Barry Soper: Fiji's potted political history

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Prime Minister John Key shakes hands with Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama at Suva Airport. Photo / Claire Trevett
Prime Minister John Key shakes hands with Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama at Suva Airport. Photo / Claire Trevett

Today will be the mark of the man who ousted a democratically elected Fijian Prime Minister at gunpoint and took over the country, the fourth time in 20 years the barrel of the gun spoke louder than the voters.

Having covered all four coups, the final one by Frank Bainimarama was the smoothest transition from military rule.

The first launched by military chief Sitiveni Rabuka in May 1987 was the worst.

A mild mannered leader of the Labour Party, the late Timoci Bavadra made a fatal error of having too many ethnic Indians in his cabinet. He'd ousted, against all expectations, the only Prime Minister since Fiji's independence from Britain, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara who'd ruled for 28 years.

Suva was burning, Indians were beaten up on the streets, journalists had their recording equipment and even notebooks confiscated by the balaclava clad, heavily armed military.

For a short period I was locked up and interrogated for essentially being in the wrong place and the wrong time.

In the coming months, tensions ran high, and Rabuka came back out of his barracks and did the same thing all over again, although Bavadra had long since been dismissed and Ratu Mara was again installed to run the fractured country.

A new constitution was put in place in 1990, ensuring that Fijians would electorally forever dominate the political stage and two years later Rabuka was elected Prime Minister and apologised for the coups.

Seven years later Rabuka was defeated by Labour's Mahendra Chaudrey who became the first Indian Prime Minister.

Enter the most cocky of the coupsters so far, American University educated George Speight, who got carried away after a debate on the 19th hole of a golf course about the widespread dislike for Chaudrey, and took the government hostage and has been in jail ever since.

That saw Bainimarama eventually declaring martial law and clearly liking the power, took it for himself in 2006 after ousting the ethnic Fijian PM Laisenia Qarase. Eight years later he tested his popularity with the people after seeing off most political parties with impossible membership restrictions he'd imposed and was not surprisingly elected.

That's Fiji's potted history back to democracy that John Key confronts in Suva today and the mark of Bainimarma will be to see if he's prepared to take the original Helen Clark imposed sanctions against his country on the chin and support her bid to become UN Secretary General.

The sanctions of course have been lifted, but has Bainimarama's mood?

- NZME.

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