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Illegal coup d’état deserves tough sanctions

Fijian military commander Frank Bainimarama asserts that his actions are legal.  How an overthrow of a democratically-elected government by one man with the ammunition to do so is legal is beyond me.

“Democratically-elected”, some might argue, is arguable.  The Fijian electoral system allows for “communal” and “open” seats, where the former are for specific races of Fiji and the latter are by universal suffrage.  The party in government, the United Fiji Party (Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua, SDL), which was the party formed after the 2000 coup d’état whose motive was (from what I gather) indigenous rights, gained all 23 of the seats reserved for indigenous Fijians and 13 of the 25 open seats to take a 36-seat majority of the 71-seat house with 45 per cent of the total vote.  Similar but lesser statistics hold for the Fijian Labour Party and the Indo-Fijians, who are, after all, less in number.  Indeed, the electoral system of Fiji is rather racial.  Some say the SDL government supposedly implements racist policies, which I presume to be in favour of the indigenous.

It is perhaps not so ironic, then, that Bainimarama stages this coup d’état now when he spoke against the 2000 one.  Whereas George Speight sought indigenous rights, Bainimarama seeks equity, or so it seems, anyway.  But that does not make his actions “legal”, nor does it make them right.  Bainimarama had no right to dismiss either the President or the Prime Minister.  The Fijian constitution allows only the chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs (Bose Levu Vakaturaga) to dismiss the President, and Chairman Ratu Ovini Bokini has clearly stated the President had his full support.  The constitution only allows a Prime Minister to be dismissed by the President if the Prime Minister “loses the confidence of the House of Representatives”, which is not the case either.

The fact of the matter is, the Qarase government was elected fairly under the electoral laws of Fiji—how fair the electoral laws are is another issue.  A dissatisfaction with the government is no excuse to stage a coup d’état.  Even if his claims of racist policy are correct, two wrongs do not make a right.

It is, however looked at, a coup d’état and should be treated like one.  There is no reason to differentiate the 2000 coup d’état from this one; it is not in the place of the international community to side one racial agenda versus another.  Both sought to unseat the democratically-elected government, and both should result in serious consequences.

The sanctions imposed on Fiji are, therefore, quite appropriate.  It is of little, if any, concern that the legitimate government and people of Fiji did nothing to earn them.  If Bainimarama believes he is running the country, and if he believes that he is responsible for the welfare of the Fijian people, then the sanctions will affect him.  Could it be unrealistic to think that sanctions will convince the military commander to change his mind?  Probably, but the international community must express its dissatisfaction in the strongest way possible.  If sportspeople or Fijian military trainees in New Zealand have to take a fall for it, then so be it.

The bottom line is that the military has set out to undermine democracy.  It is no surprise that most democratic countries are quick to condemn the coup d’état.  A fuller understanding of the issue, as Bainimarama might request, does not take away from the fact that he has completely violated the constitution.  The Qarase government was fairly elected under Fijian electoral law.  The military arrangements are neither legal nor democratic.  Taking the government by force is not the solution.  Let the people of Fiji speak for themselves.

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