It’s a sun-filled, fun-filled destination for thousands of Australians. It’s where you’ll find footy clubs bonding boozely at the end of a long season, honeymooners strolling hand in hand along the beach and families on cheap-as-chips holiday packages draped on sun lounges and splashing in pools.
Fiji – like Bali – is a value-for-money getaway hotspot that’s become like a home away from home.
Trouble is life isn’t so free and easy for the locals. They live in the iron grip of an iron-willed man named Frank Bainimarama. The rugby loving Commodore Bainimarama grew impatient with what he saw as the clumsy, damaging ruck and maul of democracy in the island nation and punted the Prime Minister and his government cohorts out of power.
The Commodore took the helm.
Since then – and while the tourists keep on coming – Fiji has become a political pariah, frowned upon from afar, admonished by close neighbours Australia and New Zealand and sliding down a slippery slope into economic quicksand. The constitution’s been trashed, what Frank says goes and a team of his censors patrol the national news media pulling anything that may be construed as critical or unfavourable.
And Commodore Bainimarama grows more confident that Fiji his way is the right way.
Now the normally taciturn Bainimarama has granted us wide ranging access to his world and his ways. Foreign Correspondent’s Philippa McDonald has just returned from an assignment in Fiji that netted surprising candour from the controller-in-chief. Oh, and some defiance as well.
MCDONALD: You are a military dictator.
BAINIMARAMA: I am a military man but what does dictator mean to you ?
MCDONALD: You do have a very tight grip on Fijian society.
BAINIMARAMA: Yes but is that what dictatorship is about? Because if that’s the case most of the countries in this region have dictators.
With the Commodore fending off international pressure to expedite elections and return his domain to democracy, this is a timely and compelling insight into a powerful man feeling anything but isolated and a nation struggling under his rule.
*** read the full transcript or view via video on previous posting