Wansolwara News

Vol. 5 No. 2
June 2000

Page 12


SALESH KUMAR reports on the crisis

Govinda's vegetarian restaurant in downtown Suva - looted and burnt. © USP Journalism


ON FRIDAY morning, 19 May 2000, Fiji not only witnessed the takeover of the Peoples' Coalition government but also the rape of democracy and political stability in the nation.

Academics and non-government organisations say Fiji is heading towards “disaster” if the government is Fijian-dominated following the abrogation of the 1997 constitution. Professor Stewart Firth, head of history/politics at the University of the South Pacific, told Wansolwara that Fiji could “expect something bad” if Indo-Fijians were not given their rights as the citizens.

“Speight and his group have to admit that the Indians have contributed a lot in building this nation and the current tragedy puts them in a second class situation,” said Prof Firth.

His views were shared by USP economist Dr Biman Prasad. Dr Prasad said: “We cannot run any government without the support of all the ethnic communities. The government must be inclusive of every community.”

“The 1997 constitution which was overwhelmingly supported by all the political parties was based on a power-sharing mechanism and it represented all the ethnic communities,” said Dr Prasad. He added that last week's decree to allow amendments to the 1997 constitution effectively means the abrogration of the constitution.

“It is the main worrying thing because we laid the foundation for a long-term future. It is the main political document that arised from a strong commitment from all communities. It is not good for the country,” said Dr Prasad.

However, USP sociologist Steven Ratuva believes that while the 1997 constitution addressed issues of national integration, it failed to fully address the “Fijian nationalistic interests”.

“This includes ethnic symbolism and governance. There was fear among the nationalists about the Indian dominance in government which would deprive them of their interests,” said Mr Ratuva.

The director of the Fiji Council of Social Services, Hassan Khan, believes the current crisis is a consequence of the lack of educational awareness on the 1997 constitution. Mr Khan said: “Citizens were not educated about the constitution. It didn't go down to the grassroots level and there was lack of understanding among the indigenous community who look at things from various sides”.

“There was a great haste. A piece of paper rushed through after it was framed. There wasn't enough time given to educate people on the elements of the constitution,” said Mr Khan.

Prof Firth said that he wouldn't be surprised if there was an exodus of Indo-Fijians out of the country in view of the requests to Australian and Canadian governments to open their doors to migrating Indians. He said: “The political problems have not healed since there still exists a division among the Fijians themselves”.

He expressed his view that the current hostage crisis is mainly a grab for political power by some leaders of Kubuna who have always believed that they should be politically pre-eminent among the indigenous Fijians.

Thus there was pressure for the resignation of the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who belongs to the Tovata confederacy. Fiji is divided into three major confederacies - Kubuna, Burebasaga and Tovata. Professor Asesela Ravuvu, director of Pacific Studies at the University of the South Pacific, said traditionally Fijian chiefs were chosen on merit and if the people weren't satisfied with their leadership, they would overthrow or replace the chief.

Coup leader George Speight and his supporters claim Ratu Mara has neglected the needs of the indigenous Fijian people.

Prof Ravuvu said the Fijian provinces had their own traditional ties that kept them together, thus “we (Fijians) are not united because people are feeling the brunt of one, two or three elites”.

Teresia Teaiwa, lecturer in Pacific studies at Victoria University of Wellington, said: “(Fijian politics) is headed for a time of great flux. “I believe that until indigenous Fijians take the education and care of their children seriously, there will never be enough leaders of good calibre to choose from.”

“When I say education, I mean holistic education - not thorough westernisation, not a complete return to some “primitive” past - but more like finding a viable cultural, political and intellectual blend of indigenous, regional and international ethics,” she said.

Will there be another coup? Sociologist Steven Ratuva said: “We had two coups in 1987 and another this year. So the possibility exists of the cycle of political coup making. It is coming down the line first by the commander, and then the special elite force with the civilians”.

File created: 3 June 2000
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