By January 2006 the conflict between the Fiji Military Forces and the now ousted government, which had been led by the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (sdl) party, had been continuing for almost five years. One of the main criticisms put forth by the commander of the Fiji Military Forces, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, was that Laisenia Qarase's government was lax in dealing with the 2000 coup perpetrators. A number of high chiefs were allowed to serve their prison terms extramurally, and one chiefly parliamentarian returned to Parliament after his sentence. This conflict was later compounded by the introduction of the Reconciliation and Unity Bill by the sdl government. The bill was aimed at reconciling the perpetrators and victims of the 2000 coup led by George Speight. Commodore Bainimarama, who was also a victim of that coup through the November 2000 mutiny, along with other critics, detested the introduction of this bill. They believed that if passed, the bill would serve as a green light for future coup perpetrators in Fiji.
sdl government leaders did little to allay this fear. They simply kept on with the tasks of leadership based on their constitutional roles. They understood that the government and the various institutions of the state, including the military, had specific functions to perform as stipulated in Fiji's 1997 Constitution. Perhaps the sdl government assumed too much about people's acceptance of the rule of law in a developing country or Third World context. As can be gauged from Fiji's coup culture since 1987, the causes of political conflict in the country extend far beyond the scope of the modern rule of law, and solutions involve additional political, legal, and even customary measures. Perhaps continued dialogue between the sdl government and the Fiji Military Forces outside the parameters of Parliament could partially have resolved Fiji's ongoing political crisis. After all, 95 percent of both the sdl government and the Fiji Military Forces were indigenous Fijians. During 2006, the commander's public comments about the sdl government were sometimes perceived as seditious and treasonous, but the government did not really take concrete steps to rectify the situation. The February 2006 issue of Fiji Islands Business noted, "In any other democratic country, and Fiji is (or was) basically one, Mr. Bainimarama's stance would have promptly caused his dismissal. The magazine went on to say that Bainimarama's behavior has gone beyond the usually accepted state of affairs in a democracy, wherein the military is subservient to civilian rule (fib, Feb 2006, 9).
In addition to the continuing political tussle between the commodore and Prime Minister Qarase, Fiji's economy was not in perfect health. As early as March 2006, the Reserve [End Page 578] Bank warned that high internal consumption rates could no longer be sustained by depressed exports and high oil prices. By the end of 2005, Fiji's export stood at f$1.18 billion, and total imports at f$2.72 billion (f$1.00 averaged approximately us$0.58 throughout the year). At the same time the trade deficit increased to f$1.53 billion. By the end of February 2006, the interest rate had increased from 2.25 percent to 3.25 percent. Fiji's foreign reserve figure, which stood at f$991 million in mid-2005, had decreased to f$822 million by December 2005. Governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji Savenaca Narube warned that the only way to improve Fiji's deteriorating economic situation was to raise the level of exports and investments (fib, March 2006, 6). Concerned about economic survival and meeting regional and international trade challenges, the Fiji textile, clothing, and footwear (tcf) industry, proposed a reduction in the local area content as required under the rules of origin regulations of the South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (sparteca). This regional trade agreement, signed in 1981 by Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands Forum countries, allows products to enter Australia and New Zealand duty free, provided that 50 percent of the raw materials used are produced locally (fib, April 2006, 6). This move was vigorously opposed by the Textile and Fashion...