More work ahead for coup-free Fiji
New Zealand symposium told more work ahead lies ahead to ensure an end to Fiji's "coup culture".
A former Vice President of Fiji Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi says he is hopeful of a coup-free future for Fiji following September's elections.
His great niece, an opposition MP in Fiji's new parliament, has warned things won't change unless there's a shift in the mindsets of both Fiji's military and its people.
Tupou Draunidalo joined Ratu Joni in discussions with scholars and diplomats at a Wellington symposium on whether the polls mean an end to Fiji's so-called coup culture.
Sally Round listened in.
Ratu Joni says Fiji's new constitution and electoral system provide a basis for the country to move forward. The lawyer, now Chief Justice of Nauru, was dismissed from office during the 2006 coup led by Frank Bainimarama who swept to power in the recent polls, the first in eight years. Ratu Joni says the return to parliamentary norms means the government will come to realise it's not business as usual, but he says there's a long journey ahead. He says despite its neutral and professional role in the recent elections, the military's role is still central to Fiji's future.
RATU JONI MADRAIWIWI: We have taken a first significant step with a new constitution and elections. As against that the military has had its legitimacy reinforced and the Prime Minister's actions in December 2006 remain indelibly etched in the minds of some impressionable military officers.
A scholar of Fiji politics, Jon Fraenkel, says post-coup elections in Fiji follow a striking pattern, with coup-makers able to go on to win in subsequent elections. He says the post-coup period is an important phase.
JON FRAENKEL: By enabling access to command over state resources and by popularly cementing the seeming irreversibility of the new course set by the coup-makers. It perhaps also suggests some degree of acquiescence and some acceptance of coups as an acceptable method of achieving political change.
The opposition politician Tupou Draunidalo says the people of Fiji need to look inwardly at why coups continue to happen. But she says other countries, like New Zealand and Australia with their aid to Fiji, do have a role to play.
TUPOU DRAUNIDALO: You pick up the slack that our government can't pay for as the money has gone to funding the military at the whims of coup-makers. Any soft stance from the governments of New Zealand and Australia towards coup-makers tells potential coup-makers that Australia and New Zealand don't mind bankrolling coup-makers.
Ms Draunidalo says economists estimate Fiji's coups have cost the country more than five billion US dollars. She says as New Zealand and Australia re-engage with Fiji they should be more strategic with their help to counter an ever-strengthening military.
TUPOU DRAUNIDALO: After every coup there's an expansion and they're certainly going through an expansion now. Many are being recruited and I'm told, this needs to be verified, that they are paid much more than other graduate entries into government - doctors, lawyers and others. They seem to be encouraging that as the lifestyle to aim for.
Ms Draunidalo says New Zealand and Australia could provide defence training for young military officers to help change the military mindset. Ratu Joni says any discussions on the role of the military will have to be handled very sensitively as the military tends to view even the raising of such issues as a threat.
RATU JONI MADRAIWIWI: The potential for there being a dispute somewhere along the line between the military and this government I think may present a possibility to perhaps begin a dialogue but it'll have to be very, very carefully staged and managed.
Educating the young is seen as key to a more democratic future. Ratu Joni says the resounding victory for Frank Bainimarama was due to a desire for stability, and was in no small part due to the lowering of the voting age to 18.
RATU JONI MADRAIWIWI: The rhetoric about racism and corruption of past administrations was repeated like some mantra. Many young people, having little cause to question this orthodoxy, compounded by a scant knowledge of their country's history, readily accepted that interpretation.
He says people in Fiji need more understanding of how democracy works to stop the continual ousting of elected governments.
RATU JONI MADRAIWIWI: It's not really the ordinary people that have instigated this. It's members of various sections of the elite in collusion with the military who have at different times chosen to use this mechanism to change government.
Ratu Joni says people would have to think deeply about taking part in any sort of resistance to the status quo.
Violent struggle is not really an option in closely connected Fiji.
RATU JONI MADRAIWIWI: It'll have to be like something like Gandhi or Mandela did in order that we are able to somehow maintain that connectedness because part of the reason why we are in this conundrum is because of that. You know we are very forgiving.
Tupou Draunidalo suggested New Zealand and Australia could use overseas seasonal work schemes as a way of exposing Fiji's young people to the rule of law, helping to end the coup culture once and for all.
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