To be sure, Fiji needs to clean house. But the process by which this is accomplished is more important than any other consideration. The current regime’s apologists might say that the Commodore became disgusted with the tenants’ behaviour and, like any good landlord would, he turfed them out.
A commendable act, perhaps, but here’s the thing: It’s wasn’t his house.
The arbitrary use of coercive force is antithetical to democracy. Fiji’s military is known worldwide as an effective and disciplined force, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief that (for the most part) they’ve shown discipline and restraint in spite of having no checks on their authority. But the very things that make it an effective fighting force make it perfectly unsuited to govern.
[Originally published in slightly shorter form in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]
Note for online readers: For more detailed analysis and reporting of the situation in Fiji, I’d recommend the perceptive and well-sourced Coup Four and a Half blog. In its own words:
This blog has been created to allow stories and information that have been supressed or banned by the administration of Commodore Frank Bainimarama, as a result of the decision by the President Ratu Josefa Iloilo to impose Public Emergency Regulations, which has led to heavy handed censoring of the media.
Recently, numerous commentators in Vanuatu and other Pacific countries have complained loud and long that Commodore Frank Bainimarama is being treated unfairly by the media. The real bad guys, they say, were the ones who so abused the shambles of Fijian democracy that the army leader was left no choice but to intervene.
Furthermore, they argue, the problems of governance in Fiji are significant enough that holding elections before 2014 (the date recently suggested by the ruling junta) would only result in a return to the same sorry state the nation was in before. In short: Fiji can have its coup now or later, but by having it now, we can rest assured that it’s happening for the right reasons, guided by the right man.
I’m not entirely unsympathetic to this argument. It’s true that some reports, especially those appearing in Australian popular media, tend to miss the point that Fijian democracy was deplorably weak when Bainimarama took over. Furthermore, the hard rhetorical line taken by the governments of Australia and New Zealand hasn’t done much to improve the situation for anyone.
Frank Bainimarama is without a doubt a patriot who cares deeply about the welfare of his nation. But the question is whether any single patriot should rule Fiji.