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Rabuka Dismisses Coup Fears Over Chaudhry

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By ASHWINI PRABHA: June 12, 2002
Wansolwara Online (USP)

SUVA (Pasifik Nius): Former Fiji coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka has down played the possibility of prime minister Laisenia Qarase losing the support of indigenous Fijians if he were to include Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry in cabinet.

In an interview with Wansolwara Online, the former prime minister also rejected suggestions that Chaudhry's inclusion in government could trigger another coup or further uprising by extremists, particularly if the support of the government's coalition partner, the Conservative Alliance, was maintained.

The Fijian-based Conservative Alliance is made up of supporters of George Speight who led the May 2000 coup that resulted in the ousting of Chaudhry, Fiji's first Indo-Fijian prime minister, and his Labour coalition government. The party is seeking a pardon for Speight, who is serving a life sentence for treason.

Rabuka said Chaudhry's inclusion in government would have the majority support of both Indians and Fijians so it "would be mad" to stage another coup. The military, he said, would not support a coup.

Chaudhry and Qarase concluded their second talanoa (discussion) last weekend aimed at ironing out differences between the two leaders and possibily facilitating Labour's inclusion in cabinet.

It follows a High Court ruling saying that Qarase's refusal to include Labour in government was in breach of the power-sharing arrangement mandated by the constitution. The parties put out a joint statement after the session saying they had agreed to await the Supreme Court's decision on Qarase's appeal before resuming talks.

Rabuka, however, said the cost and hazards of another election could be avoided if Chaudhry and Qarase work together, even if it meant increasing the size of the cabinet.

"We can afford to increase the size of cabinet more then we can afford another election," he said.

Chaudhry's inclusion in government would also be good for reconciliation, said Rabuka. He said reconciliation was not a lost cause in Fiji as there were a lot of people with goodwill outside and inside parliament. He said a government-organised 'national reconciliation summit' would be a good move.

Rabuka said Fiji's influential tribal leaders, the Great Council of Chiefs, could not be expected to play a meaningful role in any such summit as it had been "branded as being purely Fijian in interest and not unfairly because some of its decisions had given cause for the other races to believe that the council was only for Fijians".

On government's affirmative action plans for indigenous Fijians, Rabuka said it had been carried out by previous governments but it could develop a handout mentality.

"How do you know they will stop asking for more and more affirmative action? The danger is that if we carry it out for too long, in the not to distant future people will ask the government to plant their cassava."

Rabuka said he had bowed out of politics and held no decision-making authority with the Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei (SVT) party which he previously led.

He blamed the SVT's crushing defeat in the last elections to its moderate platform. "Politics in Fiji is race-based. Nobody likes moderates."

But he urged the SVT not to embrace extremist policies, saying moderation would pay off in future elections.


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