FIJI MARKS SOBERING ANNIVERARY OF 2000 COUP

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By Maika Bolatiki

SUVA, Fiji (FijiSUN, May 19) – Today is the sixth anniversary of the May 2000 coup.

The coup had promised a brighter future for the indigenous Fijians but at the end it shattered the myth of a united Fijian people.

Its ghost still haunts the nation today.

On that dreadful day of May 19, 2000, a small group of army rebels and civilians, including their self-proclaimed leader, George Speight, under gunpoint removed the one-year-old People’s Coalition Government. When the plan did not fall into place, Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his Cabinet and other parliamentarians were taken hostage.

The perpetrators said they were fighting for the indigenous Fijians’ interests and gained unanimous support from Fijian chiefs and their people.

The country experienced the greatest crisis in its history.

One of the biggest mistakes made by the coup makers was their demand for the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, to step down from the high office. This demand was taken on board a naval vessel by the military and a group of senior officers, including Commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, who traditionally asked the paramount chief to step aside.

In an interview with the Fiji One Television, Ratu Sir Kamisese said when he accepted to step aside, he told the commander and his senior officers that he would "not return and no one will solve the 2000 problem".

The words of the great late Statesman still stand today. There is still no solution to what happened. In fact. the coup was incomplete. When the military took over, it did not complete the business. The army abrogated the Constitution using the Doctrine of Necessity, but when things returned to normal, High Court judge Justice Anthony Gates, on November 15, 2000, declared the Interim Government and the abrogation of the Constitution by the military illegal. The Court of Appeal upheld this decision on March 1, 2001. It was this decision that opened up the investigations into all those who were involved in the 2000 political upheaval, and it is still ongoing, thus opening more wounds into the indigenous Fijian community.

Fijians are not happy that three prominent high chiefs – Ratu Jope Seniloli, the former Vice President, Tui Cakau and former Minister for Lands and Minerals, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu and the Turaga na Qaranivalu, Ratu Inoke Takiveikata – had been jailed together with those involved in the coup. Police inquiries so far have implicated more than 2500 citizens. 705 civilians have been convicted and many others are still under investigation. More than a hundred soldiers are also in jail for their involvement. During the looting in the city of Suva, the then President said: "What happened will be remembered as a day of shame. "We went down on a similar road in 1987 and it led us to no where. Armed interventions and attempted coups are not the way to reach political and economic goals."

Until today, Fiji Labour Party leader, now the Leader of the Opposition, Mahendra Chaudhry, had not forgiven those who forcefully removed his government from office. Reconciliation efforts by the Interim Government and the current Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua Coalition Government had failed. The question that remained unanswered today is the real reason of the coup. Was it really true that most indigenous Fijians were disadvantaged given the resources they owned? This was the reason given by Speight and his men. In the 1987 coup leader, Sitiveni Rabuka, had also said he did it to protect the Fijian interests. Majority of the indigenous Fijians live in rural areas and they are the most disadvantaged.

The perception that Fijians do not figure prominently in the country’s economy and are economically disadvantaged might have substance. A small Fijian minority had done well but not the bulk of the Fijian population. Most do not understand the nature of the economy they are part of and how it is integrated into the global economy. On the book titled, Government by the Gun, by William Sutherland and Robbie Robertson, it said: "Fiji’s leaders have exploited the disadvantage of the Fijian masses by protecting it as disadvantage of all the Fijian people, the elites included. They have used the rhetoric of ‘the paramountcy of Fijian interests’ to hide the reality of the paramountcy of elite Fijian interests. The interests of the Fijian masses have always come a distant second. The 2000 crisis brought this contradiction into focus as ever before."

It went on further by saying - "How, to resolve it is the indigenous question. It is the key question facing Fiji today. It’s Fiji’s unfinished business." The government of the day, acting on the demands made during the 2000 upheaval, had put in place the Social Justice Act in which the Affirmative Action programmes had been included. Out of the 29 programmes, 10 are specifically for Fijians and Rotumans. However, it seemed Fijians are still not happy with all that had been done to them. From Mr Chaudhry's side, they are still demanding justice. After winning court cases in relation to the events of 2000, they are now claiming compensation and is now before the court. The 2000 coup was totally different from the two coups in 1987. In 2000, Fijians confronted Fijians. Fijians killed Fijians. Commoners defied chiefs. There were differences among chiefs.

While the government of the day had spent thousands dollars on reconciliation to bring the people together after the divide brought by the unrest, the divide is still there. Last October, a National Reconciliation Day was organized specifically for those who were affected. While some responded, Mr Chaudhry and his group declined the invitation to be part of the programme. The highlight of the programme was the presentation of a traditional apology by those who were involved in the cup to the victims and the nation. President Ratu Josefa Iloilo accepted this presentation. As a last resort to end the impasse, government will table in this Parliament session a proposed legislation on Reconciliation and Unity Commission. This again had opened another huge outburst and Mr Chaudhry and his group had totally rejected it and were joined by the United People's Party, New Labour Unity Party, National Federation Party and the National Alliance Part of Fiji.

A group of parliamentarians, Poseci Bune, Ofa Swann, Daniel Urai and Mick Beddoes are threatening to take the government to court if it tables the Bill. The military that was heavily involved in the unrest of 2000 had also rejected the Bill. Government firmly believes that the proposed legislation will help to bring a greater degree of closure to what happened in 2000. It will enable government to effectively concentrate on nation building, strengthening the economy and improving living standards, especially for the poor It is only proper that Mr Chaudhry and his government be compensated.

Late President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara had said that if Mr Chaudhry had completed his term in office, he could prove to be one of the best prime ministers Fiji had ever had. It is time that we forget about what happened in 2000 and political leaders should map a common path for all Fiji citizens to follow. With the ghost of the 2000 haunting nation in the last five years, the economy has been put on the path of growth and is creating employment. Investment, so vital for rebuilding, has started to increase and we must thank the government of the day for that. The way forward is there but the political divide is the stumbling block.

May 19, 2005

FijiSUN: http://www.sun.com.fj/

 

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