Sooner or later Fijians will wake up to the profound insolence of a self-appointed leadership telling them it knows their best interest and does not care for their vote.

Dictatorships fall when basic human resentment at the removal of rights and freedoms can no longer be repressed. Fijians have much to resent.

The dramatic flight to Tonga a week ago of their former third-ranked military officer, Lieutenant Colonel Tevita Mara, who was "rescued" at sea, shows that resentments now boil within the regime.

Colonel Mara, son of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, the country's founding Prime Minister, called for the overthrow of the Government of Frank Bainimarama.

It was, he said, a "hateful dictatorship". He accused Commodore Bainimarama of being ill, morally and intellectually bankrupt, and acting as a "hand puppet" of Fiji's civilian Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

The YouTube video of Colonel Mara's message to Fijians also targeted those still serving in the armed forces.

Interestingly, the colonel fled after being charged with making seditious comments and inciting mutiny. The high-level arrests were not reported in the censored Fijian media.

Colonel Mara says he and another leading officer had given advice to their commander on how to soften the regime's approach to public dissent. That in itself was seen as betrayal. But public dissent is at the heart of this.

If Colonel Mara had not been making seditious comments and inciting mutiny before, he certainly is now. It is something of a Damascene conversion. He accepts he will answer to Fijians for his time serving the regime, having commanded the army's third infantry regiment at the time of the 2006 coup.

Nevertheless, the advice he gave Commodore Bainimarama that led to his being charged and now his public stand from Nuku'alofa exhibit great courage deserving of national and international support.

Fiji has predictably dragged out allegations that the formerly trusted colonel is being investigated over missing funds from Fiji Pine. It is blustering about Tonga's involvement.

The Tongan King, George Tupou V, counts the Mara clan as relatives, and his Government is playing it cool, saying any bid for extradition will be handled independently by Tonga's courts. It notes Fiji must show good grounds for the charges laid against Colonel Mara.

Most likely, this is the point where the Bainimarama regime will struggle. Its concept of "rule of law" is peculiar to its ilk. In Nuku'alofa there are no handpicked Bainimarama regime judges ready to apply Mr Sayed-Khaiyum's rulebook.

Directly or indirectly Tonga is standing up for Fijians' right to be heard. Having undergone its own tentative transformation to real democracy, it now does the democratic cause in the wider South Pacific a valuable service.

New Zealand is steering clear of taking sides. Foreign Minister Murray McCully noted the division in the regime and said intervention would not be helpful. He is probably right.

Commodore Bainimarama tries to convince Fijians that criticism from Australia and New Zealand is some kind of post-colonial hang-up from nations with no clue of the cultural and societal goals of his armed rule.

Colonel Mara's insider view is far more powerful, in any case. A leading Fijian Establishment military man is calling things as they are.

He hopes Tonga's system will resist pressure and prevent Suva forcing him home before the regime is itself in the dock, answering to Fijians for the abuses and misrule it has perpetrated. The case will be a milestone in Fiji's return to freedom.