Behind the idyllic island shores and warm, welcoming people, there’s a dark and stormy side to Fiji.
Last week brought into sharp releif the hopes and the fears of our regional neighbourhood.
Let’s start with the bad news – FIJI. It’s a beautiful place and a comptetitively priced holiday destination for Australians. Some of the resorts are magnificent. There are scores of golf courses and beaches diving is plentiful and there are plenty of enticing restaurants.
Behind that facade is an ugly side to Fiji. Divided by ethnicity between indigenous Fijians anxious to retain their colourful culture and Indo-fijian equally anxiaous t5o retain their political and econonmic rights, a handfl of political scoundrels, opportunists and carpetbaggers are destroying the country.
Two of Fiji’s politiciaans – if you could call them that – are particularly nasty.
One if the fromere prime minister and leader of the Fiji Labor Party, Mahendra Chaudry. He led his Labor Party to a fair and square election victory in 1999. Being an Indo-Fijian, he had to show wise and cauatious leadership serving all the people of Fiji, not just narrow ethnic interests. After all, many Fijians felt nervous about being led by someone who wansn’t indigenous.
Chaudry arguably failed that test and was disgracefully overthrown in a coup about a year after his election victory. He cried on the shoulders of Australian polictical leaders, begging John Howard and me to do all we could to restore him to power. He toured the world preaching the injustice of the coup against him – which was fair enough or so I naively thought at the time.
We laboured long and hard to restore democracy to Fiji and when in 2001 elections were held again he lost to the indigenous Fijian party fair and square.
Incredibly, this once great champion of human rights and democracy, not liking the result, decided to support another coup. The coup came in 2006. Tere we were desperatelytring to stop the coup and who was out there undermining our efforts? None other than Mahendra Chaudry. Chaudry subsequently became the so-called finance minister in the new dictatorshiip.
The other nasty piece of work is commodore Frank Bainimarama, the head of the Fiji Defence Force who lead the 2006 couop. This man is, to be a little rude, a clown. I know him moderately well. He’s irrational, a crank who thinks only he can lead the country and without any knowledge of policy issues. Far from saving the country, he’s wrecking it.
Bainimarama came to the 2007 Pacific Island Forum professing he would uphold the Fijian constitution and hold elections by March 2009. Under questioning from the then New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, and me he revealed that he’d never even read the constitution.
Last week, the Fiji Court of Appeal said his coup was illegal and demanded that a new interim government be establishe pending further electiions. So what did the power-crazed dictator do? Sacked all the judges and abolished constitution he’d never read! Now Fiji has no judges, no constitution and a leader wih no common sense or common decency.
It’s a hard problem to solve. Ironically, the only people who can solve the problem are the people who caused it. The army itself should overthrow their fool of a leader, resotre the constitution and the judiciay and order new elections. Then Fiji could emerge from the gloom which envelops those beautiful islands.
For it’s part, Australia is reduced to issuing press releases saying that recent events are bad. Better to sit down with New Zealand and work out a cunning plan to get the Fijian army to restore the status quo ante.
***This excerpt was from an article written by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs – Australia, The Hon. Alexander Downer***