Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fiji: Would it make a difference?

I've just seen a rumour via Twitter that Fiji's dictator, Voreqe Bainimarama, died overnight in China. His trip there is certainly mysterious - neither the Chinese government nor the Fijian Embassy there have anything to do with it, and there have been ongoing rumours about his health. Earlier in the week, Coup 4.5 reported that he was secretly undergoing treatment for a heart condition, and that he had collapsed at the airport on the way out. And OTOH, rumours of the dictator's demise are not an uncommon occurrence in Fiji, and this may just be another one.

So instead of speculating on the accuracy of the rumour d'jour, I think its more interesting to ask "would it make a difference"? And the answer is "yes". Not because I believe the American fallacy that bad government is solely the result of the person in charge, and that if you remove them you get spontaneous democracy, happy kittens and a sparkly pony - that's just bullshit. Governments and regimes are institutions, not men. The coup wasn't just Bainimarama's project; he has the backing and support of his senior officers. If he dies, then one of them will simply step forward and take over. But at the same time, political leaders do matter. And Bainimarama has been the biggest obstacle to the restoration of democracy and the rule of law, because he's personally invested in pushing his vision through. If he dies, his replacement won't be so personally invested, and may be more willing to negotiate a peaceful end to this mess, rather than sticking to an arbitrary timetable because he doesn't want to be seen to back down to the international community.

And that said: I doubt the Fijian military will voluntarily relinquish power out of the goodness of their hearts. If Fijians really want democracy, they are going to have to stand up and demand it, rather than just meekly submit to whoever proclaims themselves to be in "authority". The rest of the world can provide support, but ultimately Fiji's government is up to Fijians, not to us.

Update: Yep - he's still alive, according to TVNZ.