Monday, January 07, 2013

Fiji: A bad sign

For the past year, an independent Constitution Commission appointed by Fiji's military regime has been overseeing the drafting of a new constitution, under which democracy will supposedly be restored after elections in 2014. But there are now severe doubts about whether the military will accept the document. First, the military seized all printed copies of the draft, and burned them symbolicly in front of the commission's head. And now, they are explicitly rejecting constitutional provisions aimed at preventing further coups and ousting them from politics:

Fiji's military has bluntly rejected a proposed constitution that would have forced soldiers back to the barracks and weakened the power of the Fiji Military Forces (RFMF).

"Let me tell you this, don't mess with the RFMF," the military's No 2, Land Force Commander Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga said.


Leaked copies revealed that the new constitution would significantly downgrade the military from any role in political life. It would also be smaller and have no role in internal security.

Tikoitoga's hardline response would deepen concern over Fiji's future direction. Last week New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said he had fears about what was happening in the country.

Tikoitoga, who was effectively in active day-to-day command of the military, rejected the proposal that soldiers should not have to follow orders they consider illegal.

He said that whether orders were right or wrong, they had to be obeyed and whoever gave the order would be responsible if questions arose over the order.

"Soldiers sign an oath to follow orders and they will at all times abide by it," he said.

He rejected any downsizing of the RFMF, which can call on up to 10,000 soldiers, saying cuts would not happen.

Its the latter which is the real problem. Fiji has too many soldiers with too many guns and too little to do. Coups are a natural consequence. Emasculating the military and shrinking it to something more in line with the country's actual needs is a necessary step to restoring a stable democracy. But that means sacking an awful lot of colonels, and lower prestige for those who remain. And given the army's well-established contempt for democracy and the rule of law, those colonels will be strongly tempted to use their guns to protect their budget and prestige (and give themselves a promotion into the bargain).

Meanwhile, its looking like Fiji's promised post-2014 "democracy" will be a democracy under the gun, where the military is constantly threatening to step in, and major political decisions are dictated at gunpoint rather than reflecting the will of the people. And it will stay that way until Fiji's people decide to stand up for themselves and take to the streets against their abusive "defence" forces.