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  • Fiji
  • Alumita L Durutalo (bio)

The repercussions of the political crisis caused by George Speight's attempted coup of May 2000 still had overwhelming impacts on sociopolitical and economic arrangements in Fiji throughout 2005. In fact the tasks of both the interim government since the crisis of 19 May 2000 and the elected government after the general election in 2001 have been difficult and challenging. Not only did these governments have to deal with restoring the economy, but more important, they also had to initiate solutions to minimize, or better still, totally eradicate Fiji's coup culture. Diverse sociopolitical and economic interests had to be negotiated and harnessed for thesake of political stability and economic growth. These were top priorities, given the fact that all states are now part of a global political economy in which there is little control over changing economic circumstances. Political instability as experienced in Fiji after 1987, when the first two coups occurred, has inevitably complicated the chances ofeconomic development.

The year 2005 was greeted in Fiji with ongoing political dilemmas, which were expressed through a continuous war of words between the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua/ Matanitu Vanua (SDL/MV) coalition government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and the Republic of Fiji Military Forces and its commander, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama. Both the SDL and the MV parties were formed after the 2000 political crisis. The SDL was formed by Qarase during his term as interim prime minister, and the MV was first formed in Vanua Levu (Fiji's second biggest island) by chiefs and people who supported the Fijian cause advocated by coup leader Speight. Qarase's solution to political instability centered on a reconciliation process, whereby an independent unity commission would be established through legislation to offer solutions for the causes of the 2000 crisis. On the other hand, Commodore Bainimarama strongly advocated applying the rule of law to all offenders. By January 2005, Bainimarama had issued warnings against the perpetrators of the 2000 coup, whom he believed were still not being dealt with by the law. He warned, "For the financiers and the supporters of the rebels . . . I am anything but anofficer and a gentleman" (The Review, Jan 2005, 1–5).

Fiji's continuing political tensions, strongly expressed in 2005, are multilayered. Beneath the much-explained interethnic conflict, which emerged as part of Fiji's colonial legacy, are other struggles that have evolved from time immemorial and intensified through modern competitions for power. The ongoing conflict between government and the military highlighted both modern and traditional conflicts expressed through state institutions. Bainimarama's consistent stand on [End Page 396] national security issues and the need to bring the 2000 coup perpetrators to justice became the center of controversy between the military and the SDL/MV government, which has its power base in a number of coup-prone vanua (land-based traditional political entities). Qarase's belief in reconciliation as a long-term solution to Fiji's political instability resulted in a Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill, which is currently before Parliament. The bill promotes reconciliation through the principles of restorative justice, where the "wrong" and the "wronged" are brought together to discuss and resolve their problems. Based partially on the Fijian customary way of veisorosorovi (traditional apology), it is envisaged that in the long-term, this process of reconciliation will heal wounds and permanently solve problems (Durutalo 2003; FIB, July 2005, 12–14). However, using the traditional methods of veisorosorovi to appease the wrongs already committed has not been nationally acceptable to the different ethnic groups in Fiji. Even before consideration of the bill in Parliament, opposition intensified when a few of the "chiefly perpetrators" of the 2000 coup were released from prison to serve their sentences extramurally. These included former vice president of the Republic of Fiji, Bau high chief Ratu Jope Seniloli; the Tui Cakau and high chief in the Matanitu of Tovata, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu; and Viliame Savu, a pioneer Fijian nationalist (Fiji Times, 5 Jan 2005, 1; 5 Feb 2005, 6).

Different groups expressed concerns about the bill on a number of grounds. First was the appearance that, if passed, the bill would endorse two sets of laws in...


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