It seems that Fiji has had a 'coup culture' ever since. I remember that day, May 14 1987, as I arrived in Melbourne by train from a visit to my mother. I rang Peceli in Geelong to ask him to meet me at Geelong station an hour or so later. He said, 'Fiji has had a coup!' I was astonished of course. Well, later that afternoon in Geelong we were at a handover of a house to the Aboriginal community for tertiary students, a gift of the Uniting Church, and there were a few odd comments about 'what on earth is going on in Fiji' at that celebration. Newspapers were full of the coup story. And then again, and again, and again, but no longer do stories of Fiji coups take up the first three pages of the newspapers.
Father Kevin Barr has written a commentary in today's Fiji Times. I don't agree with everything he says but he is correct when he says it is not just to get back to an election and 'democracy'. There are other issues that need to be addressed and resolved. He is a bit softly softly about the army though.
Solutions before democracy
FATHER KELVIN BARR
Monday, May 14, 2007
There seems to be a great deal of international concern that Fiji should return to democracy as soon as possible.
Calls for democratic elections have come from Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the European Union and the Commonwealth. We have had the report of the Eminent Persons Group. Recently we have been inundated with overseas visitors the UN fact finding mission as well as the Commonwealth Human rights fact finding mission.
Then the Pacific Islands Forum is organising a committee to advise on the holding of elections.
This great flurry of activity is very interesting. It seems the international community thinks that as soon as Fiji holds elections and returns to democracy, all its problems will be over. It will be accepted back into all the organisations from which it has been expelled and all will be right with the world. There can be great rejoicing and everyone can sit back satisfied that democracy has been restored.
All this is well and good. But it has all happened before. After previous coups in 1987 and 2000 Fiji was urged to have elections and return to democracy as quickly as possible. This happened and the international community was overjoyed to welcome Fiji back into the democratic fold. But elections did not solve Fiji's basic problems and when those problems raised their heads again and caused serious tensions and upsets (as they did during the Qarase regime) the international community seemed quite unconcerned because a democratic government was in place. No fact finding missions came from the Commonwealth or the UN. No Eminent Persons were selected to look into the problems. Our closest neighbours did little to put pressure on a racist regime to act in the interests of all its citizens. They had seen to it that a democratically elected government was in place and that was all that was required.
Yet, by now we should have learnt that democracy measured by elections is not a panacea. Every coup exposes wounds that need to be healed and the deep underlying problems that need to be attended to. Before Fiji can gain stability and effectively return to some degree of democracy a number of serious issues need to be addressed and resolved.
1. The agenda of the extreme nationalists needs to be addressed Fiji for the Fijians, calls for "Fijian unity" and the demand for a Christian State.
2. The racially explosive mix of fundamentalist religion and extreme nationalism found in the Assembly of Christian Churches in Fiji (ACCF) which seeks to have a strong influence on the political and social scene.
3. The conflicts and tensions within the Fijian chiefly families and confederacies.
4. The culture of corruption, nepotism and cronyism.
5. The economic policies which are creating greater poverty and inequality and giving rise to "two Fijis".
6. The electoral system which encourages racial divisiveness.
Besides all this we need:
A well conducted Census;
The establishment of fair and proper electoral boundaries; and
Extensive voter education about the nature and purpose of democracy.
We don't just need a timeframe for a return to democracy, we need strategies that will address the big problems underlying our instability and giving rise to constant coups. We do not have a "coup culture", we have rather a number of serious unaddressed problems which will continue to cause instability until they are effectively acknowledged and addressed. Any attempt to throw a cloak of superficial democracy over them will be counterproductive.