By Russell Hunter
October 09, 2012
Fiji Leaks: Frank's boat is sinking but he will paddle to Ride Out the Waves
By Russell Hunter
Commodore Frank Bainimarama on December 5 2006 deposed a lawfully elected government by force of arms. This was, as he and his inner circle are well aware, nothing short of treason for which the penalty is life imprisonment. So he now seeks to be somehow spirited from the tiger’s back by a promise of elections in 2014 and the construction of yet another constitution.
Even though, he has two overarching difficulties.
Part of his much-touted exit strategy is to stand for election in 2014. But the many thousands of Fiji Islanders who eagerly await their chance to remove him by means of the ballot box are doomed to disappointment. He has no intention of ceding power -not to them or anyone else.
His first problem, then, is that he has conditioned the people of Fiji (and the wider region) to doubt his word. In his takeover address of December 6, 2006 he made eleven clear pledges to the nation, none of which – not a single one – have been honoured.
Frank Bainimarama's Race Card: The Great Paradox
He famously remarked “I don’t trust the people” - a sentiment now widely reciprocated. This does little for his election prospects and the harder headed elements among the military are well aware of it. The buffoonery of its public mouthpieces only partly conceals a well organized planning and intelligence function that is much closer to the reality of Fiji than the public statements would have us believe.
Bainimarama’s second highest hurdle is the perennial one of race. His promise to end racism and racial voting has gained deserved support among the commentariat. And deservedly so. The harsh reality, however, is that the majority of the people he illegally governs do not agree – and not just the ethnic Fijian majority. It will take more than a few decrees to end the politics of race in Fiji.
The Fijians strongly feel – with at least some justification – that they are the ones called upon to make all the concessions to a highly identifiable mono-cultural immigrant block that declines to assimilate. Why should it? Its culture has served it well since long before the Bible was thought of. The landless Indo-Fijian community – again with some justification – feel ostracised and unwanted in the land of their birth.
Multiculturalism has proved to be a power for good in Australian and New Zealand. In Fiji, however, there are only two cultures that for the most part stand back to back. This needs to end – but Bainimarama will not be the one to end it. It won’t be achieved by decree or by force, the only weapons left to the dictator as his past catches up with him
The military over which he has complete control still comprises some 99 per cent ethnic Fijians and Rotumans, though precise figures are no longer available in the new transparent Fiji. The language of the military is Fijian. In addition his actions against Fijian institutions, for example the Great Council of Chiefs and the Methodist Church, have engendered a seething resentment among the indigenous population – which now constitutes a clear majority, adding further difficulties for his election campaign.
Again, the military planners are well aware of this and have already produced an outline series of measures to build bridges to the ethnic Fijian population. Its effectiveness is yet to be gauged.
Sadly, too, the indigenous population increasingly regard the Bainimarama coup as an Indo-Fijian plot or, worse still, as a Muslim takeover organised by Bainimarama’s “eminence grise”, the illegal attorney general and minister for many things, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. The theory that Bainimarama, the honest though gullible Christian Fijian, has been exploited by a devious Indo-Fijian Muslim is gaining traction in Fiji.
Of course nothing could be further from the truth. As we now know – Bainimarama’s routine denial notwithstanding – the coup of 2006 was his fourth attempt and was driven as much by his urgent need to stay out of jail as by any “clean-up” desire. The potential for racial and religious mayhem should be obvious. Yet the dictator has done nothing to defuse this ticking bomb.
Immunity, Mutiny and Murder Charges
At the same time, any new constitution will have to contain an amnesty for Bainimarama and his collaborators. The crimes of treason and torture to name but two will be forgiven. But can it credibly afford to offer amnesty for the five murders that followed the mutiny of November 2, 2000, investigation of which the commander has steadfastly stonewalled? If the overwhelming reaction as expressed in submissions to the constitution commission is any guide, it’s clear that the population is set against any immunity arrangement.
That won’t stop Bainimarama. He can’t afford to let it. The betting in Suva seems to be that he’ll simply impose immunity much as he imposed the People’s Charter by the simple device of declaring that 90 per cent of the people supported it. Where is it now?
Bainimarama's Fiji an economic cot case
But Krankie Frankie is no longer in charter territory. An election is a quite different matter with secret voting, international observers and the desire of the people to make a statement regarding their futures. Governments (and prime ministers) offering themselves to the voters need to stand on their records. If that is so, Bainimarama is unelectable. His record stinks. As Minister of Finance he has transformed Fiji from being the powerhouse of the Pacific to an economic cot case. As Minister for Sugar he continues to preside over the death throes of an industry on which 200,000 people depend for their livelihoods.
As Minister for Fijian Affairs he has dismantled institutions, alienated the Methodist Church, and angered landholders. Yes, when he arrives in the villages boasting and glad handing, they’ll tell him what he wants to hear. Some fear to do otherwise. But even he must know that they will not vote for him. He has alienated and angered the civil service by his policy of militarisation. At the same time his secret salaries remain a matter of extreme resentment. He has slashed people’s pensions for no apparent reason – the study on which this action was based remains, like much else in Fiji, secret. It’s no way to win an election and his efforts at hand-outs (for which he rightly castigated the SDL in the 06 election) can never hope to clean up his record in the eyes of the voters.
Presidential ambition and this time it's no joking matter
If an election does take place, Bainimarama cannot allow a winner other than himself. Possibly his only viable survival option lies in the white house on the hill. The illegal president’s term expires in a few days and the dictator must be tempted to have himself appointed and continue to rule by decree while indulging his taste for luxury.
But who would be prime minister? Who could be trusted? Or could the position simply lapse? Certainly the option must look preferable to an election he cannot win without rigging it. He once told the world that general elections in Fiji would take place on March 13, 2009, if all necessary preparations can be accomplished in time. But some days later Sayed-Khaiyum, now also Minister for Elections, told the media Bainimarama had only been joking. But these are no joking matters. Neither is Operation Jericho.