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  • Fiji
  • Jon Fraenkel (bio)

In Fiji, 2012 was a year of raised and then repeatedly dashed expectations. In January, brief euphoria greeted the dropping of public emergency regulations, but stiff controls were promptly reinstated several days later. In March, hopes for a relatively smooth restoration of the rule of law and reasonably free elections before September 2014 were greatly encouraged both at home and abroad when Yash Ghai—a former United Nations (UN) envoy to Cambodia—was appointed by the interim government to head the scheduled Fiji Constitution Commission (fcc). Yet by the year’s end, military commander and Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama had fallen out with Yash Ghai and had declared the government’s intention to extensively rewrite the fcc’s draft constitution and to avoid any public consultation beyond that of a handpicked Constituent Assembly. Soon, plans for the intended Constituent Assembly were also scrapped. Throughout 2012, authority to shape Fiji’s future constitutional arrangements remained continually contested. Having destroyed most of the institutions associated with the precoup order, by the end of 2012 the government was busily dismantling the processes it had itself put in place to construct a new order.

In his 2012 New Year’s address, Bainimarama announced that the public emergency regulations would be dropped (Bainimarama 2012). Those regulations had been in place continuously since the abrogation of the constitution in April 2009. The announcement was welcomed by local civil society organizations as well as by the United Nations, the Commonwealth, Australia, and New Zealand. Yet, within days, a new Public Order (Amendment) Decree 2012 had been introduced that revived many of the key provisions of martial law, including police powers to prohibit meetings, impose travel bans, and undertake house arrests, as well as military powers to assume the roles of police and prison officers (Fiji government 2012a). This was the first of many incidents in 2012 in which the interim government appeared nonchalant about its own propaganda gains and reluctant to capitalize on any potential for re-legitimization.

Nevertheless, the security situation remained calm throughout the year. Open opposition to the planned Namosi copper mine, involving Australian company Newcrest and two Japanese firms, subsided after Bainimarama himself assumed responsibility for negotiations between landowners and mining interests and put the project on hold (FijiLive, 14 Jan 2012). In September, there was some resumption of exploratory activity (FijiLive, 18 Sept 2013), but care was taken to avoid again inflaming landowner protest. Mere Samisoni, a former parliamentarian in the deposed Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (sdl) government, was arrested in January and charged together with three others for inciting [End Page 370] violence, but all were soon released. In March, another sdl member of Parliament—the former minister of education, Rewa paramount chief Ro Teimumu Kepa—spoke out against Bainima rama’s abolition of the Great Council of Chiefs and called for UN intervention to protect indigenous rights (rnzi, 16 Mar 2012).

Otherwise, public dissent remained subdued through 2012. The government’s opponents were mostly nursing their wounds and biding their time ahead of the scheduled 2014 elections. Many had migrated overseas. The central focus of anti-Bainimarama activity was by now firmly in cyberspace, where participants had an anonymity that encouraged abuse and ineffective rage, though here too activity quieted over 2012. Others focused less on the polarization at the time of the coup six years earlier and more on the fact that an ethnic Fijian leader, backed by a predominantly indigenous military, was finally in charge of Fiji for the long run, unlike after the 1987 and 2000 coups when military rulers had felt pressured to hand control quickly back to civilian authorities.

Economically, Fiji’s 2011 recovery from the slowdown of 2007–2010 weakened slightly in 2012. The Asian Development Bank (adb) and the International Monetary Fund (imf) estimated economic growth at around 2 percent in 2011, but both anticipated a slowdown in 2012 (adb 2012; imf 2012). The economy was awash with liquidity, but investment remained low due to fears about the political situation and constant changes in regulations. Visitor arrivals in 2012 were slightly down from the previous year, but at around 650,000 the industry was still booming. Ironically, Australian tourist...