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Fiji Coup Editorial Response - Pattrick Smellie

A Pakeha Journalist Responds to Ross Nepia Himona's Column On The Fiji Coup. See...Te Karere Ipurangi - Fiji Editorial.

I don't want to seem rude, and I accept much of what Himona says about the way Maori issues are reported. However, I am confused by his column on Fiji.

He says that of course the coup is wrong, but then seeks to stifle criticism on racial grounds. Yet to imply that the attempted overthrow of a government by violence might be "the Fijian way" also implicitly ascribes immaturity to Fijian politics - a patronising position surely more worthy of the neo-colonialists who have his dander up.

Fiji worked through a difficult process to arrive at a new Constitution, brokered by Sir Paul Reeves, under which its people elected a government headed by a Fijian Indian under a proportional representation voting system.

It took a decade. Unless coups are preferable to democracy because they are inherently more "Fijian", I can't see that Speight is striking a blow for anyone but himself. His attempted exploitation of Fijian fears about the Indian population is cynical and I would take bets that the majority of indigenous Fijians will see this for what it is.

I'd also take bets that Friday's looting was more opportunism than politics. Many indigenous Fijians may support some of Speight's sentiment, but so far not the man, it seems.

The irony is not, as Himona argues, that Mara and Rabuka respectively predicted a coup when Fijian Indians "took control" and trained some of those involved. Rather, the irony is that Rabuka and Mara respectively started and supported the last coup and don't support the current one.

Both were integral to the creation of the new Constitution, which preserves what neo-colonialist lackeys such as myself could suggest was an unfair balance in favour of indigenous Fijians. Not that I would suggest that. Politicians representing Fijian Indians decided in a legitimate process that this represented a workable compromise given the historical cards which modern day Fiji has been dealt. So be it.

Both Mara and Rabuka also appreciate the enormous damage that this stupidity does to Fiji's wider interests.

Obviously, I'll stand corrected if it turns out differently, but I would be staggered if tomorrow's Council of Chiefs meeting - with Rabuka as its chair - were to endorse Speight.

A part-indigenous, part-European guy who has various commercial axes to grind and has recently appeared in court on extortion charges has staged a woefully ill-planned takeover. The likelihood is that it will fail. The important question is whether it will also involve loss of life, particularly of elected Members of Parliament or the Prime Minister.

To suggest that other countries in the region should sit back while what should be the lynch-pin state in the South Pacific descends into new political and economic chaos on the basis that Poms in a previous generation are responsible is a convoluted cop-out.

With respect to media coverage, I am more struck by the naivety and focus in much of it on the ephemeral. The NZ Herald gives huge space to the fact that someone fired a round while journalists were going into the Parliamentary complex yesterday.

Who cares? The journos are not the story, nor really is the looting, I suspect. It just provides dramatic pictures.

What matters is whether Speight has any significant levels of support, the position of the Army and police, whether Mara stays on, and what happens at the Council of Chiefs. We are so far only learning some of that and are getting quite a bit of detail instead about how a lot of journos are getting on.

Maybe I'm not reading the coverage with Himona's eye, but coverage devoted to Fijian Indians does not seem excessive. The existence of a large rally in Auckland is newsworthy, as perhaps is the fact that there are some indigenous Fijian faces in the crowd. The fact that there are so many Fijian Indians available to protest in Auckland is testimony to how many felt forced to leave Fiji in 1987.

Or is Himona suggesting that their views are illegitimate and that the dislocation of their lives was justified? It's a short step from there to saying Idi Amin was one of the good guys for turfing the Asians out of Uganda.

I think the effect of much of the coverage so far is unwittingly to give legitimacy to Speight while offering too little context as yet. There are passing references to land tenure issues being behind this. What was Chaudhry proposing in this area? To what extent does it threaten indigenous Fijians, whose ownership of around 90% of the land in Fiji entrenches their position in a way which Maori here might only envy?

It could be in examination of that question that reporters will discover whether or not this coup has even a dog's show of succeeding or whether, after its failure, the Chaudhry government will be forced to resign or reform itself anyway.

In the heat of activity so far, and with no reporters regularly assigned to the Pacific, we are not yet hearing about the heart of the matter. Perhaps that is inevitable when events are still unfolding.

Or are my neo-colonialist spectacles so thick that I am blind to an inherent racism in the suggestion that the violent overthrow of an elected government in any country is unconstitutional and dangerous for the country involved?

- Pattrick Smellie

AUTHOR NOTE: Pattrick Smellie is a Wellington based freelance Journalist.


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