Fiji’s three coups have each occurred in two stanzas: first an illegal over-throw of the elected government, and then a later abrogation of the constitution. Unlike its predecessors, the 5 December 2006 coup took twenty-eight months to reach the second denouement. On 10 April 2009, the constitution was ditched, the judiciary sacked, and the scheduled date for elections was pushed back to 2014. The military was digging itself in for the long haul, in defiance of domestic and international protest. Domestic criticism was to be silenced by stiff media censorship, public emergency regulations, travel bans, corruption charges, clandestine firebombs, as well as cancellation of pensions. The inevitable storm of international protest after 10 April was less easily silenced. In response, military commander and interim Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Frank Bainimarama claimed to be a victim of Australian and New Zealand “bullying” and appealed for solidarity from the Melanesian Spearhead Group states. Over 2009, as Bainimarama’s enemies faltered, he visibly grew in domestic self-confidence. On the international stage, he projected an image of a wronged and misunderstood champion of modernism in Fiji.
In January 2009, Bainimarama refused to attend a meeting of Pacific Islands Forum (pif) leaders in Port Moresby, insisting that severe flooding in Fiji required him to stay home to assist clean-up operations. The pif meeting, attended instead by Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, settled on yet another ultimatum to Fiji’s interim government, insisting that a credible timetable for elections be drawn up by 1 May. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said “a line in the sand” had been drawn (Post Courier 2009). Bainimarama responded that he had no intention of complying with the ultimatum and said that the inevitable suspension should have been immediate (FijiLive, 29 Jan 2009). His nonattendance at the pif summit generated some controversy within the ranks of the interim administration. Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ratu Isoa Gavidi and Fiji’s High Commissioner to PNG Ratu Isoa Tikoca were both sacked after urging Bainimarama to make an appearance in Port Moresby. Gavidi said later that Bainimarama’s familiarity with top-down military authority made it difficult for him to accept advice (Fiji Times, 3 March 2009). Over the course of 2009, other regime insiders urging a more conciliatory stance—including Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office Parmesh Chand, as well as Robin Nair and former Citizen’s Constitutional Forum activist Jone Dakuvula—also found themselves demoted, sacked, or marginalized.
During late 2008, hopes for some resolution to the coup-related impasse had focused on the scheduled President’s Political Dialogue Forum, which the United Nations and the [End Page 416] Commonwealth had been invited to chair. But preliminary dialogue sessions with political parties—assisted by interlocutors Hawai‘i-based Tongan academic Sitiveni Halapua and Robin Nair, a Fiji Indian who formerly worked in the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade—gave little cause for optimism. Through early 2009, meetings were regularly canceled or delayed, and Bainimarama made clear that he wanted to exclude Laisenia Qarase’s Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (sdl) party and any others who refused to sign up to his government’s People’s Charter (for details, see Fraenkel 2009). Qarase’s sdl, together with the National Federation Party (nfp), and former Opposition leader Mick Beddoes, as well as trade unions and civil society organizations, met under the auspices of the Democracy Movement in January, but this too was soon silenced. In March, there were attacks on the homes and vehicles of prominent government critics, including Democracy Movement President Attar Singh, Fiji Times editor Netani Rika, and Colonel Sakiusa Raivoce, a former army officer who is also head of Global Risks Fiji, a recruitment organization for security personnel bound for Iraq. Qarase traveled to Australia in February, where he claimed his life was at risk in Fiji, but he nevertheless returned to face trial on corruption charges in March. The deposed prime minister spent much of 2009 away from Suva on his home island. In January, he was installed as the new chief of his Mavana village on Vanuabalavu. Reports of that event were carried...