Analyst delves into changes at head of Fiji's RFMF
A defence expert analyses the impact of a sudden change of command at the head of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.
Fiji this week got a new military commander, with Viliame Naupoto, temporarily at the point, stepping into the role to replace Brigadier General Mosese Tikoitoga.
Little has been made public about his resignation apart from Mr Tikoitoga's plans to become a diplomat.
Defence analyst Anna Powles told Don Wiseman the resignation and immediate change at the top of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces came as a major surprise to locals.
ANNA POWLES:There was very little sense in Suva itself that this was going to happen and I think in somewhere like Fiji the fact that the rumour mills have not been churning over indicates either the swiftness which with this decision was made or the fact that it was done, for purely legitimate reasons, that Brigadier General Tikoitonga does want to pursue a career in the foreign service and so has chosen to do so in a very quick and decisive manner if he starts training on Monday.
DON WISEMAN: That is odd though isn't it, I mean you don't leave immediately from a job like this?
AP: No absolutely, you would presume that there would be a significant amount of handover particularly given the fact that their deputy commander Brigadier General Aziz Mohammed is also on leave and has been on leave for about four months now. The fact that there is no handover period given the fact that the deputy commander is also away is surprising.
DW: The entire manner of it is odd isn't it? I know that the Labour Party in Fiji amongst others have been very critical that the acting commander was put in there in the way in which he was rather than it going to parliament.
AP: Absolutely the opposition Labour Party has raised concerns around the legality of the appointment because the RFMF commander is appointed by the Constitutional Offices Commission and this obviously hasn't been done in this case.
DW: There is significant criticism of the involvement of the Deputy Prime Minister Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum. What exactly has happened there?
AP: Well there have been tensions for a number of years between the RFMF and the government over the attorney general. And his involvement and the extent to which he runs things. And there were some rumours on social media over the weekend that suggested that the attorney general had been taken out to the Queen Elizabeth Barracks to meet with the military, but that in fact wasn't true. He was in the west with his family. So there's some definite tensions there and both Tikoitonga and Bainimarama have gone quite some way to ensure that there is stability and that there are no tensions between the government and the RFMF and certainly between the attorney general and the RFMF.
DW: Yes they have been saying that, but there has been very little detail otherwise, which is, even for those guys, remarkable isn't it?
AP: Well indeed and I think given what happened in the past when tensions erupted between Tikoitonga and a number of the senior RFMF officers, in particular Mara and Driti, who had very serious concerns over Khaiyum and which resulted as we know in the way that played out. And so I think the fact there has been so little information given, released, is both an attempt to prevent any degree of insecurity, public insecurity rising or fears of instability. But also to me suggests that there are deeper issues here which may unfold.
DW: Replacing Mosese Tikoitonga is Viliame Naupoto, what do we know about him?
AP: He's held a variety of different positions including several roles outside the military, he was minister of youth and sports at one point during the previous government and he has held a number of other roles including director of immigration. He doesn't come untarnished. Unfortunately there have been allegations he was involved in the mistreatment of prisoners aboard a naval vessel during the 2000 coup, the George Speight coup. And he has dismissed those allegations since his appointment over the past few days, he has dismissed those allegations and said that he intends on moving forward in his role.
DW: How close is he to Frank Bainimarama?
AP: Well given the fact that he was a candidate, not a successful candidate, but a candidate for Fiji First during the 2014 elections which would suggest a degree of closeness there. However I am not entirely sure how close or how longstanding their ties are. Interestingly enough he is a naval officer as well as Bainimarama was and he is certainly seen as being ambitious, but with a different style than Tikoitonga as well. In contrast to Tikoitonga, Commander Naupoto has stated that there will be no big changes in the military and in the RFMF. But he interestingly did make a statement that the process of de-politicising the military was well underway and this is a sharp contrast to Tikoitonga who stated in last year in 2014 that the military was very much sorting out, cleaning up the government system, were his words, and he was fairly inflammatory, particularly around the time of the burning of the constitution which was partially funded by New Zealand. And he made several comments around not messing with the RFMF and the fact of the constitution which limited the role of the RFMF was something that frustrated him greatly. So it will be interesting to see under Naupoto whether or not we actually see a shift towards better civil, military relations and to taking the politics out of the military and the military out of the politics. But I think it is very early days yet and he is only in his position as acting commander for three months.
DW: Yes and it is a little bit odd isn't it in a way that a former aspiring politician wants to take the politics out of the military in Fiji.
AP: Well I think that is very interesting and I think it would be also interesting to see whether or not the cadet training programme which was announced by the minister of youth and sports only a few weeks ago... and that positions the RFMF actually in a central role within Fiji society of conducting cadet training. Which raises a number of questions around the militarisation of Fijian society and really positions RFMF in a fairly critical social role. So there is an interesting dynamic going on here and I agree that as an aspiring politician or perhaps his experience as an aspiring politician made the military seem more appealing for him. But it would be very interesting to see whether or not he is actually able to do that, because there are a number of questions around the role of the military in Fijian society which do need to be addressed.
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