bloodshed is most probable and the world may well see Fiji go the way of the Solomons, Tonga, or worse.

"In view of the ongoing deteriorating relationship between the Qarase government and the military command, the likely developments outlined above, and recent and current threats made by Fiji's military personnel to our newspaper and staff because of our principled criticisms of the military, and our forthright stand for democracy, the rule of law in Fiji, and respect for human rights and the elected government of the day, Australian publisher, Mr Alan Hickling, is supporting applications for political asylum in Australia for all current staff of the Fiji Daily Post. Assistance will be sought from the Australian High Commission in this regard," the Fiji Daily Post reported on Saturday.

Michael Field also drew on the Daily Post's timetable in his piece on Sunday lunchtime.

Given that nothing happened overnight, we're resisting the temptation to think Commodore Frank stayed his hand only to spite the Daily Post, but it was a huge call for them to make nonetheless. They was wrong.

TDBers should be aware that The Fiji Daily Post is the strongest supporter of the Qarase government of Fiji's three daily newspapers, with its General Manager, Mesake Koroi, a cousin of 'Smiling' Laisenia Qarase, a former PR flack for the majority SDL Party, and a former spokesperson for the Fiji Police. It's owned by a Hong Kong based Australian company.

Now to the boring bits - the 'rule of law' arguments.

We've opined several times to TDBers and on Webdiary that Fiji is not a normally functioning constitutional democracy, where 'the rule of law' arguments would ordinarily be expected to rigorously apply. This is a fact of which constitutional purists should be strongly seized (to borrow the delicious turn of phrase from the Forum Foreign Minister's press release).

We most sincerely wish it were otherwise, to be sure. Just about everybody enmeshed in this situation fervently wishes likewise. But wishes aren't reality, and while a constitution sets the broad rules by which real politic is played out, interpreted by superior court judgements as needed, if real politic overwhelms legal rigour, one of the consequences is the current Fijian situation. Constitutions and superior courts all but inevitably move as fast as glaciers or oil tankers usually do. Real politic can be like an erupting volcano.

We would juxtapose Imrana Jalal's arguments, with which we would agree in an ideal world, with points made by Greg Sheridan.

Setting aside Ms Jalal's occasional ad hominum attacks on Mr Davis, her key points are:

"The essence of the rule of law requires us to solve our problems using lawful processes and democratic institutions such as the courts, the police and civil society.

"To suggest that an illegal alternative might be justifiable undermines the building of democratic institutions, the ultimate power of the courts to rule any proposed law unconstitutional and makes a mockery of democracy and legitimate elections.

"We Fijians wish to solve our problems using the rule of law.

"This might involve challenging legislation that is unconstitutional or in violation of human rights, as has been done before, or voting out a government in a general election, and not by supporting the illegal removal of a government through the rule of the gun.

"That is precisely what Davis is indirectly advocating: he is feeding the coup cycle and giving succour to the military.

"Using the rule of law is certainly a longer and more tedious process, one which takes time, but to dispense with it in times of trouble is courting disaster.

"Flirt with the rule of law at your peril.

"I am curious to know whether Davis would indirectly advocate the same method in Australia whenever Howard attempts to pass unconstitutional and anti-human rights legislation through parliament or is he willing to wait out the lawful processes including the right of Australian citizens to use the courts for their grievances?

"Where is it written that in those 'uncivilised islands' of the Pacific live lesser people entitled to lesser rights then that accorded Australians, namely to use democratic processes and the rule of law to hold their governments accountable?

"Davis and Australia need to be reminded that it was not Commander Bainimarama who brought back constitutional democracy to Fiji following the crisis in Fiji in 2000, but a poor, marginalised (now completely disenfranchised) Indo-Fijian farmer, eventually backed by civil society, through the landmark Chandrika Prasad court case.

"Bainimarama actually filed a lengthy affidavit supporting the abrogation of the constitution.

"It might be prudent to remember also, that it was the Commander who the courts have said committed the final illegal abrogation of the Constitution, when he unlawfully removed our former President Ratu Mara from Office."

(We interrupt here to point TDBers to our Webdiary piece from January, 2006, and our Fiji Elections piece in April, 2006, particularly the parts on the High Court case, Prasad v Republic of the Fiji Islands, from March, 2001. Really keen TDBers should peruse the USP Law School's special On Line section on this case. Robertson and Sutherland in 'Government by the Gun' ably assist in explaining the context too. It's by no means as simple as Ms Jalal makes out. She continues:)

"We should let the rule of law and lawful processes take their course without any threat or perceived threat of illegal removals of government and of coups.

"Have faith in us Mr Davis.

"Have some faith in the ability of us Fijians to build our democracy without illegal interference," Ms Jalalwrote.

As we said, in an ideal world, we'd wholeheartedly agree. But we don't live in an ideal world.

Kind-of in reply, though he doesn't mention Ms Jalal, Mr Sheridan wrote:

"But the Qarase Government is undeniably smelly and vulnerable on many fronts. Bainimarama accuses it of corruption and telling lies. Qarase's Government contains figures intimately associated with the 2000 coup. Certainly it was profoundly ill-advised, not to mention utterly offensive, to promote an amnesty for the 2000 coup plotters.

"Moreover, at the last election Qarase himself had half-threatened a coup had the Indian Opposition leader Mahendra Chaudhry won. Qarase holds the racist view that there are no circumstances under which an ethnic Indian may become Fiji's prime minister.

"But for all that, Qarase was originally appointed prime minister as a compromise caretaker after the 2000 coup on the authority of Bainimarama himself. Subsequently, Qarase won two democratic elections," Mr Sheridan wrote.

While both elections were generally accepted as free and fair insofar as the legal and practical requirements for these things go, and that's an extremely long way in Fiji allowing for its racially based three part electoral roll and electorates, we refer TDBers to our Elections preview piece on Webdiary for some of the darker currents running through the 2006 election campaign.

At lunchtime on Sunday, Fijilive.com reported constitutional scholar, Professor Brij Lal, based at ANU and one of the architects of the 1997 Constitution as saying that:

"...the President will need Qarase to endorse a change of Government as demanded by the military.

"Academic Dr Brij Lal said any other move to remove the Government would be unconstitutional.

He said Fiji's Westminster set up demands the Head of State acts on the advice of the Prime Minister.

"It is decided on the floor of the House. It is not pre-empted by the President or anyone else," said Dr Lal.

"He said there were avenues for a President to exercise his own judgement in removing a government, albeit limited.

"In case the government is unworkable or incapacitated, the President can exercise his own judgment but only as a temporary measure until the legitimately elected people are back in office.

"But what happens when Qarase's government is elected back in power?" Professor Lal asked on Fijilive.com.

Sunday in Suva saw locals doing what's expected of them, though in more than usual numbers, and Commodore Frank went on the Sunday afternoon Fijian talk show on Fiji TV to deny the coup would start very early on Monday morning. He also reportedly said there would be no military in any interim government he installed.

The Bainamarama Screw is reaching its tautest and we await developments with considerable anticipation as well as trepedation. We agree with Mr Sheridan: "We are in for an interesting and dangerous week in Fiji".

The Fiji Times for Monday, December 4, deserves a close look, so we won't summarise any of its many reports here.

It's Editorial headed 'Give it up, Voreqe' effectively calls for nonviolent resistance to the military's plans:

"[Commodore Frank] needs to back down and resume talks with the Government. There is still a window of opportunity to do this but to do so, egos must be taken out of the equation. A possible solution is for both parties to agree to call for a national referendum on several pertinent issues, including those linked to the army chief's list of demands.

"The issues should include whether the three controversial Bills should be reviewed or shelved for good, whether immunity should be granted to the commander and his men some who coldbloodedly killed colleagues during interrogation, and whether the Police Commissioner should be allowed to return to do what he does best.

"It is hard to believe today that the same man who stood up for the rule of law in 2000 is today its main threat.

"As for civil society, the onus is on ourselves to rise up and peacefully resist the military's planned takeover. Wear the pink ribbons to symbolise your disgust for the proposed "clean-up". Talk to your associates, friends or family in the army to help them see reason. Put up pro-democracy placards in your yards or join public demonstrations or group vigils. Civil society groups need to lead the way and make their voice irrevocably clear.

"The silent majority should not stay silent any longer. We should take heed of those wise words that when good men do nothing, evil flourishes," the Fiji Times said on Monday morning.

There's a Cabinet meeting called for Tuesday, and the National Security Council has also met on the continuing stand-off. On Monday morning. 'Smiling' Laisenia Qarase said that the military would be committing treason if they continued with their 'clean up' campaign.

Our tanoa peering last week and into the weekend led us to predict some sort of constitutional coup, quite possibly with some ugly opportunistic violence and mayhem on the edges, which will be vigorously suppressed, but the Bainimarama Screw still seems to have a few more turns to go.

And as a final thought, while many reports have it that Suva's tense, what's also occurring is that many locals are struggling against going completely stir crazy with boredom, like the guy in the delicious picture on the New Zealand Herald's story on Monday morning.

Once the curfew took hold in Suva after the Thursday, November 2, 2000, mutiny, the fallout from which is still fueling the current stand-off, on the Friday and Saturday, your correspondent struggled mightily not to go completely spla with a raging case of the gibbering abb dabbs brought on by unrelieved boredom. Must be awful in Suva at the moment.

Moce mada

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

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.

(We provided Links to key sources on the immediately above yesterday, or pick them up from our earlier Webdiary pieces. Do a search on'Fiji' or 'Dr Mark Hayes'.)

The Bainimarama Screw has the military exerting escalating psychological coercion on the government, and now, in its overt tactical phase, rehearshing 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 drowning in the rumours flooding the place at times like these.

If the power goes off in Suva, 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 wrong 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.

As this Special Edition of the Pacific Wrap was being finalised, the Fiji Times was reporting that New Zealand had banned Commodore Frank from travel there, and Fijivillage was reporting some soldiers had attempted to enter the PM's residence.

The person to closely look out for in all the reports pouring out of Fiji is the Vice-President, Ratu Joni Mandrawiwi, 'cos we reckon he'll be an absolutely crucial player in any negotiations through the coming hours and days.

Moce mada

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

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

Ni sa Bula Vinaka - Fiji Coup/Crisis Edition No 4

So the Bainimarama Screw finally worked... Sort-of...

The strategy appears to have been to make government all but impossible in Fiji, thereby putting in place a justification, of sorts, for the President to dismiss Parliament, citing the doctrine of necessity, and ending the Qarase regime's hold on power.

Mid-morning in Suva yesterday, it appeared to have worked, with the President reportedly agreeing to dissolve Parliament, while deployed tactics outside the Prime Minister's residence boxed the government up, including confiscating Minister's vehicles.

The formal justification was published on F ijilive.com.

But then the President reportedly announced he had not supported the military at all.

Islands Business has a good Fiji Crisis Portal well worth a regular visit (they use some weird form of server side web site operations, so adding Links from individual stories there is all but impossible. We'll cite story headlines and leave TDBers to find them.)

In a story headlined 'Confusion Reigns', Dionisia Tabureguci, in an Islands Business Exclusive writes:

"After an unsuccessful move to have Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase dismissed by President Iloilo, Bainimarama announced that 'I, under the legal doctrine of necessity, will step into the shoes of the President given that he has been blocked from exercising his constitutional powers', and further stated that having stepped into the shoes of the shoes of the president, he has dismissed the Prime Minister and has appointed a caretaker Prime Minister.

"This however is a likely basis for serious legal debate, given that under Fiji's constitution, the dismissal of a Prime Minister would have to be a result of a Parliamentary processes which would have involved a vote of no confidence taken by the House of Representatives against the Prime Minister," Ms Tabureguci wrote.

The best analysis of what actually happened we've seen was by Fairfax New Zealand's Micheal Field on Stuff.co.nz. Mr Field's noticed that Commodore Frank's claim to having legally deposed the Qarase government was Deja Vu.

"Commodore Bainimarama said the new interim government would conduct a census and then hold a general election.

"He also called on the international community to understand the situation.

"An elderly military doctor, Jona Baravilala Senilagakali, has been appointed interim prime minister.

"He is expected to hold the post long enough to dissolve Parliament.

"This is a replay of a device used after the 2000 coup when Ratu Mara appointed Tevita Momoedonu as caretaker prime minister long enough to sack hostage premier Mahendra Chaudhry. [Link added.]

[We call this the Momoedonu Two Step, and what he fronted in March, 2001, was a classic constitutional coup, echoing Kerr's move against Whitlam in 1975. Mr Field continues:]

"Mr Momoedonu's first premiership lasted minutes, but he now collects a full prime minister's pension.

"Dr Senilagakali, 77, is from the remote archipelago that Ratu Mara and Mr Qarase came from," Mr Field reported.

If Commodore Frank didn't get the flimsy constitutional moves for his coup right, and it looks like they came unglued very close to the culmination of his strategy, he's blown it completely on a shakey legal basis, which places him in the same Bure as Sitiveni Rabuka back in May, 1987.

Early on Wednesday morning, Laisenea Qarase and his wife were reportedly flown by helicopter to Nausori and then on a scheduled flight to their home island in the eastern Lau Group.

The New Zealand Herald has a good update on the situation, with very useful links off the main story

With the police vowing not to cooperate with the military, a loose movement seems to be building to oppose the Bainimarama coup across civil society.

This deserves close watching as the Fiji civil sphere is very diverse, very influential, and has shown it can be very effective to oppose unpopular government policies or initiatives, such as the Reconciliation, Tolerance, and Unity Bill, with its proposed amnesty clauses for coup plotters. Your correspondent knows for certain many key operators in Fijian civil society are extremely knowledgable in nonviolent resistance tactics. Police Commissioner Hughes said that there will be widespread resistance to the coup on The 7.30 Report on Tuesday night.

Given the number of hits it is getting, Fijilive.com is loading very erratically and often slowly, but by mid-morning, Fijivillage.com was reporting government department CEOs had been summoned to the military HQ at Nabua in Northern Suva, and soldiers had arrived at the Parliament complex.

An angle to all this which grabbed your correspondent's attention on Tuesday night was that, soon after Commodore Frank's assumption of power, soldiers arrived at almost all media outlets, demanding that journalists not publish statements from the Qarase administration.

On Tuesday, the International Federation of Journalists, whose President is Australian MEAA President, Chris Warren, condemned attacks on the Fiji media.

The Daily Post had earlier ceased publishing its print edition, following alleged threats from military sources, but their Web Site continued to be updated into Tuesday night.

Soon after the military arrived at the Fiji Times, Managing Director, Tony Yiaani, who's a mate of your correspondent's, shut the paper down, refusing to publish under military censorship. This would be only the third time the Fiji Times has not been published, once after a cyclone in the 1960s, during the Rabuka coup in 1987, and now this.

But it looks like they're Updating their Web Site, - Keep Strong, Tony and Co! - with this story filed late on Wednesday morning:

"Fiji's acting Police Commissioner says the country's military has now "indulged itself in a very strong and criminal act" and lawmen would support soldiers in actions that were 'illegal and unconstitutional', the FT reported.

Fiji TV pulled its late night news bulletin last night too. We can acutely feel the frustration of Fiji TV's News Director, Netani Rika, and his crew down on Gorrie Street, Suva, and the anger of PINA's President, Ken Clark, also from Fiji TV. Extreme Solidarity Guys and please keep safe too!

We'll end with the PACNEWS story, via the Islands Business portal, from late last night on media censorship.

Your correspondent's closely monitoring the situation, as well as trying to make deeper sense of it all, and will UpDate TDBers daily as necessary.

Moce mada.


Media censorship begins; media outlet closes down

The soldiers said they particularly would not like to see "anti-army" stories published.


Tue, 5 Dec 2006

SUVA, FIJI ---- Fiji's largest daily newspaper, the Fiji Times has closed down after it refuses to accept censorship imposed on it by the military regime.

A group of 10 soldiers--led by a former radio journalist-- Sergeant Talei Tora--walked into the office of the newspaper, in downtown Suva at 7pm local time tonight demanding to vet all stories written by its journalists.

The soldiers said they particularly would not like to see "anti-army" stories published.

After consultations of the newspaper's senior managers, the Rupert-Murdoch daily said it finds the military demands unacceptable and decided to close operations.

The Fiji Times becomes the second of the country's newspapers that have ceased publication, after the government owned Daily Post stopped printing last Monday.

Soldiers also went to the two radio stations operating in the capital, state owned Fiji Broadcasting Corporation and Communications Fiji and national Fiji Television.

PACNEWS has established that at least FijiTV will cease its news bulletins from 10pm tonight, as it would not work under duress.

"The military had wanted us not to air any stories concerning Laisenia Qarase or any of his ministers," a spokesman for Fiji Television said.

The TV station also objected to having armed soldiers inside its newsroom.

Francis Herman, chief executive of Fiji Broadcasting confirmed that he was paid a visit by the military. He said a soldier is now posted at state radio's newsroom, although Mr Herman said he had made it very clear that Radio Fiji would not accept censorship.

Pacific Islands News Association President, Ken Clark has condemned the military action saying it was a 'sad day for media freedom in Fiji and the Pacific.

"It is reprehensible and unacceptable."

"Media freedom in Fiji is being lost in this situation and it concerns and saddens us tremendously," PACNEWS reported late on on Tuesday night.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Continuing to closely follow developments in Fiji, Dr Mark Hayes ranges across media and civil resistance to the coup, and points to things to look out for in continuing media coverage of the crisis.

Compiled by Dr Mark Hayes.

Ni sa Bula Vinaka - Fiji Coup/Crisis Edition No 5

The Bainimarama Coup has now moved into its consolidation phase, and things are getting extremely interesting indeed. We called his strategy to sieze power the Bainimarama Screw. We'll now call what's happening in Fiji Unthreading the Bainimarama Coup (or something like that unless we come up with a better phrase).

We say 'interesting' in the Chinese curse sense because the Fiji situation could easily come seriously unglued, and 'interesting' in the analysis sense, because coups present many opportunities to observe politics and power struggles in high relief, and reflect on how these dynamics play out, real time, on the ground. By no means is this to neglect the effects the situation has on ordinary people in all sorts of ways.

Declaring our bias, which should have been obvious anyway, your correspondent has good friends in Fiji caught up in this situation about whom he is worried, his media colleagues are heroically trying to do their jobs - the Fiji Times Editorial today is truly historic - and he's hurting with the ordinary people of Fiji who needed this coup like they absolutely didn't need all the others.

The Australian's Media section has a good wrap on the media freedom situation, and the Fiji Times also carries a story where the military assured the local media there will be no more interference. But RNZI reported overnight that the new regime in Fiji had slapped a media ban on Laisenia Qarase. Fat chance of this working provided the phone still works from his home island, and Radio Australia's transmitters in Nadi and Suva still work, the Net remains available, and satellite radio and television can be received.

Rowan Callick, the Australian's China correspondent but formerly the Financial Review's Pacific correspondent, up there with the ABC's Sean Dorney, and Fairfax New Zeland's Michael Field, formerly with AFP, as a deeply experienced Pacific observer, has a commentary on Fiji in the Australian worth a look. We all still miss the late Robert Keith-Reid from Islands Business, particularly at this time, too.

The December edition of Islands Business is On Line, and we'll get back to that in Monday's edition of the Pacific news wrap. Their Fiji Crisis Portal, which takes PacNews stories from the Pacific Islands News Association, is also regularly UpDated as needed, often providing a necessary Islander's perspective on this crisis.

All Australian newspapers carry good wraps of the Fiji situation, and Simon Kearney's feature on the Australian is also worth a close read.

Robert Wolfgramm, the Editor in Chief of the Fiji Daily Post, has a running diary of events leading up to the coup in the Sydney Morning Herald. While we remind TDBers that the Fiji Government owns just under half of the newspaper, and it was the most supportive of the Qarase government of Fiji's three daily newspapers, nevertheless it deserves support in the interests of media freedom, particularly in the current situation. Mr Wolfgramm was also interviewed on ABC Radio National's Breakfast programme this morning.

And on ABC Radio's AM this morning, the interim Prime Minister, Dr Jona Senilagakali, said that the coup was illegal. New Zealand Fairfax Stuff.co.nz picked up the story, and the AM transcript and audio will be available later today too.

But the continuing coverage from Fijian sources remains the best for breaking news, with the Fiji Times UpDating during the day, Fijilive.com and Fijivillage.com likewise.

We're on the lookout for Fiji-origin Bloggs, sort-of like a Suva-based Salam Pax, but the ones we've come across, such as those listed at the end of IFEX's media freedom threat alert earlier in the week, are not updated regularly. If TDBers can assist here, your correspondent would be most grateful.

What your correspondent's now looking for are signs of resistance to the coup. And they're there aplenty.

As TDBers peruse our modest contributions, and other media reportage of the Fiji situation, we counsel all to carefully discern between strong government and Qarase regime supporters, and other opponents of the coup - and there are a great many - who, in their own ways, were as opposed to and critical of the Qarase government as Commodore Frank, for many of the same reasons. This is always the dilemma in situations such as currently obtain in Fiji - in struggling for the return of the rule of law and democratic governance, opponents of the coup are also largely supporting a peculiar government which, to use Greg Sheridan's pungent term from last weekend's Australian, was 'undeniably smelly'. (Pun deliberate.)

Also, and we may well have missed something in the tsunami of material we've been struggling through in recent days, we wonder what the situation in Fiji is like away from Suva, out to the west of Viti Levu around Lautoka, Ba, Rakiraki, and Nadi, and to the north, on Vanua Levu, around Labasa and Savusavu. We're tracking back looking for this material, if it's available, as well.

Yesterday's dismissal of the Vice President of Fiji, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, from office and removal from his official residence, is a particularly bad move by Commodore Frank. Once again, while the Great Council of Chiefs is deeply compromised and tainted by many Chief's involvements, from key to passively supportive, in the Speight-fronted coup, it maintains enormous influence in Indigenous Fijian society. A close reading of the Fiji Times' report on Ratu Joni's removal also summarises some of the resistance to the coup so far.

We've several times here lauded Ratu Joni as the wisest, most sensible, player in Fijian affairs, who's also Commodore Frank's High Chief, the Roko Tui Bau, from the Bau confederacy. Fiji even more desperately needs Ratu Joni's deep and steady traditional authority, his wisdom and humility, and his laser-like legal knowledge and experience. Keep an eye out for any reports mentioning Ratu Joni.

Oh, and we cannot let this pass. Alexander Downer's call in Federal Parliament yesterday to Fijians to use 'passive resistance' to oppose the coup is incredibly stupid, plain ignorant, as well as extremely dangerous for anybody who might take him seriously. Anybody who uses the term 'passive resistance' in such a context simply doesn't have a clue what they're babbling about. The correct term is 'nonviolence' or 'nonviolent resistance', which is anything but passive.

We know for certain that many in the large and vigorous Fijian civil society are extremely knowledgeable, and even practised, in nonviolent resistance, and would certainly, even now, be deploying all sorts of ingenious, variously effective, and highly principled tactics of nonviolent resistance. Any putative dictator confronted by a serious, well organised and trained, nonviolent resistance movement has two choices - surrender, or get so vicious with their repression they'd be forever cursed by their people, and by history. The current Fijian situation also demonstrates the impotence of military intervention, as was refused by Prime Ministers Howard and Clark earlier in the week when sought by embattled Mr Qarase.

In another, related, scholarly life, your correspondent has deeply studied nonviolence in its many and varied forms, and will have more to say on this once he gets a deeper grip on the developing Fijian situation.

Your correspondent may do a week's end UpDate on Friday, but we need to track down some Fiji-based friends and contacts, get a serious feel for the situation on the ground from their perspectives, and reflect on developments to get a deeper sense of what's really going on.

Moce mada

Friday, November 8, 2006

Compiled by Dr Mark Hayes.

Ni sa Bula Vinaka - Fiji Coup/Crisis Edition No 6

Today, we'll focus on the NGO reaction to this week's military coup in Fiji - the Unthreading of the Bainimarama Screw.

Your correspondent's in regular receipt of e-mail notifications and media releases from several of these groups, but we've been personally talking with some of our well-placed NGO contacts in Suva to get a direct line on what they're thinking and doing. Skype and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) are transforming this kind of activity, as well as driving price gauging Pacific TelCos, all privatised in recent years, crazy. Struggling coup-installed regimes would also detest these newer communications channels too. Text messaging seems to be the major tool for the NGO resistance in Fiji to organise and mobalise, 'cos everybody's got a mobile phone.

We've also been gratefully assured that our friends and contacts in Suva are well, safe and secure, which is always a relief to hear first hand.

But first, a quick glance at overnight coverage.

Fijilive.com continues to pour out stories, so we point TDBers there, noting particularly comments by academic, Professor Brij Lal, one of the architects of the 1997 Constitution, that Commodore Frank had better succeed with his coup or he'll be on treason charges.

Up on Waimanu Road, Fijivillage also publishes stories from the Communications Fiji's newsroom serving FM 96 and Radio Legend, so it's worth checking. Of course, Yellow Bucket's right in there, trying to publish their Dateline Suva comments, but we understand why he/she/it is tardy as they're working hard to keep the military off their backs.

The Fiji Times powers on, and is essential close reading as it updates its Site regularly. Stories to look out for there concern growing dissent from Indigenous Fijian provinces over the treatment of their chiefs, from the President, from Ba, and the Vice President, from Bua, down to civil servants, who sometimes are also chiefs in their home Vanuas. The Sydney Morning Herald's wrap this morning also summarises growing Vanua dissent to the coup, as does a Radio Australia News wrap.

The Fiji Times has also added a pictures area to their Site which is a Must Visit.

The FT's Editorial for Friday calls on the Great Council of Chiefs to meet to add their influence and authority to the Fiji situation:

"WHILE many may consider it is a bit too late to have any influence on the path the military is taking, the support given to President Ratu Josefa Iloilo by the Great Council of Chiefs is wise and makes sense," the Fiji Times' Friday, December 8, Editorial says.

"At least the public statements made by council chairman Ratu Ovini Bokini on this issue tells the public that the GCC is taking seriously the ousting of President Ratu Josefa and his deputy Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi.

"The two chiefs were appointed by the council as stipulated in the Constitution (Section 90) on the advice of the Prime Minister. So to see the two chiefs sidelined by the military in an illegal and, as Ratu Ovini puts it, disrespectful manner is totally unacceptable.

"One cannot blame the members of this august body for their angry responses and disappointment at the total disregard for the law by the military in the way the two chiefs were treated.

"That's all very well but the council has to immediately call a meeting and seriously review its duties and responsibilities, in particular where it went wrong, or what it could have done to help resolve this national disaster," the Fiji Times said on Friday.

Pacific Regional stories on Fiji are also regularly posted on Islands Business' Fiji Crisis Portal.

Mike Field on Fairfax New Zealand's Stuff.co.nz is always worth a look because he's one of the two most experienced Vulagi journalists loose in Suva, along with the ABC's Sean Dorney, filing for ABC TV News.

The New Zealand Herald's overnight wrap is also looking at growing opposition to the coup from several parts of Fijian society.

The effects of Fiji's tourism industry should be obvious, and The Australian has an AAP story on this part of the situation. And a very interesting story in The Oz about how the Bainimarama regime may face a cash crisis because the Finance Department head has limited government departments to small operating expendiatures (might not load; was a technical glitch on the Oz's site when we were accessing it. In the print edition at Page Six though - Headline: 'Coup leaders denied access to cash'.).

ABC Radio National's The Sports Factor on Friday led with the effects of general, and sporting, sanctions on Fiji, particularly on the other religion in the country, rugby, with a senior Fiji Rugby Union official, and the New Zealand Sports Minister (Podcast & transcript On Line later on Friday). This relates to a call on Thursday from a leading NGO coalition in Fiji against sanctions because they largely hurt the poor (more below too). Sanctions in these situations can be as subtle as road accidents.

One story on PM last night really grabbed our attention. Emily Bourke interviewed Fiji TV MD, and Pacific Islands News Association President, Ken Clark, about the military's early moves on, and then backing right away from, the Fiji media. We know Ken well, and have been in regular contact with him through our PINA connections. Go Get 'Em, PINA!

Aside from stirrings in the Vanua over the treatment of various Chiefs, Fiji outside of Suva appears to be very quiet, with a 'business as usual' atmosphere being reported. Many Fijians, of all races, religions, and with all sorts of intererests, would be growling, loudly, again, about those idiots in Suva mucking around and causing them grief, again.

Now, a brief response to The Editor's note at the head of yesterday's Pacific Wrap: "For those of us labouring under the misapprehension that the distinction, made in the article, between 'passive resistance' and 'nonviolent resistance', is one without a difference, Dr Hayes has promised to explain further in a post [soon]".

Passive resistance is an obsolete and now never used term to describe what is more accurately called these days 'nonviolence' or 'nonviolent resistance'. Nonviolence is very rarely 'passive'. We point interested TDBers to the Wikipedia entry on Nonviolence and the links off that page, particularly the Albert Einstein Institution, the founder of which is the West's leading scholar of nonviolence, Dr Gene Sharp. One of Dr Sharp's adamant points, referenced by excoriating scholarship, is that nonviolence has been, and can be, successfully deployed against even viscious, ruthless, armed military opponents, if not to completely defeat them, then to significantly circumscribe their excesses. Associate Professor Brian Martin, based at Wollongong University, wrote one of the few articles about nonviolence in Fiji in response to the Rabuka coups of 1987 which is well worth reading. In the current Fijian context, Brian's old piece has regained contemporary relevance.

In passing, and relevant, we put out a call on a few Pacific e-mail Lists for pointers to good Fijian Blogs, and were led to Ms Vakaivosavosa's Blog, about which more below, and we found they'd linked to an Anti-Coup boolklet and other materials on nonviolence from the Albert Einstein Institution (see above). Surprise, surprise!

As Dr Sharp's, and other's, analyses of nonviolence shows, it can find very significant purchase in situations where there's already a vigorous, diverse, civil society consisting of women's, environment, civil rights, and religious NGOs, and a generally strong sense of mutual respect and engagement between NGO groups across civil society which is not dependent on a central formal or state apparatus. In addition, it can assist nonviolent resistance for there to be respected or traditional institutions, such as church pastors, elders, or chief's groupings, again outside, or alongside, mainstream state institutions such as the public service, police, or the military, but to which public servants, police officers, and soldiers also belong. In other words, a society with significant social capital. Communications channels, both within the country or polity, and outside the country or region, can be crucial to nonviolent resistance, including the mass media, telephones, and the Internet, for internal organisation, and the garnering of outside, sympathetic, observer or third party support or assistance, these channels being increasingly difficult to control or censor. Of course, the picture is always uneven, and exceptions can always be found to generalisations such as the foregoing.

But by now, we trust, TDBers would realise that we're sketching out the situation which exists in contemporary Fiji, currently under martial law following the Bainimarama coup.

The Great Council of Chiefs is interesting to consider here because it has key formal roles, such as appointing the President and Vice President, and some Senators to Parliament. Plus it's an extremely influential traditional institution among Indigenous Fijians. Problem is it's been deeply compromised by the events of 2000, with some chiefs, including the former Vice President, convicted of serious coup charges, and their lack of clear moral leadership during the2000 crisis, and now, has severely reduced their credibility, particularly among more educated, urban dwelling Indigenous Fijians, as the Fiji Times' Editorial on Friday points out, but also calls on the GCC to redeem itself.

One of the problems with, and indeed for, nonviolent resisters is that most journalists reporting on their struggles, and on the contexts in which their struggles are occurring, are about as knowledgable as Alexander Downer obviously isn't on nonviolence with his repeated nonsense about passive resistance. In other words, they don't have a clue. They're used to reporting on 'politics as normal' and tend to frame or describe stories on coups in the same ways. It gets worse if they're 'parachute journalists' desperately trying to make sense of an alien, rapidly changing, complex environment under excruciating deadline pressures imposed from home newsrooms. To nuance this just a touch, mainstream politicans can be wary of nonviolence, supporting it when it suits them, as Mr Downer seems to be doing, but critical of it because it could just as easily be deployed against them, witness many instances of nonviolent protests and resistance TDBers would readily recall, even here in Australia.

Associate Professor Brian Martin also looks at the phenomenon of Backfire, or how likely or actual reprisals or repressions for nonviolent resistance can backfire, or be engineered to backfire, on the opponent, something the Fijian opponents of the coup will need to know about, and prepare for.

If TDBers reflect over our recent reports, and over mainstream media reports, you should be able to discern how we've been, and they've been, separately navigating through the Fiji story.

NGO operators we've spoken with in the last 24 hours have been weary, the older ones variously angry, heart-sick, even despairing, about Fiji's latest coup, because they've been through all this before. What their recent experience has also equipped them with is crucial experience and resilience as they, once again, form tactical alliances, develop strategies in typical Pacific consensus fashion, and mobalise, again, to speak Truth to power in genuinely prophetic ways (forth-telling amd fore-telling: keep doing injustice and you'll go down. Theologically literate TDBers, and religious Fijians, know exactly the Biblical passages I have in mind here.).

Our NGO contacts, several of whose groups have publically criticised and opposed several policies proposed by the Qarase government since the August, 2001, elections, have also been adamant that 'It's a Matter of Principle' that they are opposing the Bainimarama coup. They're not necessarily raging supporters of the SDL party or the Qarase government - most of my contacts most certainly aren't. They're vigorous supporters of the rule of law, Fiji's democratic institutions, and the 1997 Constitution, and when they resist the Bainimarama coup, those are the Principles they're struggling to uphold. Many have experienced what happens when these Principles come almost completely unglued, as they did in May, 2000.

RNZI on Thursday evening reported on NGO opposition to the Bainimarama coup with a useful Wrap (obviously loaded to their site straight out of the On Air News queue; this is Real Time On Line reporting). Radio Australia's Pacific Beat On the Mat also interviewed two key NGO operators opposing the coup on Wednesday (Podcast off their site).

As a quick note before we look at some of the recent NGO statements, while we point to their Web Sites, Pacific NGOs are notorious for not regularly Updating their Internet presences. Short staffed, lacking funding, having more urgent priorities and time demands, and uneven Net access and unreliable technologies are among the reasons.

The Citizen's Constitutional Forum's Jone Dakuvula, who was interviewed on Radio National's Late Night Live on Monday night, and on Radio Australia's Pacific Beat On the Mat on Wednesday, put it this way in an e-mail sent to supporters on Tuesday, sent just before Commodore Bainimarama pulled his coup:

"In an address at the 8th attorney General's Conference at Warwick resort last Friday [December 1], the Prime Minister said:

"'I urged other government organizations to declare unequivocally their support for lawful, democratic and constitutional government. Some have made comment. But they give the appearance of dancing around and avoiding the fundamental issues,' [Prime Minister Qarase said]".

"This is a bit rich from a government that has never liked NGOs. It deregistered CCF in 2001 when we took it to Court for not observing the rule of law. The PMs Office has files of hundreds of letters, submissions etc from CCF in the last six years urging it to follow the rule of law. There has been no acknowledgment to any of these. Other NGOs have similar stories. So now in his hour of need, the PM calls for NGO support. In the last month NGOs have been the most vocal public opposition of the threat of the FMF to have a coup. It seems the PMs Advisers have not been monitoring the Medias closely. We have no need to be blinds defenders of the government whose record of illegalities and corruption in the last 6 years beats all previous 10 elected and unelected government combined in the last 45 years in Fiji.

But that does not mean we support an FMF coup. We are utterly opposed to this "creeping coup". It only makes everybody worse off. There was the option of meeting and negotiation and Bainimarama has simply brushed this aside," Mr Dakuvula said.

With New Zealand, and other countries imposing escalating sanctions against Fiji, a Coalition for Democracy and Peace has called for no sanctions because these will only hurt the poor. Check out Radio National's The Sports Factor for other takes on this call too.

A glance at this Coalition's statement, off the Fiji Women's Rights Movement web site, shows a formidible group of people and groups, including Suliana Siwatibau, the widow of Savenaca Siwatibau, the Reserve Bank Governor of Fiji who put face in his hands and wept when Rabuka pulled his first coup back in 1987, and was the USP Vice-Chancellor for four years from 2001 until his tragic death from cancer. Ms Siwatibau is an enormously influential women's rights and environmental activist in her own right. Knowing other operators like Shamima Ali, Sharon Bhagwan Rolls, Ponipate Ravula, and USP economist Wadan Narsey, quite frankly - pun intended - I'd much rather have them supporting me than having them organising and text messaging their supporters to mobalise against me.

Another influential NGO we know well is the Ecumenical Centre for Research, Education, and Advocacy (ECREA), and we've seen their name, or some of their key operators, mentioned in in some NGO resistance reports. Again, their Web Site is terribly out of date, but we suggest TDBers stay alert for Fiji stories which mention ECREA, particularly in the context of Church comment on the crisis. Some churches have already spoken out against the coup, while others, notably the Methodists, appear to be only telling their members to pray for peace.

Prayer and quiet reflection in times of crisis can be useful, for personal, spiritual reasons, as well as necessary 'times out' from acutely stressful organising and struggle, but lots of people praying for peace in Sukuna Park or Albert Park, wearing a Fiji Blue ribbon, dressed in the resistance colour, Black, and carrying candles - see the Coalition's Web Site - and getting lots of media coverage while surrounded by armed soldiers, would be more effective still. Replace pics of Commodore Frank playing touch football in Albert Park, in several outlets on Friday, with a large, peaceful, black dressed, prayer vigil full of Fijian women, surrounded by armed soldiers, some of whom could be their sons, or sons from their Vanuas, and you have a powerful statement, as powerful as recent pics of soldiers in the Fiji Parliament's Senate when they closed it down.

More meetings of at least two NGO coalitions we know about are scheduled for Friday, but what comes out of these meetings will be known only after TDB's deadline, so we'll UpDate the NGO resistance in our Monday Pacific News Wrap next week.

In the Pacific, Blogging hasn't really taken off, for many of the same reasons why NGO's web sites aren't updated as often as they should be.

Yellow Bucket on Fijivillage.com is interesting because we happen to know the Bucket's a senior media operator and journalist, who gets input into their musings from Fiji's largest radio newsroom and elsewhere in the Suva media crew. They're professional, rather than, citizen journalists, with opinions.

Our call around our Regional contacts for leads to Fiji Blogs unearthed Ms Vakaivosavosa's Blog. We haven't a clue who she is - we assume she's a she - yet, or who feeds into their Site, so Engage Blog Credibility and Accuracy Filters accordingly, but the content looks solid and worth considering. They have to be well connected if the Albert Einstein Institution sends them nonviolent resistance materials. We'll buy a TDBer a Fiji Bitter or two at Bad Dog or JJ's in Suva if they can tell us who's behind this Blog. We haven't explored the Links off this Blog, but will do so over the weekend.

Another Blog we were alerted to, but which seems a bit flakier, is Stuck in the M.U.D. of Fiji, which is maintainted by a Californian-based expatriat Fijian. Given the paucity of Fiji-related Blogs, this one's also worth regular visits.

Now back to chasing our NGO and academic contacts in Fiji, with a full update for TDBers on Monday.

Moce mada

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