COMMENTARY: Militarism has always been part of Fijian society and the country needs to find a “corporate” bridge between its civil and military based sectors, believes the man who sparked off the modern day coup culture more than 25 years ago.
Sitiveni Rabuka, then a lieutenant-colonel and third-ranked military commander in the Republic of Fiji military Force (RFMF), led the first two of four coups in 1987. The other coups followed in 2000 and 2006.
Rabuka, later an elected prime minister, was giving his views on “democracy” as a keynote speaker on Friday in a Pacific-wide conference hosted by Canterbury University’s Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies.
“Militarism has always been a part of Fiji culture,” he said. “Militarism has always been a way of thinking.”
The military traditionally believed that they were the final guarantors of the security of the Fijian people.
“Unfortunately, I broke the democracy way and I stand accused,” Rabuka said, adding that he hoped for better relations with the military in future.
He said what was needed was a “corporate” style special committee consulting between the military and the civilian government after the hoped for return to democracy in 2014.
“This would keep tabs on civil-military relations to prevent them breaking down again.”
But he said he believed that the return to democracy in Fiji rested on a fragile election plan that may not eventuate.
If elections did not go ahead, regime Prime Minister and 2006 coup leader Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama would remain in power.
So far, Bainimarama had made no move to establish a new political party, join an existing party or distance himself from the military.
Talking about traditional tribal rivalries and earlier military traditions leading to United Nations peacekeeping duties and politicisation of the army, Rabuka several times cited the famous Battle of Marathon in 490BC when a smaller Athenian army defeated the Persian invading force.
A runner sped to Athens to break the news, declaring: “We have won!”
He said a truth and conciliation “forgiveness” process involving chiefly protocols of “vakaturaga” of the iTaukei culture would contribute to a lasting resolution of Fiji’s problems.
During a plenary session later in the day, Rabuka admitted that he had initially thought the invitation for him to speak at the democracy conference was "a joke”.
“Fiji has had an army destroyer of democracy and a navy destroyer of democracy [Bainimarama] and now I thought they wanted to hear an army destroyer of democracy.”
In a reply to a question about the state of the press in Fiji, Rabuka replied there was a "selective" freeing up of news media debate: "My submission to the Constitution Commission hasn't been reported, for example."
The two-day conference included keynote addresses from current NZ Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, former Labour Minister of Foreign Affairs Phil Goff and wide-ranging papers from Pacific politicians (including a former Pacific Islands Forum chairman), foreign diplomats, academics, researchers, civil society advocates and doctoral students.
"Topics included alternative governance for conflict resolution in the Solomon Islands; conflicting “democracies” in customary and parliamentary governance in Samoa; Tongan constitutional reform; grassroots or top down approaches in overseas territories development aid?; the role of the military in post-colonial Fiji; and peace journalism in the South Pacific: a media and democracy frame in Timor-Leste and West Papua.
Macmillan Brown Centre acting director Dr Malakai Koloamatangi praised the "successful" outcomes of the conference, vowing to plan towards a comparable future event and to establish an "Institute for Pacific Research and Governance".
Pacific Scoop report on the conference
Christchurch Press report
Radio NZ International on Rabuka
Democracy in the Pacific conference details
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