Monday, October 3, 2016

Bainimarama Crackdown: Learning from History.

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Many will remember the 6pm news on 19 May, 2000, when George Speight and his goons had already kidnapped Fiji parliamentarians and held them captive (for 56 days).

Fiji One news clip showed People’s Coalition Government Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry cutting cake in his office, in the morning, celebrating the first anniversary of Labour’s rule. That was also a day when Chaudhry had allowed a Taukei movement march against the government. This was despite the caution, warning and advice against the march by police intelligence and advice of Home Affairs Minister, Uluinakauvadra to PM to Chaudhry. In his arrogance and upmanship, he ignored that intelligence, to his peril

Has Mahendra Chaudhry learnt from his folly and his wanting leadership? Here he is pictured just after being released from the goon, George Speight's captivity of 56 days from Parliament in June 2000. He had failed to listen to wise advice and gave the goons freedom that they did not deserve.
There is no threat. It is mischief-making by opposition. We will allow the people their democratic rights to protest. We have things under control...” He said on TV, with his trademark sneer smile. But that smile was wiped away at the time of broadcast, as he was a guest of George Speight, held captive in Parliament.

His statement that things were under control turned out to be a wishful thinking. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was not mischief-making, but a group of rogue-soldiers hijacked and imprisoned the government by putting an assault on Fiji’s parliament. The intelligence were not mischief-making.

Do not grant freedom to those who do not understand its meaning. The march on 19 May, 2000, that resulted in demise of People's Coalition Chaudhry government. THIS MARCH SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN ALLOWED. Chaudhry ignored advice of the Special Branch and police intelligence.
And the police were not ready. There was no Operational plan. The Police Commissioner, working in cahoots with the thugs, thought the military would back the nationalist Fijians, like Rabuka had done. Reportedly Isikia Savua was prepared to be sworn in as the alternative nationalist Prime Minister. However, he failed to read the mood of Military under Bainimarama. The Military refused to commit treason, and the rest is history - with a failed coup, Speight behind the bars, Savua being cleared by a Kangaroo court and the country suffering miserably for allowing democratic rights Fiji was not ready for.

And sixteen years after that, the country still has some laws protecting its democracy. The lofty slogans of human rights, democracy and freedom of speech need to be taken with a pinch of salt, as safeguarding democracy is paramount for any government.

Father Kevin Barr, speaking about fundamental problems of Fiji’s democracy had said before 2006:

“… by now we should have learnt that democracy measured by elections is not a panacea. Every coup exposes wounds that need to be healed and the deep underlying problems that need to be attended to. Before Fiji can gain stability and effectively return to some degree of democracy a number of serious issues need to be addressed and resolved.”

Suva was burnt on 19 May, 2000 because Fiji allowed a First World freedom in a Third World democracy.. And it fell.
Among others these issues were identified as the agenda of the extreme nationalists wanting a Fiji for Fijians, explosive mix of nationalists with the elements of Church, seeking to have a strong influence on the political and social scene, the conflicts and tensions within the Fijian chiefly families and confederacies and the culture of corruption, nepotism and cronyism. While the interim rule and the democratic rule have resolved most of the issues, there are still some which needs close attention.

When some political party leaders and trade unionists were recently arrested for questioning, and they cried for freedom under democracy, Frank Bainimarama retorted with a plausible reason.

When the leader of the country allowed freedom to march on 19 May, 2000, that resulted in looting of Suva. Bainimarama has learnt from this abuse on concept of democracy in a country still struggling to understand the true meaning of democracy and freedom.
“Anyone with more than a superficial knowledge of Fiji knows of the history of civil unrest at various stages of the country's development…” He further said that in 2000, our capital was trashed when police stood by while crowds looted central Suva and set fire to a number of buildings.

"And we are determined that such outrages will never happen again…”  He said it was the British who introduced the Public Order Act and this Act — with various amendments — continued to this day. And it was under this law that people were taken for questioning for breach of the law, when they failed to inform or notify the police.

These were some of the people detained for questioning on breach of laws on meetings. From left, Jone Dakavula, Dr Biman Prasad, Sitiveni Rabuka and deposed Prime Minister of 2000, Mahendra Chaudhry. As a PM in 2000, Chaudhry failed to protect democracy, and gave freedom to those who did not deserve the freedom that democracy allows. Bainimarama Government has become wiser to learn from Chaudhry's follies of 2000, and nip any dissent in the bud, which could develop into a threat to Fiji's fragile democracy.[Fiji Times photo]
He clarified that human rights of those detained for questioning were respected. Nobody was beaten, or manhandled, they were fed, had access to legal counsel, and through their own account in media, were well treated. As the law allowed, they were released within 48 hours, are free now, and an independent Director of Public Prosecutions will make a decision, and their case will be dealt with independently by the courts, whether to prosecute them. 

So, where is the problem? Why the outcry from New Zealand and Australia? We had people like NZ Foreign Affairs spokesperson, David Shearer, and career protestor, Keith Locke poking their nose into Fiji’s affairs without realising that Fiji is not a First World matured democracy, but a Third World fledgling one, still struggling to  stand-up properly. And what moral rights or media ethics do the black-banned NZ journalists (read Barbara Dreaver and Michael Field) have, to pass their blinkered opinionated news item, seething with conflict of interest.
Anyway, as Bainimarama had explained, all that have been done were done legally. It is surprising why New Zealand and Australia have double standards. Powerful economic allies, like China and Indonesia have atrocious human rights records, yet they sleep with them, while bullying weaker ones.

WHEN DEMOCRACY BECOMES ITS OWN WORST ENEMY: The type of freedom some thugs hiding behind the principle of freedom in democracy, do not deserve. SUCH PROTEST IN FIJI SHOULD NEVER BE ALLOWED TO TAKE PLACE UNDER GUISE OF FREEDOM TO PROTEST.
Unfortunately, New Zealand’s mainstream media does not have any Fijian journalists, well-versed in Fiji politics, to advise them of our turbulent coup culture. Fiji has been through hell because of past political instability, protected and nurtured behind freedom of speech. “Blood will flow", "Fiji for Fijians" “Indians get out" and all these utterances before previous coups were also freedom of expression that was allowed in folly and led to rape of democracy. It is the responsibility of government of the day to safeguard and protect democracy. Chaudhry government failed to do so by allowing too much of freedom to troublemakers. It is reassuring to see that Bainimarama government will take no excuse from human rights advocates and those asking for freedom of speech. Things applicable and relevant in First World democracies may not be necessarily so in a Third World Country, still struggling to teach people the concept of democracy, freedom and human rights. Bainimarama, or any Fijian government has obligation and duty to take necessary steps to protect democracy from those advocating First World freedom in a Third World Country, historically troubled by coups, racial divisions and divisive politics.

Fiji is not a perfect democracy. I just saw movie “12 years a slave” and saw Alex Haley’s old “Roots’ and its new remake as well. America some centuries ago went through turmoil, which was a historical development. What Fiji is going through now is what America and Britain were some centuries ago - history in making. Our great-grandchildren would read how Fiji was raped under Western concept of Democracy, and how a home-grown solution, where elites and trouble-makers hiding behind the luxury of human-rights, were ‘whipped “in line to mould the new Fiji. Government in Fiji is right not to adopt a First World solution for a Third World problem. We need a home-grown one, and it is in making. Though not perfect, it is better than the borrowed Western concepts that failed us more than once. Hence, relevant laws need to be strengthened and retained to stop the repeat of 19 May, 2000, when George Speight and his goons danced on the effigy of democracy, hiding behind the shelters of freedom that the same democracy granted them.

What we learn from history is that we do not learn anything from history. But seeing recent happenings in Fiji, we can be rest assured that Bainimarama has learnt from history. Unlike Chaudhry, he has been expedient to protect his government and democracy from those hiding behind luxuries that democracy provides. And, the most important lesson he learnt is to keep your friends close, but keep those from whom you feel threatened, closer. Indeed, you have no better Minister for Defence and National Security than Ratu Inoke Kubuabola.

If Mahendra Pal Chaudhry had been as astute politician and street-wise as he makes out to be, he would still be leading Fiji today. If he had brought into his fold Apisai Tora, had listened to some wise advice of his advisors, had abandoned his Trade unionist arrogance in favour of statesmanship, and had endeavoured to become the father of the nation rather than merely of his undeserving son, then Fiji’s fate may have been different today. 

Fiji is blessed to have a leader who has learnt from history. Unlike Mahendra Pal Chaudhry, Frank Bainimarama is by miles, a better guard of Fiji’s fragile democracy. 

[About the author: Thakur Ranjit Singh was publisher of Fiji Daily Post newspaper during George Speight’s attempted putsch (coup). He saw Suva torched because too much freedom was granted to those who did not deserve it.]