Date: Tue, 30 May 2000 15:02:36 +1200
From: "Douglas Bagnall" <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
Subject: Lament for Fiji

The thing is, the Choudry Government was *good*. They were introducing
a minimum wage. They removed VAT from essential items, and gave other
tax relief to the poor. They *tripled* the social welfare department
budget. They were restoring hospitals, schools, infrastructure. They
reorganised the public service and (fatally, it turns out) stopped the
wholesale privatisation of state assets. OTOH, business was booming.
GDP grew by 7.8% in 1999. Government debt dropped. Foreign exchange
rules were simplified.

The Choudry Government was also popular. Indo-fijians lives are
organised by capital and wages, and they needed a government that
notices these things. Many Indigenous Fijians do to, but they also
exist in a tribal world, where kinship and aristocracy matter. The
largest two of the three major tribal groups supported (or appeared to
support) the government. The Western group -- with the big airport,
most tourists and heaps of sugarcane -- supported the government
directly, and the Eastern group (with their Ratu Mara as president)
supported Choudry at least implicitly. It seems only the Northern group
(who have never been paramount, whom Speight belongs to) supported the
coup to any extent, but that was enough to paralyse the Great Council
of Chiefs (BLV), a constitutional body which should have been able to
deal with this.

The most criticised aspect of Mahendra Chaudry is his abrasive manner
(usually explained as a natural consequence of a trade union career).
He riled people up. This is hardly a criticism in the anglo world, but
is serious in Fiji where consensus is thought important (cf. the
hopelessness of the BLV). It is also said that he repeatedly refused to
allow an armed police guard in parliament, which in hindsight resembles
terrible judgement.

The ostensible reasons for the coup -- that an Indo-fijian dominated
government was planning to steal Fijian lands through surreptitious
legal means -- are unimpeded by fact, but perfect for stirring up
support in the disaffected mad sector that every society has. In truth,
the cabinet contained more Indigenous Fijians than Indo-fijians, and if
the president and senate didn't stop any tricks, the constitution would
have. Land has more constitutional protection than people do in Fiji,
and the gap looks to be increasing.

There are two explanations for the coup that make any sense, and which
can work in parallel.

A new, inter-ethnic, class has arisen in Fiji in the last few years -
an entrepreneurial-managerial elite, distinct from the aristocracy, the
old money, and the petit-bourgeois. Under the previous regime they were
doing quite well, making obscene profits from the dismantling of the
state. George Speight was one of these. When the new government stopped
the privatisation of state assets, they lost their income & raison
d'etre. To top it off, they toppled a major Fijian bank with a volley
of bad loans. If that wasn't enough, George Speight, already bankrupt,
faced fraud charges in Australia, where he lived. By staging the coup,
he avoided jail.

OTOH, he is a pawn in the battles of the aristocracy. Whether or not he
does anything autonomous (and it seems he does -- he's an utter
nutcase), he has either been set up to do this, or conveniently
exploited by his seniors, who are opposed both to the president, and
the prime minister, and their backers and perhaps even the army.

Thus a civil war is likely.


I don't really know. Regarding links to Fiji:

Trade. The major export is tourism, which is already shutting down due
to a consumer boycott of scary places. Second comes sugar, and then I
think clothing. To boycott these also seems unnecessarily cruel to the
98% of people who are not involved. I have cousins in fiji who I don't
want to starve.

Sport. Fiji are world champions in the sport of 7 a side rugby. The
whole country is proud of this, regardless of race, tribe, and class.
(for good reason too -- it is astounding that a population of a few
lakh should produce a world champion team in a medium-sized
international sport). i know that some people on this list like rugby.
you could write to your local rugby union and insist that they boycott
fiji. Americans -- you have a rugby union too, with influence beyond
its strength. I believe that a rugby boycott might help -- for example,
if people want rugby more than they want to kill each other -- and so
does the Council of Trade Unions and  Teresia Teaiwa.  I'm not sure

list of rugby unions:
list of www.rugby unions:

Military. The Fiji Army makes money out of UN peacekeeping, a task
they're very good at. At this moment they are at the very crux of the
crisis in Fiji -- they could restore the government, or they could
destroy the country. Worst, they could break into factions. They should
be held to account for the quality of peacekeeping in their own country
- -- if they can't do a good job there, they should be refused further UN
work (which, again, is their income). So people should pester the UN
and governments to this effect.

Media. A couple of days ago the TV station ran a commended current
affairs program on the situation. Later that night it was smashed to
pieces by about 100 coup supporters. Journalists from all organisations
were threatened. Most foreign journalists fled instantly, which greatly
improved the quality of reporting, and many Fijian journalists have
left Suva. Fijivillage.com used to have 4 or 5 reporters working at
once, but now it only has one. Fijilive.com
(aka pacificjokes.com ) is becoming increasingly broken and is less
frequantly updated. I'm not really sure of their situation, but perhaps
they could do with remote mirroring or technical support.

Note that these are not independant media co-operatives -- they have
owners, and sooner or later their owners will fall into one camp or
another and have an agenda accordingly. I think Fijivillage is owned by
Hari Punja who has denied links to the coup.

For heaps of news links look at Pacific Island Report

douglas bagnall


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