Frank Bainimarama, is the current military Prime Minister of Fiji. One of my most recent interactions with him before shifting to New Zealand was in November, 2011 at an awards ceremony. I was receiving the award for the “Best Young Writer” by the Kailaand the Fiji Times at Holiday Inn in Suva. He was the chief guest and I was the award recipient. Amidst the claps while handing me the award, he said something very intimidating to me. His exact words were “so you’re the one who writes about me and also gets away with it” followed by an elusive laugh. Though he may have said it flippantly but there was something in his tone that caught my attention. Coincidentally two days before receiving the award I had written an article of a class 3 girl who was not allowed in a bus as her bus voucher was wet and a bit torn. The irony was that I condemned the Minister of Public Service and Transportation for allowing such an incident to happen and the Minister of Transportation in question was Frank Bainimarama himself.
In recent days, international media has become bolder in labeling Frank Bainimarama a dictator. But the main question should be is Bainimarama just a dictator? The term dictator is not quite enough to explain the questionable actions and decisions that Bainimarama has taken in the recent past.
To understand Bainimarama’s regime, the readers first must understand the coup and military history of Fiji. A coup in simple terms means removal of power or takeover of a country by illegal means. Fiji is a small Island nation of approximately 800,000 people. After gaining independence from Great Britain in 1970, began the short yet eventful history of coups, and takeovers. Fiji’s first coup materialized in 1987. This was led by a Military leader called Sitiveni Rabuka. On 14th May, 1987 Rabuka entered the Parliament and announced “Sit down everybody, sit down. This is a take-over. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a military take-over. We apologize for any inconvenience caused [to the MP’s]”. The second coup also took place in 1987 and the third one in 2000 by a businessman named George Speight. The fourth and most recent military takeover was in December, 2006 led by the military Commander-in-chief, Frank Bainimarama himself.
Frank Bainimarama over the past few years has become a very prominent figure in Fiji because of his relationship with Fiji’s first Prime Minister, Late Ratu Sir K.K.T.M Mara (being his eldest son-in-law). In 2006, in the Pacific island nation of Fiji, troops overran the capital city, threatened the Prime Minister, forced his resignation, placed him under house arrest, imposed censorship on the media, and the coup leader, in the form of the head of the army, went on television to declare himself the new ruler of the country. This was the beginning of a new era in Fiji - the era of Bainimarama regime.
The first mistake that Bainimarama did was to overthrow the previous government. The 2006 coup also had a negative impact on the tourism industry of Fiji. The December 2006 resulted in a major decline in the level of international tourism activity. Although the timing of the unrest was at the very end of the year it was enough to disrupt tourism activity over the normally busy Christmas and New Year. After that the country was declared an “emergency state” and no one was allowed to have [from subjective experience] gathering at home. If one was entertaining guest that exceeded more than 7 people, one has to take permission from the police or else the military will arrest everyone under the delinquency of plotting to assassinate the prime minister of the country.
Another situation that is very controversial is the Bainimarama versus Qarase case. Laisania Qarase is the last democratically elected Prime Minister of Fiji and was ousted by the Militiary government in December, 2006. In this case the President (pressured by Bainimarama post the takeover) dismissed Laisania Qarase as the Prime Minister of Fiji.
Moreover during the trial of Laisania Qarase in 2012, Qarase was charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to a property in which he has a private interest.Numerous international critics including the Commonwealth and the Pacific Forum claim Fiji's country system is controlled by the military regime and has no independence. It is a known fact that Bainimarama's government had demolished the previous judiciary system and brought in new judges from Sri Lanka in 2009.
One of the more astounding decisions of Bainimarama is the number of ministry portfolios that he and his Attorney General, Aiyaaz Sayeed Kayyum hold among themselves. Bainimarama alone handles the portfolio of “Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Strategic Planning, National Development and Statistics; Public Service; People's Charter for Change and Progress; Minister for Information, National Archives and Library Services of Fiji; Minister for I-Taukei; Provincial Development and Multi-Ethnic Affairs and Sugar Industry, Acting Minister for Lands and Mineral Resource.” That speaks volumes on the dominant nature of Frank Bainimarama.
It is questionable on why a coup regularly happens in Fiji. Fijian political unity is an illusion, a chimera that can never be achieved, let alone forced upon the people). Even though Bainimarama has been cited a dictator by many people, he has also done quite a lot for the people of Fiji. For long, the military forces in Fiji had been the strong supporters of the long-established customary leaders. This was reflected in their conduct of two coups in 1987 with Rabuka to protect traditional Melanesian interests. From 2000, behind Commodore Bainimarama, the army has completely changed its position, championing equal rights for all the citizens, and contesting the archaic customary power.
Frank Bainimarama may have had good intentions in his heart of making Fiji a better place to live in, but his actions have contradicted it. From overthrowing a perfectly legitimate democratically elected government to putting his foot in the Qarase court case, he has done it all. My question again: Is Bainimarama the Hitler of the Pacific?
|Ashneel J Prasad is the Oceania (New Zealand/ Fiji) correspondent of JeevanMag.com A Fijian of Indian descent, Ashneel is currently a student of B.A communications at Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand.|