Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Fiji: one year on

Today, December 5, is a dark day for democracy. One year ago today, the Fijian government was overthrown by its own armed forces in a military coup.

The government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase was not a good government - but it was an elected government, chosen in free and fair democratic elections. While I did not like its policies, they were lawful and constitutional and there was no question of their right or their electoral mandate to implement them. Its overthrow by the Fijian military was completely unjustifiable, an arrogant usurpation of the democratic rights of the Fijian people and a gross act of treachery.

Since the coup, Fiji has descended into a farce, with an ugly undertone of tyranny. People have been murdered in police custody. People have been arrested on trumped-up charges, or on no charges at all. Critics of the military regime have been subjected to intimidation, beatings, and travel restrictions. Meanwhile, the "interim government" (as it styles itself) pronounces policies for which it has no democratic mandate, and slips futher into the corruption and nepotism it was ostensibly established to overturn.

Worse, there seems to be no way forward. While the regime has promised democratic elections in 2009, it is also hedging, declaring that those elections will only be held if people cease criticising the regime, and claiming a right to prevent certain parties from standing, or to have a perpetal armed veto over future government policy. That is not "democracy" in any sense of the word. Rather, it is military tyranny in disguise. Fiji will only have democracy when the military withdraws entirely from politics, as they do in other democracies. And if they will not, then they must be disbanded.