These days Frank Bainimarama walks with a swagger in his step.

Three years after he stormed Parliament and overthrew Fiji's democratically elected Government, the army chief is at his most confident.

The reason, say his critics, is the "dark year" that was 2009, a year in which the coup leader managed to tighten his hold on power internally and push away his biggest critics, Australia and New Zealand.

According to these opponents, Bainimarama now talks less about reforming the country's electoral system and holding fairer elections - both key platforms for staging the 2006 coup - and more about his military government's ongoing rule.

"We have seen a huge shift this year, unfortunately in very much the wrong direction," said Fiji specialist Brij Lal, of the Australian National University in Canberra.

"At the end of 2009, we have the feeling that the military is here to stay, a feeling that the goalposts have moved further away, and there's very little the people of Fiji or the international community can do about it."

When Bainimarama seized power from Laisenia Qarase's Government on December 5, 2006, he said this fourth coup would be the one to end them all.

He argued the decades-long instability was fuelled by the unfair race-based electoral system that handed most of the voting power to indigenous Fijians, while leaving the significant Fiji Indian population without a voice.

His plan was to reform it, a plan generally accepted as a good one, even if many academics thought an unelected government was not the one to implement it.

But the world grew impatient when 2007 and 2008 failed to bring an election, and a March 2009 deadline set by Bainimarama also passed.

And then came April. Over the Easter weekend, the Government, responding to a court decision that found it was ruling illegally, shocked regional and world powers by abrogating the country's constitution. The junta was able to sack and replace government officials, push back elections to September 2014 and burden the media and the public with censorship rules designed to block "negative" reporting of government affairs. In the absence of a constitution, the Government now ruled by decree.

Bainimarama, who did not respond to interview requests, justified the crackdown by saying they were "cleaning up" the mess of past governments. Censorship helped them to get on with this job without interference, he said.

In November, he ousted Australia and New Zealand's top diplomats on the grounds that there was too much meddling in his government's affairs.

Hugh Laracy, an Auckland University academic who is sympathetic to Bainimarama, says the commodore was well within his rights to assert his political muscle.

"Frankly, there's a lot of heavy-handed treatment of Bainimarama when he should be trusted that he's doing the best for his country and left alone to get on with the job," he said.

But Pacific specialists at the ANU say concern is justified.

Jon Fraenkel said April marked a dramatic departure from past rhetoric, calling it a "lurch into the abyss" that would hurt Fijians and worry the world. "Since the absolute disaster that was April, they no longer offer any coherent justification for their own presence other than power," he said.

Jone Baledrokadroka, a former army commander who rejected the regime, told a rally in Sydney recently that the so-called interim government was now referring to a 10-point reform plan to be achieved by 2020. And with this new order comes new confidence.

Lal, who saw the authoritarian mood first-hand when he was arrested for his anti-government views during a recent Suva visit, said it's clear Bainimarama was enjoying more support in the ranks.

"If you listen to the language, watch the way he travels the world with a new confident swagger, it's clear the commodore is feeling secure," he said. "That is total entrenchment of the military and it makes me fear it could never end."

Fraenkel, however, was less pessimistic. He said there were key signs that all is not cohesive behind the scenes. Many government policies have been contradictory, with some, such as free bus fares, serving the socialist left while others, such as the business-friendly budget, catering to the right wing.

The junta sacked officials associated with the old Government, but it also sacked many of those it appointed itself, Fraenkel said. "This indicates that there are, probably, squabbles going on behind the scenes."

As to whether the Government has support on the streets, the specialists said censorship made it impossible to tell. They think it was likely the commander still enjoyed considerable support among Fiji Indians, while facing 90 per cent opposition from indigenous Fijians.

But they warned that the ethnic divisions were not clear cut, with many basing their support or opposition on other grounds.