- Here is part 1 of the speech DR BRIJ LAL was to have given tomorrow at the Fiji Institute of Accountants Congress in Nadi. These are excerpts from his handwritten notes.
THE invitation to speak at this gathering was extended to me at a time that is so rapidly vanishing beyond recall. The Constitution was still in place, even though it was observed more in the breach; a political dialogue process, although fraught and flawed in many ways, was under way; the international community was expressing a cautious and conditional willingness to get engaged to rescue Fiji from the cul-de-sac it was in; and there was a glimmer of hope – just a glimmer – that Fiji might finally find its feet on the ground again.
But all that is now gone. There is now no pretense about finding a solution to Fiji’s political problems in a timely fashion, in consultation with its friends in the regional and the international community.
Fiji is now telling the world: “We will find solutions to Fiji’s problems on our own terms, in our own time. The international community must not dictate terms. Fiji is a sovereign nation. Leave us alone.
There is a palpable sense of exasperation in the voice of the interim administration: “We are the guys who are on the right side of history; we are doing the right thing; why doesn’t the world understand us?”
This question goes to the heart of the topic given to me: “Fiji and the International Community: Acceptance or Isolation: Are these the only choices?”
My response is: No. I don’t think acceptance and isolation are the only two choices available to the international community when dealing with Fiji. There is another alternative: Accommodation. And there is an alternative to Monologue: Dialogue. I shall return to this theme later.
This coup is in marked contrast to the first coup of 1987. The world then was a simpler place. The fax machine was the latest invention, and it was possible to deprive society of the oxygen of information and commentary. But the world since then has changed beyond recognition.
Now censorship is enforced in Fiji and self-censorship encouraged, but technology cannot be so easily intimidated. Blogsites abound, spreading information as well as misinformation to all those who want them across the world.
The boundaries are simply too porous to be easily policed. They are transgressed at the click of a button. The whole exercise of controlling speech is futile and self-defeating.
There is another difference with 1987. Then the message was clear, even though it was based on spurious assumptions. The message was the defense of indigenous rights against the interests and aspirations of an immigrant community.
The international community, unable or unwilling to decipher the more unseemly motives of the principal actors, was willing to believe the message. But the message this time around is not clear, which is one reason for the present confusion.
Initially the coup was justified as a “clean-up campaign”. A few months later, another rationale crept in: Electoral reform and the implementation of a so-called Peoples’ Charter, the latter a kind of development plan, presented to the people as the military’s exist strategy and as a panacea for all the ills afflicting the nation.
More recently, another rationale has crept in: To create a perfect, corruption free, politics-free society. As the Interim Prime Minister puts it, “I want to rid politics from decision making that has an impact on our economy, our future. We cannot be beholden to petty politics, communal politics, provincial politics and religious politics.”
He did not use the word, but he could have been talking about creating a utopia. And when you are engaged in that mammoth task, timeliness and accountability are irrelevant.
In 1987, the military coup was always intended as a means to an end, and not an end in itself. The end was the entrenchment of Fijian control of the political process After a few chaotic months, Sitiveni Rabuka eventually handed power back to civilian rulers who then chalked the path back to parliamentary democracy.
Now the situation is different. You do not have on the national stage chiefs of mana and overarching influence, such as Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara or Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, who can exercise a moderating, stabilising influence on developments. Now, the military having hobbled indigenous institutions of power, is much more intent on being centrally involved in reshaping the future of the country in its own image.
They are here to stay: That message comes out loud and clear from a whole raft of things the interim administration has done since abrogating the Constitution on April 10.
Whether it is civil society organisations, the media or the Fiji Law Society, the message from the military is the same: “We are in control, and we intend to remain in control for a very long time.”
The military and the interim administration have tried very hard to convince the international community that their main aim is to create a truly democratic society in Fiji that is just and fair to everyone. They want an allegedly very undemocratic constitution to be rewritten so that every citizen has equal rights.
One would have to admit that there are some – perhaps many – people both in Fiji and abroad who are willing to believe this, and give the interim administration the benefit of the doubt. That is, they believe that the military is dead earnest about creating a perfect democracy, after which it would voluntarily leave the stage for politics to operate as normal.
I am prepared to accept this assertion for the sake of argument, just as those who embrace the military’s vision must, by the same token, accept the position of those who express grave reservation, as many in the international community do.
There is the argument that by simply having a non-racial system of voting will not remove race as a factor in politics. Just look at Guyana or Malaysia, to take just two examples, and the evidence is clear.
There are those who argue that an electoral system, however perfect, is a means to an end, and not an end in itself. So a prior question has to be asked: What kind of political culture do you want to create in Fiji?
I do not believe that this debate has taken place here. A view has been asserted, but it has not been properly argued.
But let us, again for the sake of argument, assume that the interim administration’s proposed electoral system is adopted.
Two questions then arise. What is the quid pro quo? Will the military then retreat to the barracks? And what happens if the results thrown up by the new system, whatever they are, are deemed unacceptable to the military?
There is another point to consider. Now that we have no constitution in place, the interim administration can simply decree its preferred electoral model into existence and then proceed to hold elections under it, as happened under the 1990 Constitution.
At the back of my mind is another thought that I want to express in the hope of having it debated. And it is this. Increasingly, it seems to me, the powers-that-be are engaged in a project that goes beyond tinkering with the electoral system. They are intent on fundamentally re-structuring of society.
To put it another way, they are engaged in creating utopia in Fiji, as I suggested earlier. This plants seeds of doubt in my mind about elections being held in 2014. 2024 perhaps, but certainly not 2014.
I hope I am wrong.
A central plank in the interim administration’s defense of defiant stance is the notion of sovereignty. Sovereignty, simply defined, is the line that distinguishes one nation state from another.
Historically, there have been two philosophical positions on sovereignty: One by Thomas Hobbes and another by John Locke. The difference between the two lies in the extent of the obligation the state has to its citizens: In one minimal, in the other considerable.
There is now another dimension to consider: Globalisation, which renders national boundaries porous through the impact of travel and technology. Sovereignty is now not an absolute concept, but a contingent one, intersected at various points by provisions of international law.
From the Nuremburg trials onwards, the world has understood international law as not only adjudicating disputes between states but also holding states accountable for the fundamental violations of the human rights of its citizens.
Look at international intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, Rwanda, Somalia, East Timor and Kosovo, and you will see what I mean. So Fiji cannot and should not expect immunity or exception from international disapproval for what has happened here.
The consciousness of civil, political and human rights is now too deeply entrenched in many international instruments and conventions to be ignored or violated with impunity.
Indeed, Fiji is a signatory to many of these instruments. Let us take the Biketawa Declaration. Its seven or so principles include “upholding democratic processes and institutions which reflect national and local circumstances, including the peaceful transfer of power, the rule of law and the independence of the Judiciary, and just and honest government”, and “recognising the importance of respecting and protecting indigenous rights and cultural values, traditions and customs”.
And the declaration stipulates the precise steps to be taken in the event of strife in a member country: The convening of Forum Foreign Ministers meeting, creating a Ministerial Action Group, appointing a fact-finding mission, and so on.
And this is precisely what happened in the case of Fiji. So I am puzzled at Fiji’s umbrage.
A few days ago, Forum Secretary-General Slade expressed a view that is worth pondering: “The welfare of the region is inextricably tied up with the welfare of Fiji. But the present situation in Fiji involves clear disregard of the core values of democracy, good governance and the rule of law recognised by all forum members, as well as the vast majority of the international community, as crucial to the future peace and prosperity of the Pacific Forum region.”
That sentiment is unexceptionable.
Let me take another declaration, the Cotonou Agreement, about which many of you probably know a great deal. There are four fundamental principles which underpin the Agreement: Equality of Partners and Ownership of Development Strategies; Partnership; Dialogue and Mutual Obligation, and finally Differentiation and Regionalisation.
What is important in the context of Fiji is an additional provision in the Cotonou Agreement. Article 8, titled “The Political Dimension”, provides that all parties to the agreement “shall contribute to peace, security and stability and promote a stable and democratic environment”.
The dialogue “shall also encompass a regular assessment of the developments concerning the respect for human rights, democratic principles, the rule of law”, and “shall take full account of the objective of peace and democratic stability in the definition of priority areas of co-operation”.
It is all there in black and white, and I am again at a loss to understand Fiji’s puzzlement at being told that what it is doing is wrong and unacceptable.
The EU will not relax its stance. That much is certain. This is not necessarily what I or many of us want. This is, quite simply, the way things are. And the sooner the people of Fiji are told the truth, the better it will be for everyone. – fiji uncensored