If anyone is in a position to claim Fiji has had its last coup, then it is Dr Tupeni Baba who has endured all four in the past 20 years. Baba told the Weekend Herald from Fiji this week he is certain that with international help the country can shed its coup mentality and fully restore democratic rule. He believes Fiji has turned the corner.
Many may view Baba's optimism as evidence Fijians are still living in cuckoo or "coup-coup" land as foreign media have lampooned the first Pacific nation to fall prey to such an unlawful takeover.
On May 14, 1987, Lieutenant-Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka and a group of masked and armed gunmen hijacked the multi-racial Government, headed by Prime Minister Dr Timoci Bavadra, which had been in power only a month. Baba was in Parliament and taken prisoner for seven days.
A second coup by Rabuka followed in September that year when the Governor-General was deposed and martial law imposed.
In 2000, as Deputy Prime Minister, Baba had been addressing the House of Representatives when George Speight and a heavily armed squad took over on May 19. This time with other members of the Labour Party-led Government, headed by Indo-Fijian Mahendra Chaudhry, Baba was held captive for 56 days.
In 2006, Baba was a member of the Fijian senate when military commander Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama pulled the fourth coup on December 5.
Baba agrees the first coup effectively set up the coup culture that has hung over Fiji for two decades.
"It was a great shock to the nation. The course that was taken had the support of a lot of Fijians and particularly the Great Council of Chiefs."
He says the coups that followed largely took a similar approach - an attempt to win the influence of the chiefs, quashing of the Constitution, appointment of a military Government, the involvement of the Governor-General, then the President.
"The coup culture relied on the success of that first coup. It has actually caused great damage to the country and held back development by up to 30 years."
Now Baba believes there will be no more coups as the ramifications finally sink home.
He points to the international condemnation, United Nations efforts to suspend Fiji from new peacekeeping duties, and other "smart sanctions" from foreign countries to target those involved in the coup.
"Coup leaders will not be able to travel, they could be tried by an international court of justice, have their assets frozen. In that way it will nullify any attempt by a strongman or strongwoman to take over the democratically elected government of the people."
Baba, perhaps wishfully, claims many Fijians are beginning to think hard about the need for an army in a country the size of Fiji.
"We could, instead, strengthen the police." The latest junta has brought "way down" the Army's once positive image in Fiji, although he acknowledges its popularity as a form of employment.
He says any legislation put through now under emergency would be re-examined and undone by the next democratically elected government.
"They have shot themselves in the foot and it will take a long time to recover. It will have achieved nothing - coups achieve nothing."
Baba was due to go to New York as Fiji's permanent representative at the United Nations. He can't under the current Administration, nor would if he could. "I am staying here to work towards strengthening democracy."
Less convinced of a coup-free future for Fiji is Dr Satish Chand, director of the Pacific Policy Project at the Australian National University.
"The coup last year was purported to be the coup to end all coups but only time will tell if that comes to fruition ... so far there's not much reason to believe this will be the last coup."
Chand says the coup of 1987 undermined respect for the basic principles of democracy and rule of law.
"In each coup the trust and respect of the institutions of civil society has deteriorated. The first set in train a process detrimental to democracy and law and order."
Chand says the impact has been direct, with ongoing political and economic problems. There has been a shortage of financial and human capital in Fiji as many skilled workers have left.
"The confidence within the economy in terms of domestic investors has fallen with each coup so what we have seen over time is a reduction of the proportion of income being invested."
The overall negative trend has meant poor progress for the economy.
The effect on poverty levels in Fiji is startling.
Poverty was measured at 12 per cent of the population in 1977, 25 per cent by 1996, and 34 per cent by 2003.
"If we continue on this path then by 2020 about half the population will be living in poverty which is a very sad outcome."
Chand says few benefit from coups, and any gains from the first have been undone by the 2006 event.
"The nation has definitely lost."
He says part of the problem is that the Fijian military has a monopoly on violence because it has the guns, and Fijian society is desensitised to the effects of coups.
"I suspect that over time people here have come to accept if you have a gun you have the laws on your side.
"Fiji is digging a deeper hole and getting out of that hole after each coup is harder."
Chand describes the post-coup problem for countries such as New Zealand, which has cut Fiji out of a groundbreaking labour mobility scheme, and organisations like the European Union, which is withholding millions of dollars unless the interim Government sticks to its commitment to return to democracy by March 2009.
"Before a coup one wants to do what is necessary to avert it, yet after it does not make sense to stick by threats because the damage should be minimised ... but then you lose credibility."
Chand, an Indo-Fijian says he "ran away" from Fiji in 1991, but still visits regularly.
"My folks still live in Ba and I visit twice a year, and remit money."
In hindsight he has not been surprised at the ongoing coups but Chand still finds every new one comes as a shock "because I thought we would have learned from the past."
Dr Susanna Trnka, an anthropologist at Auckland University, was living in a small Indo-Fijian community out of Nausori during the 2000 coup. "I was there doing medical anthropological research but that quickly changed to [being a] political anthropologist."
Trnka says what happened 20 years ago has undoubtedly influenced what is developing today, with the belief one can "grab the reins" when things don't happen the way one might want them to.
Rabuka and his supporters had first raised the issue of democracy as something coming in to Fiji from the outside - an imposition, she says.
"I think that is still very much part of the thinking ... that they are not really bound by democratic process."
She finds Bainimarama's contradictory position interesting.
"He's saying Qarase's Government was corrupt, and that Fiji wants a true democracy so let's get this through non-democratic means."
It is difficult, she says, to assess what Fijian people really think about the last coup because of the crackdown on public speech.
"It's hard to get a sense of the general pulse of public. Are people accommodating of a coup culture or is there no space to resist it?"
It has been said many Indo-Fijians quietly applaud the actions of Bainimarama.
But Trnka is less convinced, even though she acknowledges there was support for the military commander from that sector.
"When I was there around the election of May 2006 a lot of Indian Fijians were saying they really liked him and his standing up for their rights.
"People were unhappy with the regime of the Qarase Government and had reason to be, but that doesn't necessarily mean they support the overthrow of the democratic processes."
She doesn't see the situation in racial or ethnic terms although earlier coups have been represented in that way.
"That's why you had people running on the streets in support of George Speight, certainly they were holding up the banner of indigenous rights."
Although those coups drummed up grassroots support along racial lines, Trnka says that was not the motivation for Rabuka or Speight.
"I think they held that out to the populace but it was more about class and party politics - it is hard to get people galvanised around that so you hold up the race card and the religion card - 'We need a good Christian to be the leader of this country' - and that gets the people excited and out on the street."
Sanjay Ramesh, an Indo-Fijian political scientist based in Sydney, says some 80 per cent of eligible indigenous Fijian voters had voted for the Qarase Government so indigenous support for the current military-backed interim Government is dismal.
"There are many powerful interests at play in Fiji and Bainimarama's 'clean up' will eventually expose high chiefs, their business partners and other questionable practices of the past and this will fuel further instability and crisis."