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NGOs concerned about Fiji rights abuses, five years on from coup

Yesterday marked the 5th anniversary of the 2006 military coup in Fiji. The regime has held on to power since then, ruling largely by decree, and says it will not hold elections until 2014.

Megan Whelan looks at the politics of the past five years, and the prospects for the future.

“As of 6 o’clock this evening, the military has taken over the government, has executive authority and the running of this country.”

December the 6th, 2006, Commodore Frank Bainimarama announced he had appointed himself acting President, and dismissed the Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase.

“Qarase has already conducted a silent coup. Through bribery, corruption, and the introduction of controversial bills. This morning, Qarase refused to attend an audience with his excellency the president, in his excellency’s attempt to resolve the impasse. This action by the Prime Minister has indicated to me and the military, that the government has no intention of solving this crisis.”

Since 2006, the regime has scrapped the country’s constitution, placed censors in newsrooms, and implemented public emergency regulations restricting public meetings.

There have been reports of beatings, intimidation and corruption.

A former soldier, turned academic, Jone Baledrokadroka, says all the promises that were made in 2006 have been broken.

“This messianic sort of mission that they were on prior to the coup has come to be seen for what it is. It is a cruel hoax. Nothing has been achieved. It’s all a pack of lies, if you ask me. If anyone in their right minds still believes in what the dictator says, I think he needs to be read.”

In this year’s budget, Commodore Bainimarama allocated 3.1 million US dollars for electronic voter registration and re-writing the country’s constitution.

He says preparations for the promised elections in 2014 will start in September next year.

Commodore Bainmarama says the next year’s financial plan will empower Fijians, modernise the nation and strengthen the economy.

But a lawyer, Dorsami Naidu points to restrictions on the media and the right to assembly.

He says for some people, life continues as normal, but for others, there’s a pervasive sense of intimidation.

“The man at the ground level, I think he’s more concerned about his bread and butter. He probably doesn’t realise how he’s affected and how employment, the economic state of things in this country is affected, if they know no better.”

A coalition of NGOs has written to the regime, urging it to halt the ongoing serious human rights violations

The International Federation of journalists’ Joshua Bird, says the five year anniversary was a good point to assess whether there’s been any positive change in Fiji.

“Political change can happen very quickly. However, all we can say is that from what we’ve seen so far there’s very little suggestion that there’s any great desire on the part of the Fiji government to introduce the kinds of press freedoms and democratic governance that is needed to have a genuine election. But we remain hopeful that those changes can be introduced.”

Lawyer Dorsami Naidu says he too lives in hope.

“I’m an optimist and I hope that these things come about. We’re not moving very fast, the world economy is not in good shape, and it’s also having an effect of us in Fiji. So, the sooner we get back to constitutional rule, to elections, the better.”

An associate professor at Victoria University in Wellington, Graham Hassall, says he believes the regime has been doing preparatory work on the process of constitutional change, and recognises it can’t stay in place forever.

He says there are still big decisions to be be made in terms of a system of government and land administration.

“Those types of restraints that will impact on the economy, and therefore on decisions that are made about how the economy runs, those are unchanged. And so there’s going to be great challenges in finding a way forward, finding solutions to those ongoing economic challenges which basically haven’t changed, coup or no coup, there’s huge decisions to be made about the use of resources in Fiji.”

Graham Hassall says he believes there is a global expectation that the 2014 deadline will be adhered to.



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