New commander takes over Fiji's forces from Bainimarama
Fiji's new military commander, Brigadier General Mosese Tikoitoga, says the military's relationship with the leader of the Fiji regime will be based on the 2013 constitution.
Fiji's new military commander Brigadier General Mosese Tikoitoga says the military's relationship with the leader of the Fiji regime will be based on the 2013 constitution.
Frank Bainimarama is now a civilian after having handed over the military's reigns in a ceremony at Suva's Queen Elizabeth Barracks.
The leader of the 2006 coup stepped down in preparation for standing for election in the polls he has promised by September this year.
Our correspondent in Suva, Ricardo Morris, has been at the ceremony.
RICARDO MORRIS: Bainimarama in his speech called on the soldiers he was leaving behind to show their support for the new commander, show support as they have supported him over the past 15 years. He asked them to do the same and extend the same courtesy to the new commander (Brigadier-General) Tikoitoga and not to get side-tracked from the path the army set itself on in 2006 after the take-over and that was to clean up corruption and build a better Fiji. He basically reiterated those points to his officers. He did become emotional, the first time I've seen him express any sort of emotion, when he mentioned the new commander's name and that he was handing over and it was an emotional moment for his officers and his family members, as well, shed a few tears.
SALLY ROUND: What has the reaction been to the land force commander Mosese Tikoitoga taking over?
RM: It was something to be expected. Tikoitoga has been Bainimarama's right hand man and especially over the past three, four years he has come to the fore, with his pronouncements and his support of Bainimarama in his clean-up campaign, so it wasn't too much of a surprise.
SR: He's acted as a regime spokesperson, was he a likely choice as a commander?
RM: Looking at the officers that were left and the choice available, I think there was very little choice and when you come to think about it Tikoitoga makes the most sense because he has been quite close to Bainimarama. He has been there from the beginning and he's always pronounced his support for Bainimarama's aims and policies so looking at the other potential candidates Tikoitoga seems to have ticked all the boxes.
SR: How much notice are people in Fiji taking of this handover?
RM: I think there was a lot of interest. Obviously Bainimarama has played a huge role in the life of this country for the past 15 years, commander for the past 15 and prime minister for almost eight years now so there's undoubtedly a lot of interest in who takes over from Bainimarama and especially now that Bainimarama ... the way is now clear for him to form his own political party and contest the election as a civilian.
SR: Did he make any mention of that during the ceremonies today?
RM: He mentioned it in generic terms, the fact that he would now be going off to continue his work as a politician, a civilian politician and he would hope that the army continue to support him in building a better Fiji.
SR: There was a Christian service and the ceremony was done in the itaukei language, there was a long chapel service at the beginning, was this a surprise given the Bainimarama government's emphasis on a multi-racial Fiji?
RM: Going by the book it should be a surprise but when you think about it the military is predominantly indigenous Fijian, predominantly i-Taukei and predominantly Christian and Methodist so it was a given that they would conduct about 90 percent of the ceremony in the i-Taukei language and in the Christian tradition. And what's significant is there were also a number of Methodist ministers who were invited to come and be guests at the handover ceremony and to take part in the Holy Communion so it was a significant event considering that the Methodist Church has been in the [inaudible] of the military especially in past years not being allowed to hold its annual meeting so this is a significant event and it looked like some sort of mending of the relationship between the army as an institution and the Methodist Church which has the biggest Christian denomination in Fiji. At the first press conference as commander Tikoitoga assured the country he would uphold the 2013 constitution, the army helped bring into being the 2013 constitution so he would be there to protect and uphold the constitution and he assured the nation of the role of the RFMF in protecting the country and also defending the constitution. When asked about his relationship with Bainimarama now that Bainimarama has become a civilian he said "I would be lying if I tell you we would be severing all relations", so it was not going to be a simple matter of a complete change in relationships. He said personally there would still be warm relations but the professional relationship between Bainimarama and the military would depend on how it's defined in the constitution.
SR: Were questions asked about that link? Was he trying to reassure that the military would not be calling the shots or that Bainimarama would not be still in control of the military?
RM: He said that there would still be some sort of a relationship, a tie with Bainimarama but while he wasn't specifically saying that the military would stand on its own he did not deny the fact that it would remain in a close relationship between Bainimarama. But he emphasised that the role of the military is defined in the constitution and guaranteed its independence.
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