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'Democracy press' stays outspoken

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By David Robie

© USP Journalism Programme

SUVA: One of the features of Fiji's political crisis is the vigorous and pungent tone of debate in the three national newspapers in spite of military rule and the revoked 1997 constitution with its guarantee of free speech.

While civil society debate has narrowed sharply since elected prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his sacked government were kidnapped and held hostage in Parliament on May 19, letters to the editor remain outspoken.

In fact, correspondents are far more ready to call a spade a spade than the relatively timid editorial writers.

In a smorgasbord of opinion this weekend, correspondents warned of United Nations sanctions against Fiji, named suspected "master movers" behind the putsch, highlighted traditional rivalries between tribal chiefs, discussed the human rights of the hostages, acknowledged the Chaudhry government's progressive policies for the poor of all races, and delved into the history of ancient Rome as a lesson for Fijians.

Decrying the continued imprisonment of the former Chaudhry government - now into the 16th day - Fijian political commentator and pro-democracy activist Jone Dakuvula, a onetime human rights investigator in New Zealand, wrote about the coup motives in the Daily Post.

He warned about what Fiji could face if it joined the 12 pariah states which have been subjected to United Nations sanctions in the past decade.

"These sanctions ranged from oil and arms embargoes, flight bans on aircraft and supply of parts, bans on ships carrying their national flags, freezes on funds and other assets owned overseas, restrictions on travel of political leaders and senior officials [and others]," he wrote.

Dakuvula also noted that the UN secretary-general's special envoy, Sergio Viera del Mello, who visited Fiji more than a week ago, said the UN would consider sanctions against Fiji if coup leader George Speight's "putschists in Parliament should seriously harm or kill their hostages, or succeed in removing the President and abrogate the 1997 constitution".

A resolution on sanctions against Fiji would oblige all member states of the UN to act in accordance with the resolution against Fiji.

Dakuvula argued that Speight's supporters should ask themselves:

"Is it worthwhile having the whole world impose sanctions against Fiji and even dying in a fight with the Fiji Military Forces in Parliament just so people like [extreme nationalist] Iliesa Duvuloco, [rebel information minister] Simione Kaitani, Rakuiti Vakalalabure, Pecei Rinakama, [media adviser] Jo Nata and [former Opposition Leader] Ratu Inoke Kubuabola can occupy ministerial office in government buildings without an election?" he wrote.

"For that is the primary reason for this 'coup'.

"The reason given that we indigenous Fijians were being threatened with extinction and alienation of our land by Mr Chaudhry and his government and that we need the above people in ministerial offices to protect us from the indigenZous holocaust is a load of rubbish."

Another Fijian, Asaeli Lekutu, claimed the first coup leader in 1987, Sitiveni Rabuka, was the "master mover".

"It is now evident from what is unfolding that the whole episode played out in Fiji is being masterminded by Mr Rabuka," he wrote.

But Rabuka's plan was at a stalemate for two reasons:

* Rabuka had not anticipated the resolve of Speight and his followers who were "gaining support" among Fijians.

* He was not directly involved in control of any phase right now - although he pulled strings from the rear.

Elenoa Sikivou says: "The political unrest is a great log-jam in the river of Fijian history where pervasive racism has unfortunately been used to camouflage other Fijian differences.

"After the signing of the Deed of Cession in 1874, many respected tribal chiefs who refused to sign the Deed were disregarded and unrecognised by the [British colonial] order of the day in having any primary authority.

"The gerrymandering of administrative boundaries under the new supremacy legalised districts, provinces and confederacies thereby undermining the powers of some of the traditional tribal chiefs.

"Since the creation of this new supremacy, the feeling of betrayal has created a 'cold war' passing over generations through oral tradition. Now today, Fiji has at last woken up to a rhetoric of change.

"There has to be a blueprint for a new system."

Osea Naisau, writing in the Fiji Times, compared Fiji with ancient Rome.

"Julius Caesar was forewarned by a soothsayer to be wary of the Ides of March," he wrote.

"He took the warning lightly and this resulted in his being annihilated by conspirators. Some of his closest friends were included in the line-up.

"We here in Fiji should, in future, be wary of the month of May.

"This month will be remembered and recorded by historians as the time when the rape of democracy occurred - twice."

The first coup was on May 14, 1987, and the third on May 19, 2000.

Although most correspondents were Fijian, there were Indo-Fijian letter-writers too.

Linda Narayan, defending the Indo-Fijian stake in Fiji, wrote:

"We are not taught to steal as was shown on TV with looting by mothers and children.

"In comparing India's rejection of Sonia Ghandhi as Prime Minister to Indians wanting to take a leadership role in Fiji, all I ask is what have the Italians done for India?

"How many Italians call India home?

"Ask what the Fijians have done for Fiji - almost everything.

"I must add that [former prime minister Dr Timoci] Bavadra was also a Fijian.

"Why was he overthrown? Was it because he wanted the best for both major races?"

+++niuswire

This document is for educational and research use only. Recipients should seek permission from the copyright source before reprinting. PASIFIK NIUS service is provided by the niusedita via the Journalism Program, University of the South Pacific. Please acknowledge Pasifik Nius: niusedita@pactok.net.au http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/nius/index.html


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