BACK TO THE FIJI COUPS

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By Dr. Sanjay Ramesh

The coups of 1987 have become a bitter memory for the people of Fiji, but unanswered questions still linger about the whole incident. Was then Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, who claimed that intervention of the army was necessary to avert ethnic bloodshed, acting purely on an instinct to save the Fijian race and to indirectly rescue Indians from the militant Taukei movement or were there other forces, apart from the most apparent ones, at work?

The deposed Prime Minister, the late Dr. Timoci Bavadra, in 1988 sent an affidavit to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II stating that Fiji’s Interim Leader, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, was involved in the first coup. The sworn affidavit of the former Taukei Movement member, the late Ratu Meli Vesikula, implicated Mara as masterminding the military take-over on May 14, 1987.

Richard Naidu, spokesperson of the deposed Prime Minister Dr. Timoci Bavadra, confirmed that the coup was all about preserving power for those who were used to ruling the country. "The government had been in power for the 17 years since independence. Ousted at the polls, its leaders and power brokers reacted violently." (Richard Naidu quoted in Sunday Star, May 8, 1988.)

During the April 1987 election campaign the newly formed Fiji Labor Party- National Federation Party coalition promised the people of Fiji a clean and an open government. After achieving victory in the elections, the coalition started implementing its ambitious people-based policies by first waiving hospital fees and reaching an understanding with the bus operators to waive bus fares for pensioners.

In addition to the above, there were moves to introduce tax free pensions for ex-serviceman; social security benefits for all over 60 years; a review of customs and excise duties; reduction of interest rates on housing and agricultural loans; establishing a unit within the Fiji Development Bank to assist Fijians in commerce and introduction of fee-free education up to Form 4 (sophomore).

Before any of the above programs could be implemented, the coalition government was ousted by the army in the South Pacific’s first bloodless military coup. Despite the bloodless nature of the coup, there was in fact a lot of individual suffering. Speculation was rife as to those who may have been involved in undermining the government.

It was initially alleged by the pro-Bavadra group that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was behind the coups. The reasons for what has been termed as "CIA chimera" are many and varied. Immediately after the coup, the Fiji Military Forces (FMF) embarked on a propaganda campaign, informing coup sympathizers that the coalition had relations with the former Soviet Union and Libya and as such compromised Fijian traditions and values. Widespread rumors of the coalition being socialist or left wing in orientation led many observers to conclude that the CIA was involved.

Other observations, such as U.S. Hercules carriers making brief suspicious stopovers at Nadi International Airport; the presence of U.S. Ambassador to UN Vernon Walters in the country for talks with the coalition with respect to nuclear ship visits to Fiji; the appearance of retired U.S. army officer Larry Mackenna at the U.S. Embassy in full battle fatigue; and the dubious political activities of USAID and members of the U.S. Peace Corps further cemented the view that Fiji had fallen victim to U.S. counter-subversion activities, which was consolidated in the Pacific after the second great war.

The counter-charges from the coup leaders were equally potent. Following the coup, a Fiji Muslim, Amjad Ali, attempted to hijack an Air New Zealand airbus at Nadi International Airport, only to be overpowered by the crew. In this incident, the hijacker demanded to be flown to Libya. Such a statement was used by the coup leaders to show that the coalition had a Libyan connection, a claim which they never could authenticate. Apart from the "Libyan chimera," the coup leaders emphasized that the non-alignment policy of the coalition was "Soviet -inspired."

Beyond the rhetoric and allegations following the May 1987 coup lies the dialectical interplay between multiracialism on one hand and racial communalism on the other. By probing such interplay, one can appreciate the forces that prevailed before and after the military take over. During the 17 years of chiefly hegemony via the Alliance Party, the idea that Fiji can best be governed by the party structure, where the chiefly elite was guaranteed an unquestionable monopoly on political power and that other non-indigenous groups became subordinate players within that defining milieu took hold. The idea of chiefly hegemony was successfully challenged in 1987 with the coalition advocating a "partnership" among and between various ethnic groups.

THE FIRST COUP

Historians believe that events have meanings which can be understood by critical analysis within a particular historical, cultural, political, economic, social, and global context. The coups of 1987 are such an event that warrant constant historical examination. Was the coup a violent reaction from the chiefly elite, who realized that the ideas of the coalition would inevitably undermine their monopoly on political power? Was this chiefly elite part of the larger international historic-bloc that used its structural power to preserve its capitalist ethos from socialist encroachment? Was the Fiji army already fully indoctrinated and playing a major role in the Cold War theater or was the ethnically exclusive army trained and equipped to guarantee the status quo?

In a speech prepared hastily after the military take-over, Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka stated that his action to oust the coalition was to keep disruptive forces such as the Taukei Movement from continuing with its destabilization campaign. "What I would like them (Taukei militants) to now understand is that now they no longer have that excuse (that the government was under Indian control) and ask them to cooperate with the new regime to restore normalcy, go back to civilian rule and democracy." (Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, Press Statement, May 14, 1988.)

After the statement from Colonel Rabuka people asked why did the army not assist the coalition in apprehending the Taukei militants and why did it have to oust an elected government to please the Taukei? Answers to such questions pointed towards a possible involvement of the army in assisting the destabilization campaign against the coalition government.

Immediately following the coup, Colonel Rabuka advised foreign journalists to behave in a responsible manner. In order to muster Fijian support, Rabuka explained that the coup was intended to protect the Fijian people, so that their rightful place in this country could be recognized.

On May 17, 1987 former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke stated on Radio Australia that the political situation in Fiji had deteriorated with a widespread detention and harassment of journalists. The Australian High Commissioner in Fiji, Mr. John Piper, protested against the harassment, and demanded that he be given audience with the deposed Prime Minister, Dr. Timoci Bavadra.

Meanwhile, Dr. Bavadra, while held captive at Veiuto, in a letter requested intervention from the New Zealand government to restore the "elected" government. A similar letter was sent to Buckingham Palace where Her Majesty was informed that the coup was "illegal." Britain responded to Bavadra’s call and requested the military authorities in Fiji to reinstate the deposed government.

Colonel Rabuka defied international pressure and gave blanket authorities to the army to detain and harass foreign journalists. Australian Consul in Suva Andrew Nigel was detained for two hours following his attempts at negotiating the release of Australian journalists. Furthermore, Rabuka advised Australia and New Zealand not to interfere in Fiji’s domestic affairs.

While Rabuka was warning foreign countries, Chief Justice Timoci Tuivaga on May 17, 1987 issued a statement declaring the military take over illegal and invalid. (Australia News, 11:15 a.m., May 18, 1987.) On May 18, 1987 the Governor General, the late Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, issued a directive calling on to the army to return to the barracks. In addition, the Governor General acknowledged that he no longer had the freedom of action to exercise the executive power.

From the ongoing talks between the Governor General and the coup leader, it was clear that Ratu Penaia had acquiesced to the demands of Rabuka. On the night of May 18, 1987 Rabuka was sworn in as the head of Fiji’s government after he assured the Governor that members of the coalition government will be released from captivity.

On May 19, 1987 (Statement by Brigadier Sitiveni Rabuka, Chairman of the Council of Ministers, May 19, 1987) Rabuka spoke to some 7,000 strong soldiers, reminding them that he could face death for the military take over and that he carried out the coup to prevent a possible bloody confrontation between the Bavadra government and the Fijian community.

At 4.00 p.m. on the 19th, the Governor General, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, explained to Rabuka that its was constitutionally impossible to swear in his Council of Ministers in view of the illegality of the military coup. Having said that the Governor General did the inexplicable and dissolved the Parliament. The question that arose thereon was whether the Governor General had the executive authority to proceed in an absence of a government and dissolve the Parliament.

Under the 1970 Constitution, the Governor General can dissolve the Parliament only if the majority in both Houses agree to such an action in a vote of no confidence. In addition, the existing Prime Minister has to clearly communicate his view to dissolve the parliament to the Governor General before any action to that effect can proceed thereto.

Furthermore, the Governor General granted wholesale amnesty to the coup leaders. "As the representative of Her Majesty the Queen in Fiji, I have the prerogative of mercy and have taken the Chief Justice’s opinion on this matter and have decided that in order to bring about national reconciliation and national healing, I will grant this prerogative of mercy to those implicated in the illegal seizure of power." (Address by Governor- General Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, May 19, 1987.)

In conclusion, the Governor General requested the people of Fiji to remain calm and go about life as usual while the process of a return to normalcy was being effected.

While the Governor General was arguing with Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka over the legality or the illegality of the coup, a Fiji Indian, Amjad Ali, hijacked an Air New Zealand aircraft at Nadi International Airport. The hijacker demanded that he be flown to Libya and all detained coalition members be released and taken to Nadi from Suva within three hours of his message.

The Council of Ministers headed by Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka denounced the hijacking as precipitated by those in collusion with Russians and Libyans. The Council felt that Libyans were active in the Pacific region and that it could have a destabilizing effect.

From May 19 to 21, 1987 the Great Council of Chiefs deliberated on the political situation in Fiji. On May 21, 1987 the Great Council decided that:

The day before the Great Council of Chiefs resolutions, there was an ugly race riot in Suva. Scores of people were injured when hundreds of Fijians armed with garden tools attacked members of the Indian community. Further rumor of riots forced the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs to warn Australians not to travel to Fiji. Following that, , Britain and the United States issued similar warnings.

Dr. Bavadra and his Ministers were released from captivity and most went into hiding in fear of being recaptured and detained. On May 21, 1987 Dr. Bavadra sent a letter to the Governor General advising him not to give in to the wishes of the coup leaders and the Great Council of Chiefs. That is exactly what happened, with Rabuka being absorbed into the Council of Advisers on May 22, 1987.

Rabuka’s Council of Ministers ceased to exist as of 7:40 p.m. on May 22, 1987 and a new line up with many old faces was sworn into office: Colonel Paul Manueli, Savenaca Siwatibau, Daniel Mastapha, Mumtaz Ali, Sitiveni Rabuka, Bill Cruickshank, Ratu Josua Tonganivalu, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Harish Sharma, Dr. Timoci Bavadra, Filipe Bole, Apenisa Kurusiqila, Josua Cavalevu, Tomasi Raikivi, Viliame Gonelevu, Jone Veisamasama, Livai Nasilivata, and Ratu Sir Josaia Tavaiqia.

Dr. Bavadra and Harish Sharma refused to be part of the Council of Advisers, which was stacked in favor of the coup conspirators. On May 22, 1987 Colonel Rabuka called on the people to rally behind the new Council of Advisers. As for the former Prime Minister and Tui Nayau, Ratu Mara, he too, much to the surprise of many, quietly accepted the post offered to him by the coup leader. In justifying his move, Ratu Mara stated that "he did so with the understanding that he should offer assistance to the coup leader in running the nation."

On May 26, 1987 protest demonstrations and meetings were outlawed by Public Emergency Regulations. The New Zealand Federation of Labor announced that it intended to step up its ban on goods destined to Fiji. A journalist with the New Zealand Independent Radio told Radio Fiji in Suva that the New Zealand Federation of Labor was adamant on trade sanctions.

In the western part of Viti Levu, commercial activities and bus services came to a halt on May 26, 1987. On the same day, the Great Council of Chiefs resolved that:

In Australia, the movement for the restoration of democracy in Fiji gained momentum after thousands of former Fiji residents and their Australian Sympathizers gathered at the Sydney Town Hall on May 26, 1987 to hear the former Permanent Secretary of Dr. Bavadra, Dr. William Sutherland, appeal for an embargo on imports from and exports to Fiji, suspension of all ongoing cooperation including military, suspension of all trading arrangements, and the freezing of Fiji government assets abroad.

At home, the civil service was being purged with the suspension of five senior Indian staff members at Nadi International Airport. Members of the pro-coup Fiji Port Workers Union advised foreign unions not to boycott Fiji products and warned that the present boycott was manipulated by local Indian trade union leaders on racial grounds.

While those in the Ports Authority were busy trying to stifle the impending boycott of Fiji by the international community, the United States Embassy in Fiji (United States Information Service USIS News Release, May 27, 1987) clarified that then U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz had not given blessing to the new political arrangement after the coup. Rumors were rife that the U.S. had given tacit support to the unlawful acts of Rabuka and the Governor General. Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was said to have been given assurances of U.S. support despite international condemnation.

The United States Embassy in Suva was particularly disturbed by such allegations. It had, however, denounced the coup and supported restoration of the constitutionally elected government in a press release on May 15, 1987.

As for Fiji’s most prominent chief, Ratu Mara, allegations of involvement in the coup forced him to convene a press conference with overseas journalists on May 27, 1987. When asked why did he participated in the Council of Ministers appointed by the Coup leader Mara replied that all he wanted was to help the country when it needed him the most.

Mara’s explanations to the overseas journalists did not dispel a widely held belief that he was the mastermind behind the coup. Many Indians and in particular Indian academics saw Mara as indirectly involved in activities to destabilize the Bavadra government.

The actions of the Governor General also raised the possibility that he may also have been involved in the coup. The speed with which amnesty was granted to the coup leaders and with the same speed the setting up of the Council of Advisers was seen as pre-planned and pre-meditated acts.

Regional governments such as Australia and New Zealand suspended trade with Fiji. New Zealand suspended defense cooperation with the Fiji military because of their involvement in overthrowing an elected government. In an announcement by the New Zealand Defense Minister, Frank O’Flynn, some 38 Fiji soldiers training in the country were to be sent back to Fiji.

In other developments, leaders at the South Pacific Forum meeting in Apia, with much difficulty, struggled with the Fiji situation. The Governor General of Fiji, Ratu Penaia, had advised the Forum not to give audience to members of the deposed coalition government at the meeting to lobby for their cause. As a result of the Governor’s directive, deposed coalition members Krishna Datt and Dr. Tupeni Baba were asked to leave the meeting by the Director of South Pacific Bureau for Economic Cooperation, Henry Naisali.

Dr. Baba was quoted as stating that the Forum in rejecting the delegation from the deposed government in Fiji had rejected the people of Fiji. The Chairman of the Forum Meeting, Western Samoa’s Prime Minister, expressed hope that Fiji will be able to resolve its political crisis.

On May 31, 1987 New Zealand’s Prime Minister announced that a three member team of eminent persons, Australian’s Prime Minister Bob Hawke, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Mr. Alebua, and Director of SPEC Henry Naisali, may be sent at the approval of Fiji’s Governor to explore the possibility of finding a satisfactory solution to the present political situation. Meanwhile, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Pias Wingti elaborated that Fiji shall not be condemned outright and further reiterated the Melanesian Spearhead Group resolution to support the efforts of Ratu Penaia in bringing normalcy.

On June 1, 1987 the Governor General met with 50 representatives from the Indian Community led by Sir Vijay Singh, the Chief Executive of the Fiji Sugar Cane Growers Council. Indians voiced concern over public security and the state of the economy. By June 2, 1987 most shops and businesses in the Western Division closed for the day.

People who planned to hold gatherings were advised to obtain approval from the relevant authorities. The Fiji Ministry of Information stated that the move to restrict public gatherings was in the interest of public safety. In fact, people saw the restrictions as further attempts to control anti-government protests which were sweeping across western Viti Levu.

Soldiers had set up roadblocks and were carrying out routine searches in an effort to confiscate anti-army publications which were circulating around the country, with some finding their way overseas. The harassment and detention continued with the diplomatic corps becoming victims of such actions. On June 2, 1987, British High Commissioner Roger Barltrop had an ugly confrontation with soldiers who defiantly shot and flattened the tires of the Commissioner’s vehicle. On June 3, 1987 Governor General Ratu Sir Penaia expressed his profound apologies for the shooting incident.

On June 8, 1987 Dr. Bavadra’s campaign for the restoration of his deposed government was not getting the required support when Her Majesty refused to meet with the ousted Prime Minister after receiving advice to that effect from the Governor General of Fiji. In New Zealand, Fiji’s Consul General in Auckland, Mikaele Yasa, asked the New Zealand government (The Fiji Times News Bulletin, June 8, 1987) to give him and his family political asylum.

In Fiji, the chiefs and the people of Ra expressed full confidence and support for the Governor General’s leadership. The assurances came after it was revealed that Fijians in western Viti Levu were planning to form a separate government with their own armed forces.

By June 9, 1987 rumors of midnight army raids on Indians, mass detentions, and rapes began to surface. So powerful were these rumors that Indians in large numbers began fleeing the country.

As for the legality of the political order under the Governor General’s Council of Advisors, the Fiji Law Society in its five-point legal submission argued that any dissolution of Parliament should be in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister. The Society confirmed that between any dissolution of Parliament and a general election, the position of Prime Minister should continue.

The submission of the Fiji Law Society clearly indicated that the Governor General was acting outside his constitutional authority and as such his proclamations and decrees were unlawful and void. It was, however, noted that the Governor General had confused his executive and legislative powers Under the 1970 Constitution, there are no legislative powers vested in the Governor General. Only Parliament may pass such legislation.

While the Governor General, Ratu Penaia, was accused of acting illegally, the repeated inference to U.S. involvement in the coups and speculation thereof led the U.S. Embassy in Fiji to issue a press release on June 17, 1987. In it, the Embassy denied claims of U.S. involvement and dispelled further rumors that a U.S. official had provided money to the Taukei Movement before the coup.

On the sugar front, the presence of soldiers in the cane field and the uncertainties surrounding cane payments led to calls for a harvest boycott. Realizing that farmers were looking for assurances from those in authority, the Governor General, Ratu Penaia, on 18 June 1987 issued a statement in which he promised the farmers that they would receive the full forecast price of $23.50 per ton of cane, to be paid on delivery. In addition, the Governor General stated that he had given directions to the Fiji army to restrict its presence in the cane field.

Promises from Ratu Penaia were enough to satisfy the cane farmers, but a greater problem was emerging with the pending return of Dr. Bavadra, who was accused by the Fiji government of spreading falsehoods abroad. It was revealed that on June 16, 1987 Dr. Bavadra and Dr. James Anthony held a press conference, where false written allegations were distributed on forged government letterheads.

The Governor General requested that Dr. Bavadra return to Fiji and hold discussions with the authorities in the country. The Fiji Sun, which started publishing once again after the coup, questioned whether Dr. Bavadra and his entourage would be arrested when they returned to Fiji.

Bavadra was not arrested on his return, but the army continued to harass and intimidate his group. It was on June 23, 1987 that the Governor General outlined plans for a constitutional review at Nasekula village in Labasa. It was revealed that there would be a Constitutional Review Committee consisting of 16 members. Clearly, the statement of the Governor General indicated that any new political arrangement would be based on Fijian political paramountcy.

As the Governor General and the coup leaders indicated to the world that the political turmoil in Fiji was over, the Fijian dollar on June 29, 1987 was devalued (Reserve Bank of Fiji, Press Release, June 29, 1987) by 17.75 percent against the basket of five currencies. It was envisaged that the devaluation would assist the export sector such as tourism, sugar, gold, timber, ginger, and others.

Following the devaluation, the Governor General announced the names of the Constitutional Review Committee. Under the terms of reference of the Committee, the hearing was to begin on July 6, 1987 and conclude on July 24, 1987. The Committee was asked to deliver the report of its findings to the Governor General by July 31, 1987.

In the middle of the review, on July 21, 1987, the Great Council of Chiefs met and heard submissions from Dr. Asesela Ravuvu, Malakai Tawake, and Suva lawyer Kelemedi Bulewa that Fiji be declared a Republic. Rumors that Fiji would soon be declared a republic were spreading like a wild bush fire and it was believed that the Taukei Movement was behind such a move.

The Great Council of Chiefs also heard the views of the coup leader, Sitiveni Rabuka, who stated that an increase in the number of seats in the House of Representatives for the Fijians would meet the coup objectives. The Council, however, did not give any consideration to the coalition request and one of their emissaries was shouted at, at the meeting.

The Governor General was aware of the fluidity of the Fiji situation and knew very well that the coalition would not agree to anything short of a balanced constitution in which the rights of all the ethnic groups were enshrined. To proceed with the review and to receive quality legal advice, the Governor General appointed professor Keith Patchett as his adviser on constitutional affairs. Patchett was from United Kingdom and had held the position of First Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Wales.

Meanwhile, Dr. Bavadra filed an action in the Supreme Court challenging measures introduced by the Governor General after the coup. Supreme Court Judge Justice Rooney on August 14, 1987 threw out three of the many claims brought to the court by the deposed Prime Minister. The judgments had a far reaching effect so far as legitimizing the authority of the Governor General.

At the end of August 1987, there was a report from the Constitution Review Committee that satisfied virtually no one. Instead, the report reflected anything but consensus and clearly by then racial attitudes and beliefs had hardened. In less than three months, the ultimate objective of the coup -- that of promoting and invoking racial consciousness -- was achieved.

By the end of the first three months after the coup questions still lingered about those who acted covertly in destabilizing the Bavadra government. Denials from official sources that there was no one other than Colonel Rabuka and the Taukei Movement hardly stands up to critical examination. The coup, in fact, polarized the already divided Fijian and Indian community and brought to the surface ethnic fears that were not expressed so strongly before. The second coup in September, however, completed the process started in May 1987 of defeating multiracialism by promoting and, to an extent, institutionalizing racism.

THE SECOND COUP

The second military coup was staged by Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka on September 25, 1987. This coup, unlike the previous one on May 14, 1987, ousted the Governor General, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, and imposed military rule. In fact, before the fateful day of September 25, 1987, the militant Taukei Movement had intensified its campaign against the Indians by rampaging through the streets of Suva and maliciously setting fire to Indian businesses in the process.

The Taukei onslaught was aimed at instilling fear in the Indian community and undermining the talks between the National Federation Party/Labor coalition and the Alliance at Deuba. The latter was aimed at bringing about national reconciliation and was spearheaded by the Governor General. Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, who had initially overthrown the NFP/Labor government to secure Fijian political hegemony, saw the Deuba talks as a retreat to the pre-coup days.

If the understanding reached at Deuba was to be implemented, and in all likelihood the nation was heading in that direction, the aims and objectives of the coup would have been seriously undermined. Once again imbued with the spirit to protect Fijian aspirations, Rabuka resorted to force.

Soon after the second coup, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, David Lange, deplored the actions of Rabuka, stating that "it is tragic that at the very point when the Governor General had brought together the rival political factions, and had secured their agreement to set up an interim government designed to restore democracy in Fiji, the military should not have taken this deplorable action." (Press Statement by Rt. Hon. David Lange, Prime Minister of New Zealand, News Release, New Zealand High Commission, Suva, September 28, 1987.)

The former Minister for Foreign Affairs in the New Zealand government, Russell Marshall, confirmed that the intention of Rabuka was to establish a regime in which the rights of Fiji’s citizens of India origin would be downgraded. In noting that, the Minister assured that cooperation with Fiji would be suspended, particularly in areas of capital aid, technical assistance, and military cooperation.

While New Zealand had outright condemned the coup, Australia (Press Statement by Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Mr. Bill Hayden, Press Release, Australian High Commission, September 29, 1987) went a step further, stating that it would not recognize any new government establishment by Colonel Rabuka. International condemnation of the coup forced Rabuka to chair consensus talks on September 30, 1987. That meeting, however, considered procedures for ongoing dialogue and discussions among the security forces, Ratu Mara and Dr. Bavadra.

The British government (Press Release, British High Commission, October 8, 1987) advised the military rulers in Fiji that Britain continued to regard the Governor General as the sole legitimate authority in Fiji. However, Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Pias Wingti warned that "any external intervention in the internal affairs of Fiji would be both illegal and unhelpful." (Press Statement, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, the Rt. Hon. Pias Wingti, Papua New Guinea High Commission, September 27, 1987.)

On 15 October 1987, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II received the following message from the Governor General of Fiji: "Your Majesty, with humble duty, I wish to submit to you the following advice, acting in my capacity as your representative in Fiji. Owing to the political and constitutional situation in Fiji, I have now made up my mind to request Your Majesty to relieve me of my appointment as Governor General with immediate effect." (Governor General of Fiji, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, October 16, 1987.)

The Queen accepted the Governor General’s resignation and the Commonwealth leaders, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Vancouver British Columbia in Canada on October 16, 1987 acknowledged that, on the basis of established Commonwealth conventions, Fiji’s membership in the Commonwealth lapsed with the emergence of the republic on October 15, 1987.

In Fiji, chiefs from around the country had come out in support of Colonel Rabuka’s actions. Among those who sent messages of support to the army leader were Tui Macuata, Tui Tavua, Tui Naviti, Tui Magodro, Tui Nadru, Ratu Mai Verata, and Vunivalu of Natewa.

On September 29, 1987 Fiji Broadcasting Corporation (FBC) reporter Aswin Singh asked Colonel Rabuka as to why he staged the second coup? Rabuka replied that he got an intelligence report that there would be widespread violence. Recounting events leading to the coup, Rabuka clarified that destruction of pine forests in western Viti Levu and arson in Suva indicated general unrest.

A day before, on September 28, 1987, Tony Melbon interviewed a Taukei Movement Leader, Ratu Timoci Vesikula, who confirmed that Colonel Rabuka had aligned himself with the Taukei. This revelation confirmed fears that Rabuka all along encouraged and supported the views of the Movement, but the sound coup, unlike the first coup, deposed a high chief.

The fact that a commoner so easily and without much protest ousted the Governor General was "un Fijian." But a greater surprise was the support Rabuka received from the Vunivalu Ratu Sir George Cakobau. (Radio Fiji News, September 30, 1987.) Seeing support from the highest of the Fijian traditional authorities, Rabuka had no hesitation in proceeding on and abrogating the 1970 Constitution, and declaring Fiji a republic on October 3, 1987.

On October 7, 1987 the Fiji dollar was devalued by a further 15.25 percent against the basket of five currencies. In addition to the devaluation there were other measures put in place to tighten the monetary policy. Residents’ foreign travel allowances were reduced from $2,000 to $1,000 per person per overseas trip and the commercial banks were advised to put tight control on increases in credits.

The same day, Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka formally declared Fiji a republic. In a speech, Rabuka stated that he would institute an interim government which would ensure a new social contract for returning the government to the people. In that interview, the Colonel confirmed that work would soon start on the new Constitution.

On October 20, 1987 the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Filipe Bole, confirmed that France had pledged support for Fiji. Apart from France, which sent two patrol-boats to the Island on October 2,1987, a commercial delegation from the Republic of Indonesia visited Fiji from November 2 to 7, 1987 at the invitation of the government.

In Fiji, the former Leader of Opposition and NFP Leader Saddiq Koya met with Colonel Rabuka on September 30, 1987 and briefed him on the negotiations leading to the 1970 Constitution, After the discussion, Rabuka (News Release, Ministry of Information, September 30, 1987) remarked that Koya expressed his personal sympathy for the struggles of the indigenous Fijians.

By September 30, 1987 Australia and New Zealand, two of Fiji’s major trading neighbors, imposed trade sanctions, the result of which was particularly felt in the tourism industry, whose spokesperson, Radike Qereqeretabua, stated that the embargo hurt mainly the working people. Supporting Mr. Qereqeretabua was the Secretary of the National Union of Hotel and Catering Employees, Isimeli Volovola, who reiterated that the 2,500 strong union members opposed the overseas boycott.

In addition to the ongoing boycott debate, there was a larger issue of foreign intervention. It was rumored that a peacekeeping force was being set up to overthrow the regime of Colonel Rabuka. In an interview on Radio Australia, the Australian Foreign Affairs Minister admitted that there were calls for such a force to be sent to Fiji, but shrugged off suggestions of Australian government involvement.

The security situation in Fiji deteriorated when on October 3, 1987 a policeman was injured in a bomb blast at Nadi Police Station. Police spokesman Romanu Tikotikoca confirmed the incident and urged public not to tamper with suspicious parcels and objects.

After declaring Fiji a republic on October 7, 1987, Colonel Rabuka announced the appointment of a 19-member Council of Ministers, which was given the euphemism "transitional authority." The new members were: Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, Filipe Bole, Ratu Josua Cavalevu, Isimeli Bose, Dr. Apenisa Kurisaqila, Sakeasi Butadroka, Livai Nasilivata, Irene Jai Narayan, Taniela Veitata, Ratu Meli Vesikula, Adi Litia Cakobau, Ratu Sir Josaia Tavaiqia, Major Avolosi Buivakaloloma, Apisai Viliame Gonelevu, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, and Lieutenant Colonel Ilaisa Kacisolomone.

Despite the efforts to create a veneer of normalcy, the night curfew, imposed after the second coup from 8:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., was seen as a military measure to restrict freedom of movement and deter anti- government protests. In addition to the curfew, the security forces carried out routine checks of cars and detained individuals suspected of engaging in anti- government activities.

While the people of Fiji suffered under the night curfew and constant harassment from the army, the Israeli government decided to set up its embassy in Suva. Fiji and Israel established diplomatic relations in June 1971 and since then successive Israeli ambassadors to Australia have been accredited as non-resident ambassadors to Fiji. The Israeli move, at a time of heightened racial tension and military oppression, was seen as political by many observers.

On October 15, 1987 (News Release, Ministry of Information, October 15, 1987) the Minister for Information, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, cautioned the diplomatic corps not to interfere in Fiji’s internal affairs. It was disclosed that certain members of diplomatic missions in Fiji pursued political discussions with individuals hostile to the government.

On the same night, in an Australian ABC International Report program, the former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, stated that Indians in Fiji were deprived of their political rights. The program noted that a curfew and a Sunday ban on trading were imposed to harass Indians. A day after the program, a bomb exploded outside Morris Hedstorm, injuring two women and an elderly man. The explosions were, however, a sign of anti- government protest and in one such incident a person died at Laucala Bay road in Suva.

The trade ban was slowly losing its effect and by October 20, 1987 the New Zealand Maritime, Transport and General Workers Federation agreed to lift trade bans imposed on Fiji since the second coup. Other unions, including the Australian airline industry unions, decided to ban all flights between Fiji and Australia from November 1, 1987. Immediately, the Minister for Internal affairs, David Pickering, accused the airline unions of political interference. Finally, the Australian Council of Trade Union suspended the proposed flights ban on October 20, 1987.

While Fiji criticized the Australian unions’ campaign against Fiji, it did receive with gratitude the support from Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, who called for understanding and support for the military leaders. Upon receiving a sympathetic note from Malaysia, the Fijian regime immediately set out to establish trade links with that country.

On November 4, 1987 government clarified its position on the Sunday ban by emphasizing the broad interpretation of word "church" to include temples and mosques. However, government cautioned that religious places were not to be used for political gatherings and meetings, which was prohibited under the Sunday Observance Decree No. 23.

Indians in the country were, in fact, generally dissatisfied with the state of affairs. In Sydney, one of the Indian political activists, Noor Dean, informed his counterparts in Australia that Fiji soldiers had carried out mass detentions and rapes. To calm down Indian fears, the new Minister for Indian Affairs, Irene Jai Narayan, on November 5, 1987 elucidated on her critical role to convince the Indian community to have confidence in the country.

By November 12, 1987 the daily curfew was lifted and on the same day the commander of the Fiji Military Forces, Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, was promoted to the rank of Brigadier. In justifying the promotion, the Fiji Public Service Commission explained that the promotion was made on the basis of the additional responsibilities which were discharged by Rabuka.

Once promoted and the support for the republic from the chiefs secured, Rabuka went ahead and formed the Anthem and Flag Committee -- the task of which was to consider and make representations on the national flag, national emblem, and national motto. On November 12, 1987 the committee was formally announced by the Minister for Information Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, with the members being Reverend Manasa Lasaro, Dr. Ali Asgar, Mrs. Esther Williams, Mr. Manu Korovulavula, Mr. Achie Seeto, Mr. Clive Amputch, and Mr. Vijay Raghwan.

On November 18, 1987 the late President Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau was officially extended an invitation to become the first President of the new Republic of Fiji. Rabuka, however, clarified that acceptance by Ratu Penaia of the invitation was contingent upon the latter’s concurrence with the provisions of the proposed new Constitution of Fiji.

The moves to appoint a new President and design a new flag were pending issues, but more urgent attention was needed towards the national economy that was battered by the two coups. The Minister for Economic Planning, Isimeli Bose, on November 10, 1987 (News Release, Ministry of Information, November 19, 1987) outlined an interim plan to boost the economy. It was proposed that Free Trade Zone and Tax Free Factories provisions would immediately be introduced to lure foreign investors. Essentially, the TFZ/TFF guidelines were:

On the diplomatic front, the Republic of Marshall Islands formally approached the government of the Republic of Fiji to establish formal diplomatic relations between the two Pacific countries. New Zealand and Australian Foreign Ministers were invited to visit Fiji to see for themselves that the "situation" was rapidly returning to normal. In a press release, the Ministry of Information noted that Fiji had returned to normal. In fact, the situation was far from normal.

Indians who had not been purged from senior government positions after the first coup were given the boot after the second coup. Rumors of midnight raids and detentions and harassment of coalition supporters and Indians generally created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. While curfew was relaxed, the Sunday ban was strengthen to restrict freedom of movement.

Overseas, those involved in restoring elected authority in Fiji came increasingly under attack from respective authorities who succumbed to Fiji government propaganda -- that the political situation in Fiji had normalized. Critics of the Fiji regime were reminded that there were moves underway to set up a constitutional government. On December 5, 1987 an Executive Council met to discuss the draft Constitution for the Republic of Fiji. In fact, two drafts were prepared, one by the officers of the Fiji army and the other by the Attorney General.

On December 5, 1987 Ratu Penaia was appointed the first President of Fiji. In an address to the nation on the same day, the President stated:

"People of Fiji, let us be sure of one thing. You have heard Brigadier Rabuka tell you that he is confident that his objective will be achieved. You should trust him. We both clearly understand each other and agree on the objective, and it is therefore essential for you to realize that the future protection of the indigenous Fijian interests is in safe hands." (Address made by the First President to the Republic of Fiji, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau over Radio Fiji, Saturday, December 5, 1987 at 7:00 p.m.)

By December 7, 1987 Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was appointed the new Prime Minister of the interim government. In a statement on December 8, 1987 Mara categorically and unequivocally declared that he was not involved in any way with the military coups. Calling for support from all the sections of the Fiji’s multiracial community, Mara assured that he was not an opportunist and that he decided to accept his appointment as the Prime Minister after a long and hard consideration.

By the end of 1987 it was clear that there would be a new Constitution for the new Republic of Fiji. It was also by then a foregone conclusion that the new Constitution would be in favor of the indigenous Fijians and the army and that the political rights of Indians would be restricted in the new Fijian order.

January 1999

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