Fiji, a ticking time bomb

By Karam C Ramrakha

The knife-edge result in Fiji’s recent elections leaves the country vulnerable. Frank Bainimarama has to mend fences or else Fiji will descend into chaos because his majority is so small and half the country has rejected him despite the good works he had done in the past, such as end of discrimination, one man-one vote, one value and finally a much overdue common name for all in Fiji, namely, “Fijians”.

So entrenched was this word and so treasured it was by i-taukei that even I, an old Fiji hand, am not accustomed to being called a Fijian. This word the i-taukei should not ally to vulagis (that is the i-taukei word for foreigners) like us Indians and others.

Frank has won 50.01 per cent of the votes, has 27 seats to Rabuka’s Sodelpa (Social Democratic etc) party’s 21 seats and National Democratic Party’s three seats. It leaves Frank with a meagre majority of three seats.

The NFP, led by Professor Biman Prasad and avowedly an Indian party although it secured i-taukei votes, is now between a rock and a hard place. Frank’s parliamentary rule saw clashes between Biman, an avowed  and professional economist on financial stewardship and accountability. One of NFP parliamentarians was actually thrown out and disqualified from the parliament on flimsy grounds.

We Indians in Fiji have always had a difficult existence. While Fiji has always relied on 0ur Indian thrift, ability to outwork and underlive all else, non-Fijians have always feared being swamped and dominated by Indian numbers in any democratic elections.

Even Sir Robert Foster, who was Fiji’s last British Governor, had warned of such a ”˜time bomb’. However, the i-taukei (new name for indigenes in Fiji) Chiefs were told in London that if the i-taukei would remain united they would never lose political power.

But the push and pull of elections where each voter had his/her own agenda and expectations that what Pt Nehru called “fissiparous tendencies” would emerge. The local i-taukei demonstrated volatility in 1959 in what is known as the Suva Riots when they destroyed European (but especially sparing Indian) buildings. The British had assumed that i-taukei, who had embraced the British as demi-gods (men from under the sky because they emerged from a horizon) and further embraced not only Queen Victoria and her descendants but also the Christian faith, would be faithful to them.

The i-taukei Chiefs and their British European mentors returned from the 1970 Constitutional Conference secure in the knowledge that a constitution racially loaded in their favour would secure Chiefly rule and hegemony forever.

The first shock came in 1977 when a i-taukei Leader led his people to form Fijian Nationalist Party whose sole agenda was to kick all Indians out of Fiji, calling on either Britain or India to remove us. However, the ”˜Indispensable Indian’ syndrome prevailed and later Fiji’s Labour Party led by Dr Bavadra would gain power only to be mercilessly deposed on 14 May 1987 .

The first coup unsettled Fiji politics for ever despite desperate constitutional reforms and re-emergence of Fiji Labour Party under Mahendra Pal Chaudhry who succeeded Dr Bavadra upon the latter’s demise but who, in return, was brutally imprisoned and removed from power by the Speight coup.

Further constitutional changes saw democratic elections until Vorege Frank Bainimarama (Frank staged what is known as Coup 4.5 – acknowledging the number of coups Fiji has since 1987) on 6 December 2006. Frank has been in power since and despite some arm twisting by “Great Powers”, did not hold promised democratic elections until 2014.

Frank overthrew a i-taukei majority government in 2006 as the then prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, wanted to bring all land and seas (particularly the latter) under total i-taukei ownership.

Frank’s rule has been benign to a great extent except there is little or no freedom of speech. All coup leaders, Rabuka, Speight or Qarasa, and even Frank, have muzzled the press. Frank’s master coup was the abolition of i-taukei Council of Chiefs, an unelected body created  by the British in the hoary past to rubber stamp British rule. But i-taukei loyalty to its customs, traditions and beliefs spearheaded by its loyalty and love for its Chiefs had been deep and Frank may have over-reached in dismantling that body.

Sitiveni Rabuka  

That is borne out by the return of the dreaded Rabuka whose coup almost destroyed Fiji economically and who has  now re-surfaced with virtually 100 per cent i-taukei votes.

Frank has not eased censorship of the media. Biman’s NFP has stated it will join Rabuka in opposition. Rabuka has polled well largely with i-taukei votes. Which way the cat will jump is anyone’s guess.

China is cracking the whip world-wide but warns of a ”˜cold war’ in the Pacific. US, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and, to a lesser extent, Canada, ally closely in Fiji and despite my trenchant criticism of Australia’s past exploitation of Fiji, I believe the dominant power who can save Fiji is Australia and Australia alone. Australia has a close emotional relationship with Fiji and has been Fiji’s largest donor.

The close result leaves Fiji vulnerable and big powers will move in ”˜for the kill’. Even  French President Macron has visited the Pacific recently, anxious to hold on to New Caledonia (and of course Tahiti) as overseas French territory. France simply declares it a territory of France with free movement between Metropolitan France and its territories.

If Professor Biman Prasad plays powerbroker it would put the Indians in the spotlight when what  the Indian in Fiji need is a low profile. The old hatreds and misgivings of Indians as grasping and predatory might re-surface. It is time for Australia to act now and any delay would mean that Australia will lose this sphere of influence for ever.




Karam C Ramrakha



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