Friday, January 05, 2007

Fiji: handing back power to yourself

Yesterday afternoon, military strongman Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama handed back executive power to President Ratu Josefa Iloilo. Iloilo has now appointed a new caretaker Prime Minister: Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama. So the Commodore has "handed back" power to himself (while apparently retaining military authority as well - talk about dangerous).

Apart from seeming like a sick joke, this is also illegal. The Yabaki decision inthe wake of the 2000 coup (which I talk about a little here makes it quite clear that Fiji's President canot arbitrarily sack the Prime Minister; they must either resign or lose a confidence vote in the House (or die, or lose their seat, but neither is the case). If Qarase takes this to court, he will win - though what relief the courts will be willing or able to offer is very much an open question.


While the military coup was a bad move, and not justifiable, some of the stated reasons for it are starting to come to light. See, for example, this account of the misuse of funds intended to benefit all indigenous people by members of the indigenous elite. The Senator who first raised the issue in parliament in 1993 - Manu Korovulavula - was a National Alliance Party candidate in the 2006 election. (He was on Fiji TV last night, having just won a 10 year fight to have contributor representation on the Board of the Provident Fund, which has also been plundered).

Date: Tue, Jan 2, 2007, 13:47

How Fijian Provinces were betrayed and looted by the Fijian Initiative

Thakur Ranjit Singh, Auckland, New Zealand

Posted by Anonymous : 1/05/2007 11:26:00 AM

A useful backgrounder to the issue of the misuse of the Provident Fund, which some argue has strayed from provider of pension funds to government bank, putting members' funds at risk by propping up loss-making companies like Fiji Pine, until this week chaired by Navi Naisoro, the former strategist for the SDL who was interviewed by conman Peter Foster.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/05/2007 12:17:00 PM

Icehawk, I find your generalisations somewhat astonishing. I suggest you learn a bit more about Fiji politics and society before lumping it in with Latin America and Africa. You might be less pessimistic about its future.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/06/2007 08:25:00 PM

Astonishing? In Latin America, the traditional ruling elites tended to use the military to get rid of elected govts they didn't like - this is different from Fiji's recent history how, exactly?

Posted by Psycho Milt : 1/07/2007 09:20:00 AM

PM: Fiji has more developed civic institutions than many Latin American countries that have a pattern of rule by military junta. This is probably largely the result of British colonialism. Fiji had 15 years of parliamentary rule under Ratu Mara, albeit reflecting the interests of the indigenous and Indian elite. People are used to voting; there’s a high level of literacy; a lively free press; and a functioning judicial system. The size of the army (also a left-over from colonialism) is obviously a factor that makes it easy to resort to military-backed regime change but there is an expectation of a quick return to democracy. I think Icehawk’s pessimism about a generation of military rule is misplaced.

The reasons for the latest coup are complex and go beyond the corruption described above. There is a split within the indigenous elite (the younger generation of the old chiefly elite vs the ethnic nationalists headed by Qarase), and deep divisions within the Labour Party which have rendered it ineffective. Then there is the tourist industry lobby and various other foreign investors, who fund whichever side will smooth their path. One of the triggers for the coup was the fishing rights bill which would have radically changed access to the foreshore and favoured only a few indigenous tribes, creating dissension and increasing inequality. It has parallels with the fishing rights and foreshore and seabed debates here. Qarase was determined to push it through against all opposition. This is not to justify the coup, I’m just trying to show that the background is not that dissimilar to issues we have here in New Zealand, rather than “Latin America” or “Africa”.

I guess I get a bit fed up with the easy dismissal of Fiji as just another coup-prone write-off. To say it is “typical” strikes me as intellectually lazy and arrogant. It shows an ignorance that gets up the nose of people in Pacific countries, as illustrated by this commentary on sanctions:

Fiji is one of our near neighbours, we now have 35,000 Fiji-born people living in New Zealand, thousands of kiwis take holidays there, and I encourage people to learn more about it. Sanjay Ramesh is one writer who has documented the lead-up to the coup in the past six months, which is as good a place as any to start for anyone interested.

Fiji's Slow March Toward a Military Takeover
December 11, 2006

Fiji Bills Create Divisions
September 27, 2006

Fiji Labor Party: From Unity to Dissent
August 25, 2006

Posted by Anonymous : 1/07/2007 04:03:00 PM