Friday, May 3, 2013

A friend ponders politics....

Nirmal Singh is an old colleague from his days in the US Embassy and mine in broadcasting. Our workplaces were close to each other so we would often meet in passing or on the cocktail circuit. 

These days we're also friends on Facebook. 

Recently Nrimal has been pondering entering into the political sphere... he's shared his journey via facebook status updates...

As a journeyman of sorts and in the interest of history ( as you will find as you read on) I'm sharing Nirmal's experiences in the 2000 coup... he is sharing for the future generations of Fiji, so I am just passing on the message... 

“To go into politics or not to go into politics” was the question that was pondering my mind since my departure from the United States Embassy in 2007. I have always maintained my political neutrality and worked in the national interest of Fiji and its people. 
The horrifying video footage of our own torturing our own and inflicting merciless pain and injuries has answered my question. The issue is not who was torturing who and for what purpose. The issue is how we can do this heinous crime on own fellow Fijians. Deeply saddening was the perceived endorsement from the Prime Minister and Commander of the Fiji Military Forces. It gave a perception that it’s ok to respond violence with violence.
While this is an extremely sad and traumatizing event, it gives hope to Fiji and its people: Entire nation felt the pain and wept after watching this video footage. The pain and trauma crossed all racial and religious lines. It demonstrates love, care and affection towards each other. Its shows resilience and goodwill among our people. It shows we can hold hands unconditionally in times of adversities.

Yesterday, The Prime Minister unveiled the new draft Constitution. Some may agree with it some may not and people will have their own opinions and reasons to give thumps up or thumps down and we must respect every citizen’s opinion. This is a good starting point as the constitution has strong bill of rights and provisions for transparent and accountable government. We must never forget that the constitution is a living document. It is not engraved in stone. The United States Constitution was amended thirteen times in its first year of adoption. Our Constitution can only be sustainable if future generations are allowed to change and amend the constitution to suit their needs and do so legally. We can write great constitutions but if we don’t act in the spirit of the constitution then it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. We must give credit to government that it has made a significant progress last night in handing power back to the people.

Our destiny and future is
 in our hands and we will face the same fate regardless of our race, religion or who came first to this country. We are product of this “soil” and we all will end being part of this “soil” one day. Our destiny is intertwined. Our blood flows in each other’s veins because when we give or donate blood it is not marked as “i-taukei blood” or “Indo-Fijian blood”. If one has to experience the love and spirit of living together then go and spend your time in a squatter settlement. The pain, despair, poverty, spirit of sharing and being there for each other has no racial, religious or cultural boundaries. Their lives tell us we are all in this together and we shall overcome this together.

Military has no place in governance of our country. They are trained to obey and enforce orders by whatever means necessary to obtain desired result. There is no consensus or consultations. They follow orders. The military must always be subservient to civilian authority. Military is the most revered institution in any country and Fiji is no exception. When our man and women take up uniform, they take an oath that when the need arises they will give their lives so that we can have ours. They should NOT be our fear but our pride. We should not despise our military but love them. And I have no doubt that whenever there will be a threat to our lives our man and women in uniform will be in forefront to make the ultimate sacrifice for us as they have demonstrated for others in their international peacekeeping duties. We should not judge the institution because of the actions of few who have unleashed brutality and abuse on our people.

During my 17 years with the American Embassy, I have spent significant part of those years working with the military. Inside the heart of every serviceman is the love for people of Fiji. Let’s not look at our military from outside but from inside. At the end of the day, they are our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters - our family. The saddest part is that most of our highly trained, respected and valued senior ranking officers have left this institution – weakening its foundation.

So, why we fear our military? Why despise our military? Why the hate and anger? What went wrong!

(22 March, 2013)

The answer is simple. It is the reflection of the quality of political leaders we have. Since 1987, we have seen the same old faces leading our country to disaster after disaster for their own self-preservation and interests. At every opportunity we blame our disciplined forces, specifically the military, for the coups and political instability. I ask: who brought the military to Fiji's politics in 1987? We the people did. Who brought military to politics in 2000? We the people did. Who brought the military to politics in 2006? We the people did. Rabuka, the father of coup culture in Fiji, confessed recently that he regrets listening to failed politicians and carrying out the first coup. He is masquerading all around Fiji and using every medium available to seek forgiveness. Rabuka can never be forgiven unless he names those failed politicians. Regardless of who carried out the coup, it was evident that behind every coup there were significant segment of our society who was cheering the military to do what they were doing and another segment watching silently in dilemma. 

Nothing has changed today. We have the same leaders, same political parties espousing supremacy of one race over another. Most of these leaders are in some way or another tainted with their support for coup one time or another. Let me give one clear example. Mr. Mahendra Pal Chaudhry is on record of saying that he joined Frank’s government because he was asked by the President to help return the country to democracy. What a hypocrite! If Frank’s government was illegal so was the President. I ask Mr Chaudhry, where did the President draw his legal authority from? We are quick to jump to the conclusion that SDL is a racist party. Fiji Labour Party is no different. It shows its fake “i-taukei” face only during campaigns, voting during elections and once the results are declared, the I-taukeis are left in the party sheds to finish off last remaining grog mix. That’s their last leg of journey and visibility with FLP - until next elections. The opposition parties have got together to “eat” their common enemy, Frank, and once they finish with him they will “eat” each other – further eroding peoples trust and confidence in democracy and its values. There will be no sustainable democracy in this country if we continue to have these leaders around us. 

It’s time for them to hand over the baton of leadership to younger generation and disappear in political wilderness. There are leaders who have been clinching on to party leadership for decades and this has resulted in many young and promising leaders leaving the party and completely losing interest in Fiji’s politics. Few who are still hanging onto their party are now putting up the portraits of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King as their profile pictures and post their quotes every hour on Facebook. I cannot control my laughter when this lunatic recites bible verses on FB to entice itaukei for their support. It’s more like a “wolf in Sheep’s skin” - And worse still, people cheer them on in their comments not realizing that they are the reason we are in a political dilemma today. Had they espoused and practiced the values of Bible, Martin Luther King and Gandhi when they were in power, we wouldn’t be going thru this nightmare today.
(26 March, 2013)

No doubt mahogany triggered the coup but it was not the reason for the coup. There were culmination of several events that led up to the Coup of 2000 and mahogany was just a trigger. And, for the last time, let me put to rest the rumor that Americans were behind the coup. They were not and I will prove it later in the article. You would note from my earlier articles, I had praised MPC for his initial performance and policies of his government. However, as he consolidated his position and power he became arrogant and ignorant. His Ministry of Information also completely failed to take positive message out to the people – instead they became offensive not only with people who disagreed but, most critically, their only strategic messenger: MEDIA. But what would you expect from a Minister like Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi. 

Frankly, he was just a figurehead. Real Minister for Information was Rajendra Chaudhry. And if you want me to throw some light on Rajendra Chaudhry’s personality at that time then go to his profile page on Facebook. He was exactly like that – shooting from the hip and “come and take me on” attitude. The only difference now is he is doing from a safe haven in Australia and at that time he was doing it under the protection of his father’s government. He is a very bitter man. He is like a dog getting pleasure of tasting his own blood when chewing a bone! We had some debate on my articles on his FB page and he decided to delete me from his friendship list and blocked me. He still posts things about me but uses words like: “former sacked diplomatic staff”. My message to Rajen: Please use my name. I don’t have any problems with it and you are right – I was fired. I will give the reasons when I come to 2007. 

Just a side issue: “Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they actually look forward to the trip”, however, diplomacy is not putting a new paint on the house with weak foundation. Because the new paint will look good and people will admire but when the foundation gives in and the house comes crumbling down, your entire credibility is gone for good. If the foundation is weak, you admit it is weak and then tell what you are doing to rectify the weakness and ask for peoples understanding and support – that’s what diplomacy is. MPC and RPC didn’t even paint and kept reiterating that everything is well and fine when actually the Government was crumbling. 

The prime minister was not doing lot of things in good faith. Like before the elections, he promised Late Adi Quini the position of prime minister if people’s coalition won and in Suva he was selling Tupeni Baba but when the coalition won, he became the prime minister. It was his right as the leader of the party winning the most seats but it would have been an honorable thing to do before elections and why promise? When in government he did the same thing to Marika Qarikau, his colleagues in government and numerous other incidents. For example, Ratu Tuki was seeking an appointment with MPC to help him diffuse the tension that was developing but he avoided him and commented on TV that he was busy and will give time to Ratu Tuki when he has time. Lot of people wanted to help him diffuse the situation but he won’t listen to anyone. 

American Ambassador was one of them. Although we had strained relations with the prime minister regarding the game he played with us on mahogany, our commitment was for democracy and the people of Fiji. We always supported and stood by Fiji’s integrity as a state and a democratic country. We had intelligence that there may be an attempt to overthrow MPC’s government. This was 2 weeks before coup. Our in-depth analysis of this intelligence confirmed that there will be an attempt. We sought appointment with the prime minister to brief him on our intelligence. This man won’t give us an appointment. We spoke to several of his close associates and all we got back was: all is good, its only handful of people trying to cause trouble. We didn’t give up. Eventually we got an opportunity. The vice president of Outrigger Hotels was in Fiji to discuss the GPH project and eventually we got an appointment with the Prime Minister on Wednesday – two days before the coup. The meeting took place at his parliamentary office at 12.30pm. He made the Ambassador wait for some 30 minutes before seeing the group. 

After the meeting with Henderson, Ambassador Siddique asked the prime minister that he wanted to discuss some other issues. Henderson left and Ambassador went straight to the point. He advised the prime minster that they have intelligence that there may be an attempt to take over his government on Friday and what he has done in respect of the security. MPC said it’s just a handful of people trying to cause mischief and he won’t be threatened by them. Well Ambassador didn’t give up and suggested to the prime minister to cancel the Friday’s sitting of parliament or don’t attend with your cabinet. Again the thrust of the Ambassador was to encourage MPC to talk to people who are not happy and diffuse the situation. By this time MPC was getting very uneasy and retorted in raised voice: “Ambassador, where are you getting your information from?” My Ministry of Home Affairs has briefed me and everything is under control. It was time for us to leave. He took Assistant Minister (former FPF constable) Gaffar Ahmed’s intelligence instead of the United States. In the last minute attempt to save the democracy, Ambassador instructs me to talk to Krishna Datt. I met Krishna Datt in his office at Berry Road at around 2.30 pm on Wednesday and discuss with him the situation. His only comment was he has tried his best but the prime minster is not listening to anyone. Comes Friday and his government is gone!
(16 April, 2013)

Let us, as a nation, hold hands and pray together to almighty that the dark days of Year 2000 never visit our nation ever again. It shook the soul of our nation and brought it to the brink of anarchy and civil war. We have gone through a lot in our nation’s history but 2000 was the darkest year for Fiji. 

The march through Suva town on the morning of Friday, 19th May, 2000 was generally peaceful but there wasn’t “handful” of disgruntled people but thousands. As the march proceeded through the main street of Suva, I was right in front and our First Secretary, John Hennessey-Niland, was at the end of the procession. There were some tense moments but was quickly diffused by those leading the march. Apisai Tora was the kingpin of the protest march.

As we approached Holiday Inn, the leaders of the march instructed the crowd to assemble at Albert Park while a smaller group, mainly their leaders, proceeded to the Government House gate to present their petition to the President. President’s permanent secretary, Joe Brown, was waiting at the gate. Simultaneously, George Speight’s group had taken over the government in parliament but the protestors had no idea until Joe Brown broke the news to them and that’s when everything went out of control. I was a made aware of the takeover by Inspector Jahir Khan 10 minutes before Joe Brown announced and I immediately advised the Emabbsy. He tried his best to make sure that protestors don’t become aware of it and went into action to mobilize police personnel. I think Joe Brown had a serious lapse of judgment in making the announcement to protestors. This announcement didn’t allow the law enforcement agencies to react. On that spur of the moment, even the leaders of the protestors could not control them. While half of the group went on to rampage in the city the other half started running towards the parliament House. I was asked by one of the police officers to run to the police van that was right in front and I jumped into it, followed by Imraz Iqbal (Fiji TV journalist). I will never forget that “Drew Carey” run and Fiji TV footage will never let me. Anish Chand was so obsessed with the footage that many years later he would still play that footage just to embarrass me. And that was the first footage to go out to the international media and when my youngest sister saw it in Canada she collapsed thinking that was the last of me. 

From the vintage point that I was in, I could see the entire group running after us as we sped towards the parliament house warning motorists and shop keepers along Ratu Sukuna Road to close shop and motorist to divert to other streets to avoid the mob. Whatever came in their way they just destroyed it. They would jump on parked cars, kick and break glasses, broke shop’s doors and threw stones. There was a complete break down of law and order. As we passed in front of the parliament gate on Ratu Sukuna Road, the rebels seeing the police van approaching (our van) aimed their M16 at us. The officer driving panicked and pressed the gas pedal all the way down nearly throwing Imraz and me out of the van. As we approached the junction of Vuya Road, I saw my Deputy Ambassador, Ron McMullen, waiting for me in CD6. I jumped out of the police van and got into the Embassy vehicle and we drove to the entrance of parliament house on Vuya side of the road and guess who we met? Apisai Tora coming out of the parliament and telling us he had nothing to do with the takeover of the parliament. He never intended to nor is he part of it. I believed him. He sat under the tree shocked and dismayed. 

George took advantage of the group. There were questions later on where were the law enforcement officers when we had a march and violence of this magnitude? Well didn’t I tell you before, the government intelligence (Gaffar Ahmed) indicated that it will be only handful of people? From where we were we could see the smoke bellowing from the city and we knew Fiji – our motherland- is being raped and ripped apart.

MPC and his government were taken hostage, George Speight became the leader of the group and the drama unfolded. Frank was out of the country. President took control and international community recognized the President as executive authority and liaised with him. 

When Frank returned there was attempt to capture Frank upon his arrival but was whisked away by loyal soldiers. MPC and RPC were assaulted and threatened. We kept in touch and continuously briefed Mrs Chaudhry and we were the point of contact for her. At one stage, there was a rumor that MPC had been killed when people saw large amount of ice being moved to the complex. We verified and advised Mrs. Chaudhry that he is ok although hurt and the ice being sent to the parliament was for the food and frozen stuff.

Today, some of Rajen’s behavior is understandable and I have certain level of sympathy for him for what he went through in parliament at the hands of the rebels. I don’t know whether he received counseling or not after being released but I still think those events still have psychological impact on him. No Fijian should endure what many endured in 2000.

There was widespread looting, violence, destruction of property, breakdown of law and order, and uprising against the President and country heading towards anarchy. Police lost control. Frank Bainimarama steps in and takes control.
(18th April, 2013)

After police lost control and could not cope with increasing influx of people in parliament, breakdown of law and order and life threatening situation for the head of state - with executive authority - Ratu Mara, there was no option left for Fiji and that’s when Frank and the military stepped in. There are allegations that Frank was involved in the coup and that he betrayed the President by evacuating him to the sea on a naval vessel and then asking him to step aside. 

Well what options were there at that time? Only one. To raid the parliament to rescue the hostages and that would have meant death and bloodshed. There were highly trained armed elements within the parliamentary complex and thousands of innocent civilians who were there for food and fun. These were the misguided lot. Our men and women in uniform will NEVER shoot and kill their fellow Fijians no matter what the circumstances are. They are so popular in international peacekeeping and they are in demand because they have a tendency to resolve a tense situation with a “Bula” and then if the need arises they will impose themselves with their built and firmness. Actually, the hostage situation would have ended much earlier if Mr. MPC would have resigned as the prime minister as demanded by George Speight and the group. But MPC stood firm and rightly so. Although the mess was created by him, he was fearless – even with gun pointed to his head!

In my opinion, what Frank and the military did at that time was the only option left. After the President steps aside, on May 30th, the head of the armed forces, Frank Bainimarama, announced that the military was taking power and imposing martial law.

The commodore said the Fiji Military Forces reserved the right to use force if necessary to maintain and enforce the curfew. ''I have, with much reluctance, assumed executive authority of the country and henceforth declared martial law,'' he said at a news conference. Troops on leave and reservists were recalled to barracks. A group of military officers (two of them being his son in laws) met with Fiji's president, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, presented him with a whale's tooth in a traditional ceremony and asked him to step down and that’s what the President did. 

There was sense confusion, chaos and anxiety all over Fiji. There were two sets of chiefs – one the official GCC and the other chiefly group headed by Osea Gavidi. There was power struggle at the expense of Fiji and its people. There were greedy people in positions of power and influence taking advantage of the situation to secure positions of power instead of resolving the crisis for Fiji's sake. Let me say here, Frank never acted alone and on his own accord. He acted in consultations with his senior officers and kept all international organizations and diplomatic missions in Fiji abreast with developments and in fact took their advice. All of them saw Frank and military as the most viable and only option to pull Fiji back from anarchy. 

Even the head of the Fiji Trades Union Congress, Felix Anthony, who had initiated trade bans agreed to work with the military, the churches, the private sector and non-government organizations to find a constitutional resolution for the political impasse.

Instead of requesting trade bans by overseas countries, the FTUC had agreed that the crisis could be solved within the framework of the 1997 constitution. "We fully support attempts made by the army to resolve the present crisis and we reiterate that all attempts should be made within the framework of the 1997 constitution," FTUC general secretary Felix Anthony said.
Subsequently, the broad coalition of groups made presentation to Commodore Bainimarama pledging support and calling for urgent steps to find a solution. Frank and military started negotiating with George Speight and the group - the Muanikau Accord came into existence.

(24th April, 2013)

Before I venture into next episode, let me first make few things clear. While many of my friends have appreciated my “flash back” into Fiji’s political history, some have raised concerns on the need for opening “old wounds”. These are not old wounds but facts and the reason I am doing this is to enlighten our younger generation to look at the broader perspective of political developments in Fiji. 

Some of our younger generation, who are now taking active part in politics, were around 10 – 15 years of age at that time and are confining their judgment on the events of today. It is also important to reflect why and how we are where we are today. The role of our political leaders, Churches, the Great Council of Chiefs, military and citizen’s during past and present. As I said earlier, if I have any political agenda in writing these episodes, it is to encourage new generation of leaders to take up political leadership of this country and to challenge and shake up institutions that have failed to change with time and demands of our current generation. I am surprised to read my emails to learn so many of our young people were not aware of our political history since 1997 until they read my episode. 

My other concern is that most of our people fear military and are hesitant to speak their mind or exercise their right to freedom of expression because of that fear. Fear of taken in by military and beaten up or tortured. We should not fear our military and should look at it as an institution that will give us security and comfort in time of need. It is an institution that should alleviate our fear rather than create fear. We must look at military as an institution which saved Fiji in 2000 and an institution that will stand by its people when Fiji will need them. Don’t judge the institution just because of the action of few officers. My episodes are not to discredit anyone or to favor anyone. These are the facts that I am reporting through my perspective. I am open to, correction, criticisms and alternatives views.

You may recollect that before the signing of Muanikau Accord, several of the hostages were released; among them were Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi, John Ali, Ragho Nand, Gaffar Ahmed and few others. At the Embassy we were keen to meet at least one of them to get first-hand information on situation at the parliament. Because Gaffar Ahmed was a former police officer and Assistant Minister for Home Affairs, we thought he might be more helpful in telling us about the situation inside the parliament, type of arms present there and accurate security assessment, so I made a visit to his home in Tamavua. I met him inside his home and requested if he could come down to the Embassy and brief us. He agreed. He advised me that he will come down by himself in about 2 hours after he spends some time with his family and freshens up. We waited at the Embassy and after three hours I called and he told me that he is on his way to Ba and has reached Sigatoka and will not talk to Embassy officials because of his and his family’s safety. I must praise Member of Parliament, Ragho Nand – a first time parliamentarian and retired school teacher from Nausori who came to the Embassy and briefed us on the situation inside parliament. Gaffar Ahmed, a former police officer, seemed to be more shaken up then Ragho Nand.

Coming back to Muanikau Accord, during negotiations between the military and George Speight’s group, it was evident that some chiefs were using the negotiations to secure positions in the interim government. I met Ratu Osea at his Suva residence in Raiwai just to gauge from him what the rebels and the group wanted. He gave me a copy of their demands or more like their draft of Muanikau Accord. The contents of their draft accord were shocking. 

Every one of them were jockeying for political control and were taking advantage of the situation. I think this is where Council of Chiefs began coming under public scrutiny and was the beginning of the demise of this esteemed institution. It is sad though that coup makers including Rabuka used GCC to rubberstamp and “legalize” their actions. GCC was like a de-facto parliament when those that needed to legitimize their illegal actions used them to provide some semblance of legality. GCC did not have constitutional role to step-in in times of crisis to take over authority in absence of parliament. They were used by the usurpers for their benefit and so was the military used by failed politicians. 

Frank was under lot of pressure as the head of State and Military Commander to bring the crisis to an end and to secure the release of hostages without bloodshed. Increasing violence and breakdown of law and order was becoming intolerable and was causing anxiety among people. Frank gave in to lot of demands by the Speight group just to secure the release of hostages. I will just mention one of the demands by the military because it was very significant of what transpired later on and that rebels will hand over all the arms and ammunitions to the military. The Accord was eventually signed and hostages released. As per the Accord, George Speight’s Group vacate parliamentary complex and move to Kalabu Primary School in Nasinu. They robbed shops and Laqere fish market vendors on their way to school with their loot of fish, groceries and alcohol and terrorized the neighborhood. 

George Speight thought he was a hero to negotiate the Accord to his benefit. Starts roaming around the city in four wheel drive and was later stopped at a check point near Laqere Bridge. Rokolui (Ratu Tevita Mara) was in charge of the check point. Upon searching the vehicle they find his bodyguards brandishing pistols in his four wheel drive. He was arrested for not honoring the Accord by handing over all the arms and ammunitions. There was chaos at Kalabu Primary School with increase in criminal activities by rebel group. With George Speight in custody, the military raids the Kalabu Primary School under the Command of Col. Jone Baledrokadroka and his Zulu team. The military started “mopping up’ activities to clean up any reminiscence of criminal elements. President Iloilo moves in to appoint interim government.
Before I pen off this episode, let me say that when our men and women go into battlefield and make the ultimate sacrifice, their names get engraved on a plaque at War Memorials and once a year people pay homage to them at their graveyards to recognize their sacrifice for the nation. It’s the Commander who gets the credit and that is true for every military establishment. 

Franks strength at that time was his senior military officers who stood by him, planned and strategized the military’s campaign to stabilize Fiji. Some of the senior officers worth mentioning are: Col Jone Baledrokadroka, Col Kadavulevu, Col Jeremaa Waqanisau, Col Viliame Serevakula, Col Pita Driti, Col Ratu Meli Saubulinayau and Rokolui. My apologies if I have missed anyone. Even the head of Methodist Church, Catholic Church and other churches made an “i sevusevu” to the Commander and the military pledging their support.
(24th April, 2013)

Frank Bainmarama is a “cassava patch runner”, he is “Vuaka”, “he was a coward running away with his body guards during mutiny”, and “he pooped in his pants while running through the cassava patch.” These are some of the insults we have heard from his critics on blogs and who have no sense of the crossroad Fiji was at that moment. But let us, as a nation, stop for a while and think and reflect on what would have been the outcome if mutiny was successful and the Commander killed and when I refer to Commander, I am referring to military as an institution. 

Just imagine the chaos that would have eventuated out of this scenario. Would the loyal soldiers just accepted the event and moved on. The Commander enjoyed popular support at that time among his rank and file. The mutiny could have resulted in all out armed conflict in the camp and it would have spilled on the streets and could have led to civil war. We would have seen worst then Muaniveni. Muaniveni was just a snapshot of what Fiji could have gone through had there been all out break down of law and order. Police was still licking their wounds for their failure to contain violence and restore law and order during mayhem of May 2000. One must ask, who was behind the mutiny and why? Like the 2000 Coup, the mutiny was also a very sad and painful event in our history. As I said before, let us all pray that the dark days of 2000 never visit our shores ever again. It was also very painful to see our men and women in uniform who would hold hands to defend our nation and help towards global peace through international peacekeeping efforts would stand toe to toe and kill each other. 

Thank god things were brought under control without massive loss of life and bloodshed. Our military is renowned for fighting side by side with each other not with each other. We should be thankful that our military salvaged our nation from the brink of civil war in 2000 and this also on two occasions. It is very important for our younger generation to understand what we have gone through and who are responsible for the state of affairs of our nation. Again, who were really behind the mutiny? It was the civilians with vested interest. It was a payback attempt to the Commander for betraying the rebel group by not honoring the Muanikau Accord and to complete the agenda of George Speight and his group. It was also supported by those military officers who were terminated for not reporting back to camp after an opportunity was given to them to return to barracks within certain period of time. 

When the Fiji Military Forces handed over the executive authority to interim civilian government in July 2000, headed by Qarase, they went back to the barracks and never interfered in running of the government. Qarase had a free hand. And even before Chandrika Prasad judgment was handed down, Frank made his intent known to several diplomats to hand over government back to People’s Coalition but there was a condition from the military. They didn’t want Mahendra Chaudhry back as the Prime Minister because they didn’t want any more infighting among Fijians or any instability in Fiji. MPC had an opportunity once and he messed it up. There was widespread lobbying within and from outside to influence Labour Party members to get a new leader. The historical Labour Party meeting held at Andhra Sangam High School in Sigatoka was a fiery one. I was there but observing from outside and from a distance. Several of senior Labour Party officials who were in support of leadership change at the meeting were ejected from the meeting. MPC had his usual nincompoops in the meeting who would raise their hands in support of MPC not even knowing why they were raising their hands. He got the danger signal at the meeting. He comes back to Suva and goes to the President to advise of his resignation as the legally elected Prime Minister. Had he stepped aside and let the popular choice within the party, Tupeni Baba, take over, we still probably would have the People’s Coalition Government and Lai would have retired peacefully in Mavana.

So after the Chandrika Prasad ruling, Mahendra Chaudhry and the Coalition Government he led after the 1999 general election could not be brought back to govern simply because Mahendra Chaudhry resigned as Prime Minister and officially asked the then President to dissolve parliament. As I said, this was done before the High Court ruled in early 2001, that the 2000 coup that overthrew MPC’s government was illegal and that the Constitution was still intact. Had Mahendra Chaudhry waited for a while longer and not asked the President to dissolve Parliament or had handed over the leadership to a new leader, the Labor Coalition Government would have definitely been returned to power. But I suppose the question is why did Mahendra Chaudhry resign and ask the President to dissolve Parliament? The answer is simple. He knew from the Andhra High School meeting, that if parliament was to be recalled a vote of no confidence to be moved by his own FLP caucus would be on the agenda that would push him out of the leadership role. Therefore, the only option out for him was to once again sacrifice the people for his own gain. He had to bow out as a hero rather than being castigated.

As far as Mahendra Chaudhry and Labour Party are concerned, nothing has changed today. The only difference is MPC is alone and has the sole ownership of Fiji Labour Party. For last 20 years or more we see same people as face of FLP without any vision for Fiji and its future. FLP and its leadership are in self-preservation mode!

Coming up………heading towards parliamentary democracy…….

(3rd May, 2013)

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