Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Fiji. What a mess. [updated]

Since writing what I thought was a fairly considered piece last year on what's going on in Fiji, things have definitely gone backwards.  Military seizure of the Reserve Bank and compulsory exchange controls; locking up a law Society president who was previously reluctantly supportive of the regime's aims;  sharpening censor's knives; expelling journalists and sacking judges.

I still maintain that it's urgently necessary to sort out the race-based constitution and electoral system and the near-feudal system of race-based land tenure, and that interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama understands this and has these as his goal.

He has three hurdles to overcome however in carrying that out, number one being that sorting out these fundamental constitutional problems while overturning the chiefly power bases is excruciatingly difficult, and number two being that what is difficult has been made even more so by the trade and travel sanctions and pious pontifications of other Pacific politicians, our own not excluded.

Rather than help resolve a problem set up by paternalistic colonial rulers a century-and-a-half ago, the likes of Key and Clark and Rudd have instead placed every barrier in the way they could find, and talked in unthinking knee-jerk fashion as if "new elections" under the old race-based system would be some kind of cure-all balm for a problem created by that very race-based system.

The third problem is of his own making.  He hasn't really done much to help himself.  Any constitution is only as good as the public support for it, and the 'Draft People's Charter' travelling the country was a valiant effort to garner that public support and understanding.  But by sacking judges, shutting down free speech and failing to clearly explain himself to the world (this speech to the UN is practically his only communique to the world) he's done nothing to help himself, and everything to give those pious politicians enough rope to want to have him hanged -- and enough ammunition to put at risk the fragile domestic support for positive change he's built up.

Fiji.  What a mess.

UPDATENational Business Review editor Nevil Gibson has a measured response well worth reading.

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