The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
The Forum - On Line Opinion's article discussion area


RSS 2.0

Main Articles General

Sign In      Register

The Forum > Article Comments > A strange sort of coup in Fiji > Comments

A strange sort of coup in Fiji : Comments

By Mark Hayes, published 21/12/2006

Commodore Frank Bainimarama didn't exactly plot a secret ambush.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All
Is it, exactly, a "coup"? If a law on the books is widely and openly violated with impunity, after a while we call it a "dead-letter law". Some are obviously so, some are still contentious (e.g., blasphemy offences in criminal codes).

Recall the consternation when it was discovered that the penalty prescribed for George Speight's treason was death. No-one had ever actually thought about this offence.

But it's not just the colonial leftovers. There was similar consternation when the new power-sharing cabinet created by the 1997 constitution had to be implemented by antagonistic parties.

And now this. It leaves us the question of how much "the law" matters in Fiji, or, more precisely, exactly how it matters. The formal law of legislation and judicial ruling is certainly important, of course it is. But in day to day life for most people, custom and the authority of chiefs matters much more. (As in PNG, Solomons, Vanuatu.) And in the great decisions of governance -- well, the fact that government has changed as often by "coup" as by election in the last twenty years is a hint. So is the plethora of contradictions in Fijian politics, especially the point that what the coup leader Bainimarama had against the government was its permissive attitude to the perpetrators of Speight's attempted coup.

It's not just military power. That's only soldiers, and soldiers are Fijians, and their insouciance about "the law" is as significant as anyone else's.

It may be tedious, and it may be exciting, but I think we have to acknowledge that in Fiji there is no one thing or system we can consider "the law". There are clusters of norms, of expectations, of roles, a galaxy of ideas and institutions which cannot be said to rule or not rule. There is not the normative coherence, there, to describe a "rule of law". And so what seems anomalous as a "coup" might not be, exactly, a "coup" at all.

(I could add that in this Fiji is only more obvious than the other Melanesian jurisdictions, but that adds too much to the point!)
Posted by IAN FRASER, Friday, 22 December 2006 7:34:21 AM
Find out more about this user Recommend this comment for deletion Return to top of page Return to Forum Main Page Copy comment URL to clipboard
Mr Fraser raises some important points.

The residues of the 2000 crisis provoked Commodore Frank to pull his coup (on the basis of the available evidence, and it would be extremely useful to see contrary evidence, such as was hinted at by Police Commissioner Hughes in early December, 2006). Those residues lead me to argue that Fiji post-2000 was never a 'properly functioning' Westminster-style constitutional democracy, even allowing for the 2001 and 2006 elections, and the implementation of the multi-party cabinet post-2006 election. This offends constitutional purists and governance mavens, but it's a fact of life in Fiji. By no means is this to argue, as do some Fijian nationalists, including ousted PM Qarase, that 'democracy is a foreign flower unsuited to Fiji's soil', and similar.

Policy responses, such as from FMs Downer & Peters, PMs Howard & Clark,, which apparently assume Fiji's a 'properly functioning' etc. democracy deploy inappropriate reifications, and thence inappropriate responses. A clear failure in Regional major power analysis and intelligence. Far better informed, sensitive, and adroit responses are needed. These are unlikely to be forthcoming, though, just prior to Christmas, New Zealand relaxed its travel advisory to Fiji, specifically to the tourist enclaves around Nadi and Western Fiji.

The 2006-7 Fiji crisis raises all sorts of fascinating issues in governance, media, civil society, and Regional conflict fields.

I'll be contributing more pieces to On Line Opinion and elsewhere on all the foregoing in 2007.
Posted by Maleko, Sunday, 24 December 2006 10:13:56 AM
Find out more about this user Recommend this comment for deletion Return to top of page Return to Forum Main Page Copy comment URL to clipboard
  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

About Us :: Search :: Discuss :: Feedback :: Legals :: Privacy