Saturday, March 21, 2009

Fiji's mood - the raging rhino

By Thakur Ranjit Singh: Pacific Media Centre

They say, when a rhinoceros rushes on its prey, it puts its head down, with its deadly horn protruding with a resolute to accomplish its mission of striking and demolishing its target and opposition.

It is unfortunate that sections of the Fiji community, especially the SDL and NFP and certain NGOs and sections of the international community have failed to realise or understand the mood of Fiji's interim Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama. This can be summed up as a raging rhino which is out to accomplish what he had wanted to achieve.

Despite all forms of threats and demand for deadlines for an election, Bainimarama has stuck to his guns and is almost like a raging, unstoppable rhino.

Fiji's second political leaders' forum was held at the Parliamentary Complex on March 14, 2009 where Bainimarama addressed the leaders. He emphasised the need for political leaders to accept changes to the electoral system so that the racially divisive provisions in the electoral system could be removed.

He reiterated that to hold elections under a communally divisive system, for the sake of satisfying deadlines imposed by outsiders, would not solve Fiji's deep seated problems.

He emphatically warned that it was not the time to arouse ethnic fears and racial mistrust as grounds to win elections because indigenous interests were protected by the Constitution.

He added that the interim government would oppose those who undermine Fiji's independence and sovereignty. And he had been doing exactly that.

He recently told an international agency to go and jump in Suva Harbour. He effectively told them in Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry style: "Go ahead, punk, make my day and sack Fiji from the Commonwealth."

The advantage of doing a Masters in Journalism while being a columnist is that you are required to read articles as part of your studies which are quite pertinent to the subject being pursued.

Human rights
In this context I read an article by Mark Revington in the Listener of August 2000 where Dr David Robie, associate professor in communication studies at AUT University was quoted, questioning what Fiji had achieved in the aftermath of Rabuka's coups of 1987. Chauvinistic, nationalistic struggles of this kind (like Rabuka's coups) based on nepotism, racism, opportunistic crime, opportunities for corruption and suppression of human rights of others undermine genuine indigenous struggles such as the Kanaks struggles for independence from France in New Caledonia.

Fiji, which has been independent from Britain since 1970, has had indigenous government except for one month in 1987 when Bavadra was Prime Minister and one year in 1999-2000 with Chaudhry.

It has been questioned what the indigenous leadership had done in all this time for the underprivileged indigenous villager? Why were they blaming the Chaudhry government after three decades of failure by Mara and Rabuka and the chiefly oligarchy?

Those who are rushing Fiji into an election need to honestly ponder this.

They need to answer, what would an election achieve for Fiji when it did not do so in the past three and half decades? Why should Fiji not be allowed to sort out its unique problem in its own unique way which those pushing for elections conveniently forget that elections of the past failed to deliver democracy and social justice to Fiji.

We have politicians hijacking democracy which allows unscrupulous leaders to discriminate against their own people under the revered shelter of democratic sovereignty.

What will the Commonwealth, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Island Forum do if an election sends back the same culprits who were raping democracy under the sanctity of supposedly democratic elections, and continue doing what they were doing before December 2006? It is time Fiji was allowed to sort out and find home grown permanent solutions to its political problems.

Other stakeholders
This looked a step closer to being realised when the leaders' forum met under very cordial atmosphere and even the greatest critics of Bainimarama were pleasantly supportive of the move to involve all leaders, NGOs and other stakeholders to seek a permanent solution to Fiji's fundamental problems.

It was a pleasant surprise to see the deposed prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, supporting the forum and seeing the positive side of the meeting. It is good that politicians and trade union leaders realise the reality of the situation and understand the mood of the raging rhino.

For those who cannot appreciate the reason why Bainimarama is pushing for changes and coming hard on his opponents, they need to realise that he had come within a hair's breadth of becoming history. His opponents need to delve into Pacific history. Since 1981, there have been 10 political assassinations in Melanesian countries.

Frank Bainimarama narrowly escaped becoming assassination victim number 11. It was through good luck and a band of loyal soldiers, who enabled a dramatic dash through a cassava patch in a gully behind Suva's Queen Elizabeth Barracks when the elite Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit rebel soldiers mutinied on November 2, 2000.

In light of this background, can you really blame the rhino for its raging mood?

Thakur Ranjit Singh is winner of the 2008 AUT University-Pacific Islands Media Association (PIMA) Pasifika Communications postgraduate scholarship and is attached to the Pacific Media Centre. This article first appeared in The Fiji Times.

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