HOW SERIOUS IS FIJI’S CHAUDHRY?

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VIEWPOINT

By Mesake Koroi

SUVA, Fiji Islands (April 17, 2000 – Fiji’s Daily Post)---How genuine is Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry's resolve to help the indigenous Fijian community?

That seems to be the burning question being asked around the grog bowl in the indigenous community as they to gauge the government's performance.

Since he forced his way into the corridors of parliament in May last year, Chaudhry has tried to do everything in his power to woo Fijian support. In doing so, however, Tu Ma, as Apisai Tora likes to call him, seems to have created a lot more foes than friends.

Why? What has he done wrong?

During the 11 months, Tu Ma (probably short for Ratu Mahendra) has been in power, he has tried to bring about a greater share of economic power to the indigenous Fijian community.

In other words, Tu Ma thinks the only way the indigenous Fijians can be at peace with the rest of the community is to give them a fair share of economic power. But how do you go about achieving that?

The basic economic resource the Fijians have is their land. And what better way to achieve economic power than the proper use of land resources? None other than to propose the establishment of a Land Use Commission.

But little did Tu Ma realize that to the Fijians land is the very essence of their life. To them, land is culture. Land is their soul and their very spirit. Land is also regarded as sovereignty, something to be defended to the death, like honor.

Pritchard wrote in 1886, "every inch of land in Fiji has an owner, every parcel or track of land has a name, and the boundaries are defined and well-known. The proprietorship rests in families, the heads of families being the representatives of the title."

It is so sacred to them that they would rather see their land lying idle, overgrown with grass, and not fetching any economic return at all, than for it to be used in the Land Use Commission Tu Ma is proposing.

They view this move as a means of cheating them of their birthright, just like the early settlers did when they first colonized Fiji. No doubt, Tu Ma and his Cabinet mean well. And the question of land ownership is unquestionable.

But I think that one of the major stumbling blocks he is facing at the moment is the reluctance among some indigenous leaders to accept him as the Prime Minister of this country. They still view him with suspicion.

They still look upon him as an Indian, a foreigner, although Tu Ma is Fiji-made, born and bred. If the Land Use Commission was proposed by the SVT, would the indigenous Fijians accept it as a means of giving them greater economic power?

I think the chances are that they will.

But because it is proposed by someone other than a Fijian, the gesture is being viewed with suspicion.

Perhaps Tu Ma's mistake is that he is trying to do in 11 months what the former Alliance and the Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei parties could not do in 30 years.

Just sit back and look at the political metamorphosis this country has gone through since Independence in 1970. You will be amazed at how unpredictable Fijian political thinking has been.

They always talk of respect and the need to maintain the chiefly system as a means of sustaining Fijian unity. But come election time, the Fijians are split into many different political parties, running against each other and representatives of the very chiefly institutions they so dearly love to maintain.

Even the father of modern Fiji, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, fell victim not once, but twice, to political "treachery" while fighting general elections in 1977 and again in 1987.

The interesting thing, though, is that once Ratu Sir Kamisese's Alliance Party was humiliated in the 1977 election, the indigenous Fijians re-grouped and gave him a resounding majority six months later.

History repeated itself in 1987 when Ratu Sir Kamisese's Alliance Party was again defeated by Dr. Timoci Bavadra's Labour Party. The indigenous Fijians again re-grouped. But instead of seeking another mandate through the ballot box, a group of politicians assisted by soldiers led by Lieutenant-Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka took the law into their own hands.

They kidnapped Dr. Bavadra and his government, threw the Constitution out of the window, and declared Fiji a republic.

Now 10 years later, history has repeated itself once again. This time Tu Ma is captain of the Fiji Labour Party and its coalition partners, the Fijian Association, the Party of National Unity and the Christian Democrats.

But will history repeat itself again through another disruption of parliamentary rule? I hope not. But the signs are that Tu Ma is in for a rough ride unless he moves as far away from the land issue as soon as possible.

It is interesting, though, that the same players are again at work. And the move is now well and truly on for a united Fijian political front to be formed.

Its aim is to topple Tu Ma's government and put in place a constitution that is sympathetic towards indigenous inspiration.

In other words, a constitution that will ensure that political leadership remains in the hands of indigenous Fijians.

For additional reports from Fiji’s Daily Post, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Other News Resources/Fijilive.

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