Posts Tagged ‘Fiji’

Seems obvious, doesn’t it?

datePosted on 18:53, April 9th, 2009 by Lew

Lesson 1 for everyone:
Political expedience is no substitute for democratic process.
Lesson 2 for would-be tyrants:
If you’re going to overthrow a state, leave no functional apparatus which might threaten your regime.

The Fijian Court of Appeal has ruled that Frank Bainimarama’s coup was unlawful and that he should be removed from his position as the head of the interim government and replaced with an “independent person” appointed by the President. (No Right Turn has more.)

This is complicated. A few implications I can see (Pablo can probably do better than I, and anyone is welcome to suggest more):

  • The court hasn’t ruled that Former PM Laisenia Qarase should be reinstated – and he would not qualify as an independent person. It’s difficult to think who could, given the regime’s tendency to deport, imprison or intimidate those who didn’t play its game.
  • May 1 is the deadline to announce an election date. However Bainimarama is (I assume) no longer constitutionally empowered to do so. He’s damned either way here – if he fails to do so, he tacitly accepts that he hasn’t the right, and if he does so, then he overrides the court of the land and gives his political opponents a legitimate chance to overthrow the regime.
  • Bainimarama may now be officially illegitimate in law, but he does still command the armed forces in fact, and they have demonstrated in the past few years what they’re prepared to do for him. The task of re-establishing legitimate government is harder than simply declaring an “independent person” the new interim PM.
  • Assuming Bainimarama doesn’t step down, the international community now has firm grounds to throw the figurative book at Fiji, cutting off all aid, trade and diplomatic ties on the grounds that Bainimarama’s government is now illegitimate in law. Indeed, you could argue that they have no choice but to do so. This means a likely deepening of previous policies which haven’t really done much to hurt the regime but have done plenty to hurt the ordinary Fijian people, and could drive Fiji closer to China. Tough call.

Geopolitics is a funny beast. Everyone who’s honest with themselves has known this all along – but it’s taken a panel of Australian judges stating the obvious to pull away the fig leaf and (presumably) force a response.

L

Edit 20090415: Too much has happened over the long weekend for me to write cogently about given the other things I need to do this week, so I’ll refer yous to the excellent Idiot/Savant, with whose judgements I mostly agree on this matter.

Bullying Fiji, Part 2: The Inside Game

datePosted on 14:13, January 29th, 2009 by Pablo

Pursuant to the post of a few days ago, I thought it best to follow up with some facts in order to illuminate some of the complexity of the Fijian situation. In doing so I hope to clarify why NZ’s approach may be counter-productive.

The Fijian armed forces total 3,500 troops. Of those, 3,200 are in the Army and 300 in the Navy (there is no air force). Upwards of 97 percent of these troops are indigenous Fijians, with less than 50 military personnel (mostly Indo-Fijians) coming from other ethnic groups. Most of the non-ethnic Fijians are officers, and most are in the Navy (which nominally has nine patrol boats, only of which 2-3 are operational at any given moment). Twenty percent of the Fijian Army are continually deployed on UN  or other international missions (such as Iraq), with the superior UN pay levels being a prize for both officers and enlisted personnel that is transferred in the form of remittance payments to their families back home. If military veterans and private security contractors are included in the total of men under arms, the numbers of ethnic Fijians well versed in combat swells to over 10,000 (Fiji has a thriving market for private security contractors due to its operational experience in foreign conflict zones). The Fijian Navy has limited combat experience, whereas its Army has seen action in a variety of theaters as well as at home.

What this means is that Commodore Bainimarama, as a member of the smaller service (one that has little ground security responsibilities and no ground warfare experience), serves at the behest of the Army commanders. This is important because, as mentioned in the last post, the Fijian armed forces are a classic praetorian military: they internally reflect the political conflicts surrounding them. Since the Army leadership are ethnic Fijians, the Commodore’s proposals to dismantle the disproportionate representation system that favours ethnic Fijians will have a direct impact on the political fortunes of their indigenous kin. Thus Bainimarama must first negotiate the terms of any such constitutional revision with his own High Command, which in turn will have to accept it before popular resistance within the ethnic Fijian community can be lowered. Moreover, the real power to fight in any Army comes from its Non-Comissioned Officers (NCOs, most often of the sergeant rank), which means that there is at least two tiers of command that have to be convinced that such a move is worth backing in the face of family and tribal opposition. Just having the High Command leadership agree will not necessarily be enough to satisfy the NCOs, and recent Fijian history has shown that it is the lower command ranks that ultimately call the shots (literally) when political factors do not swing their way. Perhaps that is why the process of constitutional reform is so slow.

The South Pacific Forum decision to issue an ultimatum calling on Fiji to announce a date for elections is thus problematic. Perhaps NZ and the other sponsors of the resolution believe that in doing so they are giving the Commodore some leverage with which to push his proposals past the Army High Command while at the same time allowing him the cover of publicly voicing nationalist resentment against the intrusion on Fijian sovereignty. But equally plausible is that the ultimatum serves to undermine Bainimarama’s efforts to convince his flag-ranked colleagues and NCOs of the need to accept the “one-person, one vote” system. Should he be seen as weak in the face of this foreign pressure, it is quite possible that a counter-coup will be staged by the Army that will restore disproportionate ethnic Fijian voting privileges in a future constitutional reform. Having a reserve pool of armed veterans amongst the male ethnic Fijian population makes the prospects  for success of such a counter-coup more likely.

Bainimarama’s regime has relatively few uniforms in civilian ministerial positions and in fact has a  majority of civilian administrators and bureaucrats undertaking the daily operations of the Fijian state. Although the Commodore has a petulant streak and his police are selectively heavy handed with regards to dissidents and foreign diplomats who support them, the regime is not universally repressive of the population (perhaps with good reason given the balance of power within the armed forces). But that could change as pressure mounts from both sides–internally as well as externally. Thus increasing foreign pressure on Bainimarama is slowly backing him into a corner–but perhaps not the one that NZ and its allies want him to be in.

This is just one aspect of the equation. One assumes that MFAT has specialists who are aware of this internal game and are advising the government accordingly. It would be advantageous if there were military to military contacts between the NZDF and Fijian military commanders that might serve as a quiet parallel track to the public diplomacy now ongoing. But as things stand the NZ posture seems to be all rhetoric and little if any influence on this (or any other) internal game. If the Commodore does not meet the SPF deadline and economic and diplomatic sanctions are imposed, what is to say that the situation will not get worse rather than better, at least in terms of a peaceful resolution that leads to the restoration of democracy in Fiji?  At that point it will be the Fijian Army that will decide the outcome, and it may not be the outcome NZ favours.

Bullying Fiji

datePosted on 18:02, January 25th, 2009 by Pablo

The ongoing diplomatic fracas between New Zealand and Fiji stemming from the peaceful coup staged by Vice Commodore Frank Bainimarama and his military allies two years ago has taken on the aspect of farce. Although the Commodore is the personification of a petty despot, in equal measure vainglorious and arrogant, in this stoush he may actually be right. The reason is that New Zealand’s approach to his rule is hypocritical, neo-imperialist , short-sighted and and heavy handed in application.

The 2006 coup was precipitated by the multiple failures of Fijian “democracy,” specifically pervasive corruption rooted in a system of ethnic preferences and disproportionate representation. The Fijian military is a classic example of an “arbitrator” or “mediator” military in a mass praetorian society, so it is always the default option when political conflicts come to a head and threaten social stability. Such was the case in 2006, and the justification for the coup was to eliminate corruption and revamp the political system in order to eliminate the sources of patronage and preference that are the root causes of its endemic malaise. As it turns out, although the military intervention has been condemned by New Zealand and Australia, many Fijians and other island states see it in  a more favourable light. Even those who view the military intervention as a political setback recognize that it is not just a military matter but in fact an internal political conundrum that is for Fijians to resolve.

Condemnation from Anglophone outsiders is seen as a colonial vestige that is counter-productive and a violation of Fijian sovereignty. It is seen as hypocritical because New Zealand enjoys trade and diplomatic relations with countries such as The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Iran, countries with less than stellar human rights records (and in the case of the two Arab states, oligarchical rule), and yet says nothing negative about them. Since the Fijian human rights record is demonstrably better than that of New Zealand’s Middle Eastern partners, it appears that New Zealand is being both precious and selective when it accuses the Commodore of  trampling on Fijian civil  liberties, or when it refuses visas to relatives of the military leadership while at the same time welcoming with open arms and blind eyes diplomatic representatives of authoritarian regimes far more repressive than Bainimarama and company (remember, for example, the warm receptions given to Pakistani president General Musharraf  and various Chinese delegations in the past few years).

From a practical standpoint, the public posturing between Fiji and New Zealand amounts to a diplomatic failure for the latter. For whatever reasons, quiet diplomacy has been abandoned in favour of pubic sniping between the two governments. Being the larger opponent, New Zealand comes across as a bully, one that kowtows to larger authoritarians but then vents its spleen on a smaller state just because it can do so without adverse economic consequences. Hints at Australian-New Zealand military contingency planning should things in Fiji take a turn for the worse only serve to fuel Fijian military paranoia and local resentment at what is seen as post-colonial neo-imperialism on the part of the Antipodean Anglophones.

As things stand, the diplomatic row amounts to an impasse. Given the stalemate, perhaps it is time for New Zealand diplomats to look more closely at the reasons for the coup, the nature of Fijian political debate in its aftermath, the utility of other interlocutors in the region and at opportunities for dialogue in pursuit of common ground rather than engaging in a negative-sum bilateral tit for tat that ultimately proves fruitless in terms of  facilitating the restoration of Fijian democracy . It may be unpleasant to have to deal with the Commodore on his terms, but then again, that does seem to have impeded New Zealand’s relationship with other authoritarians on a host of issues far less important than democracy promotion.

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