Among taboo topics…..Fiji’s coup culture

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Fijian military troops blockade the entrance to Prime Minster Laisenia Qarase’s residence in Suva on Tuesday, December 5, 2006. Picture: AP

Interesting opinion by Dr Jalesi Nakarawa in the FT 25/11 entitled ‘End the coup culture’.

I feel this topic has been shelved along with other topics such as teenage sex and become taboo topics where only those who talk about it are those who are willing to change their mind-sets or for a deeper understanding of the subject or a better Fiji!

I remember too clearly that day of our first coup back in 1987. I was in the 3rd form, which was the most junior at our high school. The events that happened that day were swift.

I recall that we had no inkling of what was happening in our country or how it would affect us.

That day the only message that was being relayed to us in so much that we knew that whatever was happening was not good was the body language and the panicstricken looks on our teachers’ faces, and it did not take long for the directive to be issued that we were required under the circumstances to go home.

Our first reaction was one of joy in that home is where the heart is and our security and happiness was at home!

I mean who wanted to be locked within the four walls of a classroom all day?

At home, mother put the radio on to listen to updates as there was no TV in those days, and just as we would do with mum while tracking cyclones, we listened to updates on the stance of our beloved nation.

The bleakest message that bore the truth of that day came to us in the song that was repeatedly played by the radio station, “The future’s so dark, I gotta wear shades”. The next couple of days we spent learning a totally new and foreign word — coup d’etat — its meaning, its spelling, and its pronunciation.

Of course, our first reaction as country kids was to associate it with ‘chicken coup’!

“No silly, it’s not that coup!” we were told. Well, we did learn a new word and we did learn its meaning and how to pronounce it, and after it happened a second and a third time, it became kind of laborious and outdated as each time we felt the pace of life slow to a halt.

We saw the damage it did to our beloved nation and the sad innocent deaths it caused, and we began to doubt the Fiji that we had grown up in and were so proud of as home to the friendliest people in the world.

In my opinion as a simple, grassroots woman of Fiji, coups happen when there is a true sense of insecurity and in this case, it all links to the political arena of our beloved nation and the love of my indigenous brothers and sisters in particular.

Now here are some major points of observation raised by Dr Nakarawa that bring much to mind for someone like me who is still learning the link between history and politics, the law and politics, culture and politics, the military and politics and religion and politics. Under history and politics, the saying, ‘history repeats itself’ comes to mind where this coup culture seems the prevalent way to resolve problems that have resulted from diplomacy.

In this case, history prevails. Under the law and politics, Mr Voreqe Bainimarama’s statement hat his coup was to end all coups s now being questioned by the interpretation of Section 131(2) of he 2013 constitution and the fact hat judicial interpretation of he clause has not happened since 013, is evidence that even our leal scholars are yet to give an interpretation for this section which leaves it open to interpretation.

If this section is viewed as a matter of national security, then it leaves the people only two options for dealing with it: a) Legally – Through an amendment to the supreme law which is covered in Chapter 11 under Amendment of Constitution, and following all previous prerequisites, culminates in Section 160(6) which states that if the outcome of the referendum is that threequarters of the total number of the registered voters have voted in favour of the Bill, then the President must assent to the Bill, which shall come into force on the date of the Presidential assent or on such other date as prescribed in the Bill.

The question here is if that three-quarters is achievable. b) To abrogate the law by ‘thinking outside the box’ which may result in yet another coup as the threequarters referendum looks way overstated and not achievable. For those of us who are looking for a better understanding of Section 131(2), it states – It shall be the overall responsibility of the Republic of the Fiji Military Forces to ensure at all times the security, defence, and well-being of Fiji and all Fijians. If that is taken literally on its own without any links to other parts of the constitution, then it could be viewed as entrenching the military in politics.

I’d like to think of the law as the Bible where no part conflicts with any other and all parts work together to give its believers its ultimate message of love. I’d also like to think of it as the 10 Commandments law where no part conflicts with any other and all parts work together to make the supreme law of God.

And so, I bring to light Section 154 (1) which states:

The Prime Minister may, on the recommendation of the Commissioner of Police and the Commander of the Republic of the Military Forces, declare a state of emergency in Fiji, or a part of Fiji, and may make regulations relating to a state of emergency, if there are reasonable grounds to believe that – a) the security and safety of all or part of Fiji is threatened; and b) it is necessary to declare a state of emergency to deal effectively with the threatening circumstances.

The rest of the points (2) – (5) constitute the remaining conditions under Chapter 9 of our constitution headed Emergency Powers.

I guess my point here is that the military comes under a ministry having a minister [Section 131 (6)] and its responsibility is to ensure the security, defence, and well-being of all Fijians by working together with the Prime Minister and the Commissioner of Police of the day. The law prevails here. Where culture and politics are concerned, I feel ethnicity plays a major role in either its success or demise. Naturally, my indigenous brothers and sisters will want to keep an interest in the welfare of Fiji.

Yet it seems that more than once, the reins have fallen out of their hands and the horses have changed course without their direction. Here is where the threat is eminent and the reliance on coups to grapple at the reins seems the only way forward. Is there another way?

Can we possibly unite and come to a peaceful solution for such a small nation? History has proven it so of other nations.

Why not us? Most of all natural resources in this beloved country belong to our indigenous brothers and sisters and through their love and understanding we have come into existence. Power still rests with them as long as they own the resources.

The question is, how do you tie resources and politics together and still hold the reins tight with diplomacy? I leave this to my indigenous brothers and sisters to figure out. Just know that we all love our country, and we are here to help because you have made it our home too.

It’s one of those unchangeable things. Here is where culture prevails and only those who know the deep side of it truly understand.

The military and politics bring me to a recollection of events at a recent installation of a prominent, indigenous chief here in Fiji.

There were a few hiccups that day but all in all the message that I received and was the conclusion to the whole matter was –before the government, was the vanua!

So, I guess the first and foremost loyalty of the military should truly lie with the people of Fiji.

But in the respect that comes with it! There are many hats to wear, many opinions to share, and many burdens to bear. We just need to know how to work it all together for the good of the nation!

As for religion and politics, it’s best to leave that to God who owns us, the resources, the country, and the world and to whom we owe our allegiance and praise and to whom we need to continually uplift the Serenity Prayer: “O God and Heavenly Father, grant to us the serenity of mind to accept that which cannot be changed, courage to change that which can be changed, and wisdom to know the one from the other through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen”.

  • NOLEEN BILLINGS is a regular letter writer and the views expressed in this article are hers and not necessarily of The Fiji Times