2006 Fijian coup d'état
The Fijian coup d'état of December 2006 occurred as a continuation of the pressure which had been building since the military unrest of the 2000 Fijian coup d'état and 2005–06 Fijian political crisis.
Fiji had seen four definitive coups in the past two decades. At the heart of the previous three of these lay the tensions between the ethnic Fijians and Indian Fijians. Religion played a significant role; the majority of ethnic Fijians belong to the Methodist church whereas the majority of the Indians are Hindu. In each coup, one of the sides sought to establish reduced rights for the Indian Fijians; the other side sought to grant greater rights and equality to the Indian Fijians.
The church in Fiji frequently played a significant role in politics — senior leaders of the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma supported the coup of 2000 and the subsequent proposal to pardon those involved. Even the possibility of declaring Fiji a theocratic Christian state was proposed in the past. This has brought Josaia Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama, leader of the December 2006 coup, in conflict with the Methodist church in the past.
Background to the conflictEdit
A long-running conflict between the government and military of the Republic of the Fiji Islands (Fiji) reached crisis point in early December 2006. The catalysts for the unrest were three bills under consideration by the Fijian parliament, one of which would question the illegality of the Fiji coup of 2000 and offer pardons to some of the rebels who participated in it. Nine demands were handed down from Commodore Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama to Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase largely pertaining to issues concerning these bills. Bainimarama gave an ultimatum to Qarase to concede to these demands or to resign from his post by Friday 1 December. This was then deferred to Monday 4 December.
After weeks of preparations by the military, on 4 December, a well orchestrated military presence made itself known in Suva by setting up strategic road blocks, making public demonstrations of their presence and seizing weapons from opposing factions, including the police. On 5 December, many key government ministers and chief executives were placed under house arrest and President Ratu Josefa Iloilo allegedly signed an order dissolving Parliament, though he later made a press statement denying having done so. Two Australian soldiers died in a Blackhawk helicopter crash after Australia moved three warships to waters near Fiji in case evacuation of foreign nationals became necessary.
The current crisis has its origins in the Fiji coup of 2000. The 2000 coup was aimed at the multi-ethnic Government led by Mahendra Chaudhry. The proponents of the coup were an armed faction not closely associated with the military, who opposed their actions. After Bainimarama declared martial law and resolved the crisis by force, an interim government was sworn in, headed by current prime minister Laisenia Qarase. The Prime Minister was democratically elected in elections in 2001 and 2006, and has since begun to take actions that have provoked the displeasure of the military.
Three contentious bills have recently come before parliament: the Reconciliation Tolerance and Unity Bill, Qoliqoli Bill and the Land Tribunal Bill, all three of which were considered objectionable by the opponents of the 2000 coup. Perhaps the most significant of these has been the RTU bill, which would grant an amnesty to some of those involved or being investigated for involvement in the coup of 2000, including individuals who are presently officials within government.
There was friction concerning these bills and a truce was brokered by Vice-President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi on 16 January 2006, which cooled the 2005–06 Fijian political crisis. Nonetheless, relations between the government and the military remained strained.
On 22 September 2006, Commodore Bainimarama attacked government policies in a speech at Ratu Latianara Secondary School. News service Fiji Village reported that he claimed that government leniency towards perpetrators of the 2000 coup had created a culture of disrespect for the law, to which he attributed the increasing incidents of rape, homicide, and desecration of Hindu temples. He also criticized the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma, for supporting the government.
The next day Prime Minister Qarase accused the Commodore's statements of being unconstitutional, and announced his intention to refer the matter to the Supreme Court for a judgement on the proper role of the military.
The Methodist Church also reacted strongly to the Commodore's suggestion that government policies could take Fiji back to paganism and cannibalism. Reverend Ame Tugaue, the General Secretary of the Church, commented that the Commander appeared to be ignoring the fact that it was the influence of Christianity that had abolished cannibalism in Fiji.
On 25 September, military spokesman Major Neumi Leweni said that the government's proposed court action was a threat to the nation, and that the military was united in its resolve to prosecute persons implicated in the 2000 coup and in its opposition to legislation proposing amnesty for such offenders. He also reiterated the opposition of the military to the "Qoliqoli Bill", which proposed to hand control of seabed resources to ethnic Fijians.
The Fiji Sun quoted Bainimarama on 25 September as saying that his speech at Ratu Latianara Secondary School had been based on the advice of United States General John Brown. The same afternoon, however, United States Ambassador Larry Dinger told the Fiji Village News that Bainimarama had misunderstood Brown's intentions. The military must never challenge the rule of a constitutional government, Dinger insisted. Brown feels that his words of encouragement were misconstrued and may have led to the coup. Leweni subsequently denied that the Fijian military stance on the Qoliqoli Bill had been influenced by Brown.
Neumi Leweni called on the Qarase government to resign on 6 October 2006, saying that the government had lost all semblance of credibility, integrity and honesty and that the country was sinking into an economic and financial abyss.
Ultimatum handed down, crisis imminentEdit
On 16 October 2006, Bainimarama issued a three-week ultimatum for the government to meet nine demands, or resign.
The nine demands mainly center around: the 2000 coup proponents being brought to justice; withdrawing any political machinations which would potentially further economic inequality based on racial grounds; denying intervention by foreign authority (mentioning by name Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes, an Australian national); dropping the court proceedings regarding the military's statements from earlier in the year and formally addressing concerns about government spending and internal governance.
Meanwhile, Qarase and President Iloilo attempted to fire Bainimarama, who was in Iraq inspecting Fijian peacekeeping troops, but their nominee for his replacement declined the position and Major Neumi Leweni said the Army remained loyal to Bainimarama. Bainimarama in response repeated his call for the government to meet his demands or step down.
ABC News in Australia reported claims that Qarase had told Iloilo that the government would step down if Bainimarama was not removed. The Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said there was a real risk of a coup in Fiji. Australia sent naval ships to Fiji to assist in the evacuation of Australian citizens should a coup occur.
On 4 November, Qarase suspended amnesty provisions for the leaders of the 2000 coup from the Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill, saying that they will investigate further whether the provisions were unconstitutional. Up to this point, this was the only concession made to the military's demands.
The crisis came to a head when, on 26 November, during a private trip to New Zealand, Bainimarama called up 1,000 reserve troops to the Fijian Army, and reiterated his intention to topple the Fijian government. This came shortly after police revealed that he would soon be charged with sedition.
Qarase flew to New Zealand on 28 November to meet with Bainimarama. The night before the meeting, Bainimarama said "It's very simple. He [Qarase] comes with a yes or a no to our demands, full stop. He's going to be wasting his time debating issues with me. The meeting's going to be the shortest meeting he's ever attended in his life." The meeting lasted two hours, but no resolution was reached. Both men returned to Fiji after the meeting.
On 30 November, Qarase partially conceded to some of the demands: He agreed to suspend the three bills mentioned amongst the demands, and to drop them altogether if a review found them unconstitutional; he recognized that the 2000 coup had been illegal; he agreed to accept the decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions not to lay sedition charges against military leaders; and he agreed to review the position of the Police Commissioner Hughes.
Bainimarama rejected this compromise and reiterated his ultimatum that Qarase must accept all demands by noon the following day or be overthrown by the military.
After the deadline passed on 1 December, Qarase said that the deadline had been extended until 3 December, due to the annual rugby union game played between the National Police and the military, but Bainimarama denied that there was an extension. He said he intended to begin a "clean up" campaign of government. Qarase and his government moved to secret locations.
On 3 December, Bainimarama announced that he had taken control of Fiji, but Qarase emerged from hiding and said he was still in charge. Radio New Zealand reported on 3 December that Fiji's civil service was still taking its instructions from the civilian administration, and quoted Stuart Huggett, the head of the civil service, as anticipating no change to that.
Coup and deposition of the governmentEdit
Fijian troops confiscated arms at the headquarters of the armed police division in Nasinu on 4 December. Troops later surrounded the Nasova Police Academy in Suva and removed weapons from the armoury.
Acting Police Commissioner Moses Driver said the military action was unlawful and unnecessary. Military commander Bainimarama was quoted as saying that the military had taken this action as "we would not want to see a situation whereby the police and the military are opposed in an armed confrontation".
Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase was stopped while trying to enter Government House in the afternoon by a military roadblock set up there. Military personnel were checking vehicles traveling on the road between the Suva and the province of Naitasiri, 30 miles northeast of Suva. Qarase avoided the military roadblocks by travelling using helicopter to return to his home in the centre of Suva after attending a provincial council meeting in this province.
Although a cabinet meeting on 5 December was called by Qarase at Government House to discuss the 19 demands of military, the Prime Minister and other ministers were not present at Government House. Mr. Qarase asked New Zealand and Australian governments for military assistance. This was declined. New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said "Our judgment is that this would make the situation worse, and it is not a step we are contemplating".
The President Ratu Josefa Iloilo allegedly signed an order dissolving the Parliament, and called on the Prime Minister to follow the military's demands or resign. He later denied having signed such an order, and condemned the military takeover. Speaking from Australia, exiled Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes accused Rupeni Nacewa, the President's secretary, of having fabricated the alleged presidential decree.
On the morning of the 5th, armed troops surrounded the offices of government ministers and began taking their cars. Laisenia Qarase has stated that the coup is "virtually underway", but that he will not resign, and he still has control of the country. The military forces said that all ministers would be under house arrest, and all ministers' vehicles and mobile phones seized by the end of the day. The military were reported to have surrounded Qarase's house at around 12 noon, and were trying to force their way in. The police were reported to be trying to negotiate with them.
After meeting with Commodore Bainimarama on the morning of 5 December, Iloilo signed a legal order dissolving Parliament, citing the doctrine of necessity, paving the way for the formation of an interim administration. In a subsequent press release, however, Iloilo said that he had not endorsed the coup and that its perpetrators were acting against his orders.
Soldiers entered the Parliament and disbanded the meeting of Senators discussing a motion to condemn the coup.
Bainimarama announced on 6 December that the military had taken control of the government as executive authority in the running of the country. In a speech to the media, he explained the rationale for his coup, accusing Qarase of corruption and of having inflamed tensions between ethnic communities through "divisive" and "controversial" policies:
We consider that Fiji has reached a cross roads and that the Government and all those empowered to make decisions in our constitutional democracy are unable to make decisions to [sic] our people from destruction.
As of today, the Military has taken over the Government/executive authority / running of this country. [...]
The RFMF over the years have been raising security concerns with the Government, in particular the introduction of controversial bills, and policies that have divided the nation now and will have very serious consequences to our future generations.
These concerns have been conveyed to the Prime Minister in all fairness and sincerity with the country’s interest at heart.
Apparently, all RFMF concerns were never accepted with true spirit. All my efforts to the government were to no avail. Instead, they turned their attention on the RFMF itself. Despite my advice, they tried to remove me and create dissension within the ranks of the RFMF; the institution that stood up and redirected the Nation from the path of doom that the Nation was being led to in 2000. Qarase has already conducted a ‘silent coup’ through bribery, corruption and introduction of controversial Bill. [...]
Our position can be differentiated from the Qarase Government which for example through the passing of the Reconciliation, Qoliqoli and Land Claims will undermine the Constitution, will deprive many citizens of their rights a [sic] guaranteed under the Constitution and compromise and undermine the integrity of the Constitutional Offices including the Judiciary. [...]
When the country is stable and the Electoral Rolls and other machineries of Elections have been properly reviewed and amended, elections will be held. We trust that the new government will lead us into peace and prosperity and mend the ever widening racial divide that currently besets our multicultural nation.
Bainimarama dismissed a number of public servants, at least some of whom refused to cooperate with his regime, including: President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, Vice-President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes, Acting Police Commissioner Moses Driver, Assistant Police Commissioner Kevueli Bulamainaivalu, Public Service Commission chairman Stuart Huggett and chief executive Anare Jale, Solicitor General Nainendra Nand, Prime Minister's Office chief executive Jioji Kotobalavu, and the Supervisor of Elections Semesa Karavaki.
Fijian response to the coupEdit
Unlike the 2000 coup, which was marked by looting and burning of businesses, no significant protests or violence have occurred on Fiji during this coup.
The army did not gain the support of several key bodies. The Great Council of Chiefs, on 7 December, called the coup illegal and called upon soldiers to "leave the barracks and return home to your people" The President of the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma led a delegation to visit and support the Prime Minister while he was under effective house arrest. The Archbishop of the Anglican Church issued a statement opposing the coup. Churches took out newspaper ads including one quoting Reverend Tuikilakila Waqairatu, president of the Fiji Council of Churches, saying "We are deeply convinced that the move now taken by the commander and his advisers is the manifestation of darkness and evil". Roman Catholic Archbishop Petero Mataca took a more nuanced position, however. In a letter to the Fiji Sun on 10 December, he condemned the coup, but also claimed that the government had pursued policies that had led to it. Part of this statement was quoted in Fiji Village on 12 December.
On 7 December 300 villagers blocked the entrance to Tavualevu Village, in response to a rumor that the military was coming to arrest Ratu Ovini Bokini, Chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs. The army quickly denied the rumor. Most government ministries had a full turn out at work, except for certain CEOs, and parliament workers were reportedly offered positions elsewhere in government.
Bainimarama told a press conference on 15 December that he would agree to attend a forthcoming meeting of the Great Council of Chiefs, the feudal body empowered to choose the country's President, Vice-President, and 14 of the 32 Senators, only in his capacity as President of the Republic, the Fiji Sun reported. Told that the Great Council still recognized Ratu Josefa Iloilo as President, he said that in that case he would boycott the meeting. He also condemned the Great Council's invitation to deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, saying that Qarase would not be allowed to return to Suva to attend the meeting.
Fiji's interim governmentEdit
Fiji's newly appointed caretaker prime minister, Jona Senilagakali, a 77-year-old military doctor, was sworn in on 5 December to replace former prime minister Laisenia Qarase. The figurehead appointee said he had no choice but to take the job after being ordered to do so by military chief Voreqe Bainimarama. Fresh democratic elections in Fiji could however be "12 months to two years" away, Senilagakali said.
Announcing he had toppled the elected government and taken control on 5 December, Bainimara said he was assuming the presidency until the following week when the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) would reappoint President Ratu Josefa Iloilo who would then have the authority to appoint an interim government. However, the GCC slammed Bainimarama's "illegal, unconstitutional" activities and cancelled their planned meeting the following week, indicating that they were not keen to meet following the turbulent events of this week. This posed a potential obstacle to coup leaders who are meanwhile advertising for candidates for posts in the interim government.
On 14 December, Bainimarama declared that his interim government could rule for 50 years if the Great Council of Chiefs continued to hold off appointing a new president of Fiji, who would swear in a military-backed government. Bainimarama also dismissed Adi Litia Qionibaravi as head of the Fijian Affairs Board which convenes meeting of the Great Council of Chiefs. The Great Council did meet in the third week of December, but failed to persuade the Military to relinquish power. It proposed the formation of an interim government representing all major political and social factions in Fiji, but this was rejected by the Military, which announced on 27 December that the Great Council would be banned from holding further meetings, except with Military approval, until further notice.
Iloilo restored; Bainimarama appointed Prime MinisterEdit
On 4 January 2007, Bainimarama restored Ratu Josefa Iloilo to the Presidency. The President made a broadcast endorsing the actions of the military. The next day, Iloilo formally appointed Bainimarama as the interim Prime Minister, indicating that the military was still effectively in control. An interim Cabinet was subsequently appointed.
Reaction to the appointment was mixed. The National Alliance Party of Ratu Epeli Ganilau (a former Military commander) welcomed the appointment, as did Himat Lodhia, of the Fiji Chamber of Commerce, and Felix Anthony, general secretary of the Fiji Trade Union Council. Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry was more inclined to reserve judgement, while deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase condemned the appointment, saying it amounted to establishing a military dictatorship. United Peoples Party leader Mick Beddoes also criticized it, as did Pramod Rae, general secretary of the National Federation Party, who said that Bainimarama's dual positions of Prime Minister and Military commander created a conflict of interest. Fiji Law Society president Devanesh Sharma described the appointment as unconstitutional, while Winston Peters, New Zealand's Minister of Foreign Affairs, also condemned it as a "charade" that would fool nobody.
International response to the crisisEdit
There has been considerable international concern about the situation in Fiji, and active involvement by other governments to try to prevent a coup. The Australian and New Zealand governments and media in particular have strongly condemned the coup.
In November, an eminent persons group of Pacific Foreign Ministers was formed to try to defuse the situation. On 28 November, the New Zealand Government brought Qarase to New Zealand in order to negotiate with Bainimarama, at a meeting hosted by New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters. No agreement was reached. Bainimarama later warned the New Zealand and Australian Governments that any military intervention would be strongly repelled.
The New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters described the current crisis as a coup and a "creeping siege on democratic institutions". New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said that the Fijian constitution only allowed the President to request the dissolving of Parliament if the Prime Minister no longer had the confidence of the Parliament and that this was clearly not the case. The New Zealand Government has also stated those taking part in the coup will be banned from entry to New Zealand, and that military ties, aid and sporting contacts will be cut. Helen Clark has said in the NZ Herald that she would consider sanctions against Fiji.
Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has said that the military were "slowly trying to take control" and pressure the PM to resign. Other notable Australians have also commented on the situation such as the then Australian Prime Minister John Howard.
The United States suspended $2.5 million in aid money pending a review of the situation. The United Kingdom, the United States, and the United Nations have all expressed concern at the situation, with Kofi Annan having made a public statement and personally spoken to both President Iloilo and Prime Minister Qarase.
On 10 December, the International Federation of Netball Associations announced that Fiji, which had been scheduled to host the 2007 Netball World Championships, had been stripped of its hosting rights as a direct result of the coup.
The Commonwealth suspended Fiji's membership on 8 December 2006. Its Secretary General, Don McKinnon, has stated that Bainimarama should resign and that the coup is a total violation of Commonwealth principles. After failing to meet a Commonwealth deadline for setting national elections by 2010 Fiji was "fully suspended" on 1 September 2009.
In 2008, after New Zealand refused to grant a study visa to the son of a Fijian government official due to the postponement of elections, Fiji expelled New Zealand's acting high commissioner to Fiji. In response, New Zealand expelled Fiji's high commissioner to New Zealand.
On 5 December 2006, Fiji's largest newspaper, the Fiji Times, refused to publish the next day's edition, citing military interference. Soldiers had occupied the premises and warned against publishing "propaganda" from the deposed government. The soldiers had insisted on monitoring news content and demanded approval rights for editorial material, as well as access to news sources. The Daily Post also reported receiving military threats and has since been closed since the coup began. Following this event, Fiji TV, under pressure from the military, pulled its late evening news bulletin from the air. Fiji TV announced it would not run any more news bulletins until it was satisfied the army would not interfere in its content. It was reported that the military entered the premises of state radio station Fiji Broadcasting Corporation; due to reported military scrutiny of its news scripts the radio station has closed down.
On 6 December, the military allowed Fiji Times Limited to resume publication without any interference from its armed forces.
In March 2008, the publisher of the Fiji Sun, Australian citizen Russell Hunter, was deported on the orders of the interim Defense Minister, Ratu Epeli Ganilau, who claimed that Hunter was a threat to "national security". Opponents of the military-backed government claim that it was a blatant attempt to intimidate the media.
Long term aimsEdit
Bainimarama's stated justification for the coup, regarding the long-term aims of the interim government, has been to "lead us into peace and prosperity and mend the ever widening racial divide that currently besets our multicultural nation". Above all else, he has emphasised the need to root out racially discriminatory legislation and attitudes, and emphasise the common national belonging of Fiji's citizens, above any form of ethnic self-identification.
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly in September 2007, he stated:
[I]n 1970, Fiji started its journey as a young nation on a rather shaky foundation, with a race-based Constitution, one which rigidly compartmentalised our communities. The 'democracy' which came to be practised in Fiji was marked by divisive, adversarial, inward-looking, race-based politics. The legacy of leadership, at both community and national levels, was a fractured nation. Fiji's people were not allowed to share a common national identity.
Of the two major communities, indigenous Fijians were instilled with fear of dominance and dispossession by Indo-Fijians, and they desired protection of their status as the indigenous people. Indo-Fijians, on the other hand, felt alienated and marginalised, as second-class citizens in their own country, the country of their birth, Fiji. [...]
[P]olicies which promote racial supremacy [...] must be removed once and for all. [...] Fiji will look at making the necessary legal changes in the area of electoral reform, to ensure true equality at the polls. [...] [E]very person will be given the right to vote for only one candidate, irrespective of race or religion.
Fiji's race-based electoral system would be replaced by a "one citizen, one vote" system with no ethnic differentiation. This was to be achieved, he declared, through a People's Charter for Change, Peace and Progress, the stated aim of which was to "rebuild Fiji into a non-racial, culturally-vibrant and united, well-governed, truly democratic nation that seeks progress, and prosperity through merit-based equality of opportunity, and peace".
Jon Fraenkel and Stewart Firth have described the 2006 coup as "a coup of the radicals amongst the westernized elite, who sought to superimpose a national consensus upon a divided social order", "a coup of utopians seeking to transcend, rather than mould, social forces that they deemed responsible for long-run ethnic disquiet and poor governance".
Hamish McDonald, interviewing Bainimarama for the Sydney Morning Herald in October 2007, described it as "a revolution against the country's chiefly and church establishment". He quoted Bainimarama's criticism of the chiefly provincial councils, for allegedly dictating to indigenous citizens whom they should vote for, and of the Methodist Church, for allegedly encouraging indigenous "hatred" against Indo-Fijians.
Question of legality / immunity from prosecutionEdit
Jona Senilagakali, after being appointed Prime Minister, stated that he thought that the military coup constituted an illegal act, though a lesser illegal act when compared to the rule of the previous government.
It is legally unclear whether removal of a government with the consent of the President would constitute a coup, as that term is usually understood. According to the Constitution of Fiji, under certain conditions if a state of emergency is declared, the President will be able to legally appoint an interim government. However, it is uncertain that the President chose of his free will to remove the Prime Minister, rather than simply appearing to accede to the demands of the military. In 2007, following the military coup, six Australian and New Zealand judges resigned from the court. They were replaced by two Malaysian judges, "with more appointments from Asia expected to follow soon". The legality of the actions of the military was subject to review by a High Court in 2008 and the Court of Appeals in 2009, the consensus of legal opinion was that the actions of the Fijian military constituted an illegal act. Given that one of the grievances of the military was the alleged leniency of the treatment of the perpetrators of the 2000 coup, the irony of the situation has provoked comment from a number of observers.
On 18 January 2007, President Iloilo signed a decree granting the Commander and all military personnel, along with all officers and members of the police force, prison officers, and all who served the interim government formed after the coup, immunity from all criminal, civil, legal or military disciplinary or professional proceedings or consequences. The decree was published in a government gazette.
Tupou Draunidalo, Vice-President of the Fiji Law Society, denounced the decree as illegal. Ousted Prime Minister Qarase also lambasted it as hypocritical, saying that as opposing a proposed amnesty for perpetrators of the 2000 coup was one of the reasons given by the Military for carrying out this coup, it was inconsistent to grant themselves immunity.
In March 2008, Fiji's High Court began proceedings on the case brought by deposed prime minister Lasenia Qarase, who has asked the courts to rule on the legality of the military takeover. The Bainimarama government's lawyers have submitted that the court lacks jurisdiction to question President Iloilo's decision to appoint the interim government. Qarase's lawyers have countered by suggesting that the court should consider whether the invocation of the doctrine of necessity in the overthrow of the Qarase government was justifiable.
High Court ruling on the legality of the coupEdit
On 9 October 2008, the High Court delivered its ruling on the case submitted by Qarase, regarding the legality of the interim government. The Court found that President Ratu Josefa Iloilo had acted lawfully when he had appointed Bainimarama as prime minister.
Following the ruling, Fiji’s interim attorney-general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, called upon Australia, New Zealand, the European Union and the United States to lift the sanctions they had imposed on the country, stating that they could no longer refuse to recognise the interim government.
Appeal Court ruling against the coup's legalityEdit
On 9 April 2009, the Fiji Court of Appeal ruled that the coup had not been legal and that the "only appropriate course of action at the present time is for elections to be held to enable Fiji to get a fresh start." Bainimarama responded to the ruling by saying that he was giving up his post as prime minister. Following the ruling the President of Fiji suspended the country's constitution and removed all judges from office.
Questioning the initial legitimacy of Qarase's governmentEdit
Following the military coup which ousted Laisenia Qarase's government in December 2006, the "interim government" led by coup leader Frank Bainimarama received unexpected support from the Fiji Human Rights Commission (FHRC) and its chairwoman Shaista Shameem. The latter agreed with Commodore Bainimarama's expressed views regarding Prime Minister Qarase's allegedly racist and divisive policies. In 2007, the FHRC commissioned an inquiry into the 2006 general election (which had seen Qarase re-elected as prime minister), intended to reveal whether it had truly been "free and fair".
The Commission of Inquiry delivered a report which "identifie[d] deficiencies and anomalies at every stage of the election process". More specifically, the report stated that Indo-Fijian voters were provided with incorrect information regarding the voting process, that they were mis-registered in their constituencies to a far greater extent than other voters, and that, as an ethnic group, they faced specific impediments to voting (such as an absence of voting slips required for Indo-Fijian voters) in key marginal constituencies. There was also evidence of ballot boxes having been tampered with. Dr. David Neilson, a member of the Commission of Inquiry, wrote:
The registration process was both inadequate and biased and submissions strongly indicate campaigning involved deliberate and explicit vote-buying near polling day by the SDL party in league with the broader state. [...] The evidence does not provide systematic quantitative proof regarding the extent to which bias and vote-rigging altered the election outcome. But it provides a strong prima facie case that the elections clearly fell short of "free and fair".
Neilsen's claims were subsequently challenged by one of the 2006 election observers, who claimed that the New Zealand political economist had 'failed to understand' the mechanics of Fiji's electoral process. David Arms, who serves as a member of the Electoral Commission under Bainimarama's government, described the Neilsen/Lala/Vakatale report as weak and claimed that there was "undue haste in its preparation" (Arms, ‘A Critique of the Report of the Independent Assessment of the Electoral Process in Fiji’, 31 July 2007). The report was commissioned by ex Fiji Human Rights Commission director Shaista Shameem, who had publicly backed the military takeover. According to Arms, Dr Neilsen and his colleagues reached the verdict that the 2006 result had been ‘rigged’ mainly on the basis of evidence gleaned at public hearings, without any independent effort to verify the accuracy of the allegations. Arms' report states that most of those who showed up at the hearings had an axe to grind. They were defeated candidates or supporters of political parties that had performed poorly at the polls. Dr Nelsen's only evidence of electoral fraud had to do with alleged bias in the treatment of Indian voters' registration slips. However, election observer and Fiji-specialising academic Jon Fraenkel claimed that Dr Neilsen's claims were false:
I was a University of the South Pacific election observer during the 2006 election. Early in election week, the problem of officials finding the names of voters on one roll, but not on the other, became apparent and much discussed. I personally raised this with the Fiji Elections Office, and was told that – although the colour-coded registration slips handed out to voters at the time of registration were often in error, the electoral rolls themselves were not. Over the following days of election week, I tested this claim by requesting presiding officers in the polling stations to show me their logbook records of voters who had been able to cast only one vote because their name could not be found in a corresponding open or communal constituency. In every case I checked, the Elections Office was correct: it was possible for presiding officers, if they ignored the registration slips, to use any one correct entry on the electoral roll to find the other. In other words, the problem lay with the registration officials and with the training of polling station officials. It was not an indication of systemic bias or ballot-rigging. In any case, during the final days of election week, in somewhat chaotic circumstances, the Fiji Elections Office effectively dispensed with the electoral rolls as a means of avoiding duplicate voting and allowed citizens whose name was found on one roll to cast a second vote on a corresponding open or communal roll, even if their name could not be found. From that point, prevention of duplicate voting depended solely on reference to the ink marked on voters’ fingers'.
Return to democratic elections in 2014Edit
Elections to parliament were originally scheduled for March 2009, but it was not held then because politicians could not agree to the People's Charter for Change, Peace and Progress. Between 2009 and 2014 many public announcements and requests were made and on 23 March 2014 the interim government announced the election would be held on the 17 September 2014.
The Fijian general election, 2014 was held on 17 September 2014. The elections were to be held under the new constitution. Bainimarama's FijiFirst party won with 59.2% of the vote, and the election was deemed credible by international observers.
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