The slow motion coup?

The situation in Fiji is one where local knowledge of the nuances and impacts is essential. This piece I wrote in January on mutterings of a possible coup is a reminder of just how long the issue has been bubbling away. For the last month or so, it’s felt a bit like watching a slow motion movie, moving inexorably towards what seems like an inevitable outcome, but always suspecting there are other things going on that we’re not fully aware of.

Locally based media coverage is probably the best way to keep across events and commentary as things continue to develop. Things are complicated by the fact that the Fijian President is seriously ill with Parkinson’s disease. Here are a couple of local sites which will no doubt be updated with regular developments.

There are also some pieces on Webdairy by frequently Fiji based journo Dr Mark Hayes which give some more detailed insights into local perspectives. This piece on Open Democracy looks at Fiij, Tonga and the Solomons and examines how helpful foreign intervention is in the long-term.

Fiji’s situation is a reminder (to me at least) that democracy took hundreds of years to evolve in Europe, with some often violent interludes along the way. In countries with different traditions and which are less wealthy, democracy is not always going to be smooth. I’m not an expert on the Pacific Island nations and don’t profess to have all the answers about how best to assist them, although I think we could start by having more meaningful engagement and doing some more listening and learning.

One aspect of Labor’s shadow ministry which I thought was a good idea was to have a portfolio specifically for the Pacific Islands, even though it’s possible it was originally created as a bit of an afterthought. The shadow Minister for this portfolio, Bob Sercombe, lost his preselection and won’t stay on Labor’s front bench after this week’s reshuffle. However, I hope they maintain the portfolio, as I think we could really benefit from more focussed attention being given to these countries in our region.

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16 Comments

  1. Let’s hope Australia doesn’t get involved in this domestic affair as we did in East Timor. We’ve been bogged down in the East Timor quagmire for 7 years now, with no end in sight.

  2. Bogged down?
    Here I was thinking we were just being incredibly patient and giving a fledgling country a hand as requested.

  3. As said by a chickenhawk. Australia has lost more men in it’s Pacific Islands colonialist adventures than in Iraq. It’s time to bring the troops home from the Pacific.

  4. Tom Tom… such name-calling, it’s a wonder you are allowed to get away with it… did you miss me?

    There was nothing Hawkish or Chicken about what I said. Merely factual. Does the word INTERFET mean anything to you?

    How many have we lost in East timor?

    Do you own a big car Tom?

  5. Andrew Bartlett:
    I don’t like coups-de-etat any more than the next person …. but this one has indeed been bubbling away for a long time …. and now it has finally happened; that is an inescapable reality.

    [1] Whose interests were served by the news media – especially on TV – keeping the wider public in ignorance of what had been going on in a close and small but very important neighbour?

    [2] Foreign Minister Downer’s “Queen Victoria” response to this coup was not only ridiculously pompous but has now done Australia irreparable long-term harm.

    Do you think other regional powers will just sit back, do nothing at all and forgive Australia for an even worse foreign policy blunder than the cheap-oil-in-Iraq fiasco? Like hell will they! They can rejoice; Australia’s loss is their gain. Don’t Downer and the people in DFAT know how to play chess or poker or euchre?

    There are many ways Australia could have shown its anger at the overthrow of the elected government without destroying our generations-long friendly relations with Fiji.

    Downer and his advisors must resign for that dummy-spit, that home-goal.

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  7. Tom. Should the measure of our actions be how many people have died (or are likely to), or the rightness of the action?

    While many dispute our involvement in Iraq (and I don’t want to start that debate here) surely Australia gains by helping to maintain stable, open democracies in our own neighbourhood?

  8. Graham

    [1] Whose interests were served by the news media – especially on TV – keeping the wider public in ignorance of what had been going on in a close and small but very important neighbour?
    COMMENT: There has been absolutely no dearth of regular and detailed reporting for the last three years. It just has not been in the MSM, where early evening cretin fodder seems more important. Fijian blogs, Fiji Times, Radio Selwyn, the Vanuatu press, PNG press, all have been following this in great detail.

    [2] Foreign Minister Downer’s “Queen Victoria” response to this coup was not only ridiculously pompous but has now done Australia irreparable long-term harm.
    COMMENT: A vast amount has actually been going on in very many departments and in other capitals.
    SO MUCH SO THAT I HAVE A FEELING BAINIMARAMA MAY JUST FAIL. A tremendous amount has also been going on inside the vanua – watch what the Bau Confederacy does in the Great Council of Chiefs. DFAT has also done a very, very good job (they have pleasantly surprised me), and Jennifer Rawlinson (the High Commissioner) is doing incredibly impressive work. Hope she gets promoted, she deserves it.

    MarkL
    canberra

  9. Amazing footage on SBS tonight of the actual reality of a coup on a Westminister-style Parliament. The army surrounding the senate chamber, the speaker of the house being escorted away … it was surreal to watch. I mean, if you are a parliamentarian or a public servant (or a police chief), what do you do in that situation? I guess just keep doing your job until a soldier tells you to stop!

  10. The economic damage being inflicted on ordinary Fijians is already appalling, 2000 jobs gone at the Emperor Gold mine, and I’m hearing figures of 10,000 from the staff at the resorts already. This is the high season, and occupancy rates are below half, and falling.

    The Fijian people just do not deserve this.

    MarkL
    canberra

  11. MarkL:
    Sorry, I should have worded that better. Yes, of course the situation has been widely examined in specialist publications – but not in the mainstream media. Now that it has happened, all the wider public are being told that a coup has happened and it is naughty – with no attempts to explain why it happened.

    You bet there would have been a lot going on in other capitals; that was my point; they act – we lose …. again.

    Bainimarama may indeed fail …. so why did Downer kick yet another home-goal today by calling on the Fijian public servants to commit hostile acts? Doing so further helped Australia’s rivals as well as unintentionally helping to prop up Bainimarama. Exactly how wide is that chasm between what Australians on the ground in Fiji must know and what Downer is saying?

    Dodgyville:
    I was so appalled at seeing the SBS News on Fijian soldiers occupying their own Parliament that I forgot to hit the ‘record’ button on my vcr.

  12. “Bainimarama may indeed fail …. so why did Downer kick yet another home-goal today by calling on the Fijian public servants to commit hostile acts? ”

    Hostile acts?

    Are you fibbing, Graham? i din’t hear that could you supply a reliable source.

  13. Geoff:
    Hopefully-soon-to-be-Ex-Foreign Minister Downer did indeed say “We continue to call on public servants and others in positions of authority in Fiji under the Fijian Constitution to continue with passive resistance to Commodore Bainimarama’s actions and demands” [ABC News 7.12.2006]. http://www.abc.net.au/200612/s1806650.htm

    There were a thousand and one ways of expressing Australia’s long-standing (at least since the Nancy Prasad case) concern about the wellbeing of our Fijian neighbours and Australia’s anger that a coup-de-etat had been carried out against Fiji’s elected government …. so there was no excuse whatsoever for “proving” yet again that Australia is the “ignorant” “bully” in the region and that it is once more meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation, this time in Fiji. Australia’s commercial, political and military rivals in the region must have been overjoyed when Downer blurted that out.

    Such a statement might have seemed appropriate(??) if the ADF was on the point of invading Fiji and RAAF strike aircraft were fuelled and loaded ready to blow Fiji right off the map. But they were not; besides, they had already rejected a call for preventative military intervention – “Fiji PM sought Australian troops to prevent coup” [The Australian 5.12.2006].

    It’s one thing for Fiji’s deposed Prime Minister to call on fellow Fijians to do or not do certain things …. “Don’t obey military regime, Qarase pleads” [ABC News 8.12.2006] …. but it is quite another for a member of a foreign government to stir up trouble inside a neighbouring country.

    [sorry this was so long].

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