Fiji remained firmly under military control through 2010, though internal tensions were to become apparent among the senior command. This was a year of grudging acquiescence under the new order but also of shifts in the defining philosophy of the government of military commander Frank Bainimarama. The December 2006 military coup had initially been depicted as an anticorruption “clean-up” campaign, though the newly established Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption (ficac) found little evidence of corruption. A year later, the focus had shifted to using electoral reform as a tool for combating communal divisions and to persuading usurped politicians of the necessity of those reforms so as to achieve them in a legal manner, but this faded in prominence after the April 2009 abrogation of the 1997 constitution. By 2010, both the cleansing of corruption and electoral reform were largely off the agenda, and the emphasis was firmly on economic development and the alleged inability of elected politicians to bring this about. All three perspectives had as their common denominator—tailor-made for their different epochs—a justification of military seizure and retention of power.
The year opened with a threat of stiff repression. Republic of Fiji Military Forces (rfmf) Land Force Commander Brigadier General Pita Driti warned regime opponents to keep a low profile; “otherwise they will be in for something really hard in terms of how we will treat them this year” (fbc, 5 Jan 2010). That threat was never fully tested. The destruction of the old legal order—coupled with the quashing of defiance associated with plans to hold the Methodist annual conference in August 2009—had silenced most prominent regime opponents. The newspapers no longer carried articles by known critics, though most heavily used Internet blogs still escaped the Ministry of Information censors. Formerly dissident lawyers had signed up to the new legal arrangements or had left the country, or else they were lying low. The public-sector unions had been deeply divided and defeated during the mid-2007 strikes and were now unable to meet under repeatedly renewed emergency regulations. The Great Council of Chiefs had been disbanded, and the fourteen Fijian provincial councils were each either deeply split or overtly pro-Bainimarama. Deposed 2000–2006 Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase was periodically brought before the courts during the year on charges both of manipulating Fijian Holdings Ltd dividends to his family’s advantage while he was director of the Fiji Development Bank in the early 1990s, and of authorizing illegal use of Native Land Trust Board funds for corporate investment purposes in 2004 (rnz, 19 Jan 2010; Fiji Sun, 25 Jan 2011). Other prominent critics of the regime were also harassed by the ficac or, as in the case of Labour [End Page 456] leader Mahendra Chaudhry, charged with alleged breaches of the public emergency regulations.
Commodore Bainimarama cited the urgency of reform as justification for his clampdown. “We’ll need to shut people up,” he told abc’s Foreign Correspondent program, explaining that “those reforms will never happen if we open everything out to every Tom, Dick and Harry to have their say” (Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Aug 2010). Yet the commodore evidently felt less need by 2010 to elaborate this, and there were no major policy statements throughout the year. Elections remained scheduled for September 2014, but few had much confidence in that commitment. In any case, Bainimarama insisted that none of the established major parties—including Qarase’s Soqo-soqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (sdl), Chaudhry’s Fiji Labour Party (flp), and the National Federation Party (nfp)—would be allowed to contest (rnz, 2 March 2010). Token efforts to engage those political parties in dialogue had been halted in 2009 just prior to the abrogation of the 1997 constitution, and there were no signs of a reversal in that stance. A National Dialogue Forum—without political party involvement—was scheduled to get underway in February 2010 (Fiji Times, 27 Jan 2010), but this never eventuated. Dialogue had proved an irritant for Fiji’s new rulers: it had served to give a platform to their internal critics—those who opposed media censorship, wanted the public emergency regulations removed, and insisted...