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Fiji Coup 2000 - the issues

[under construction for years now!]

Introduction Coup icon

On May 19 2000 George Speight and 6 armed men walked into the Fiji parliament buildings in Suva and took the Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhrey and members of his government hostage. They remained hostage for two months. An interrim government of Fijian men has been appointed by the military while the deposed MPs call for democracy to be restored.

Why write this Page?

I have been disappointed with the level of debate going on about the situation in Fiji; the people I have seen supporting the coup have used silly arguments, such as pure racism (Fiji for the Fijians), regurgitated lies (the Indians will steal all the land) or quibbles over presentation (the PM is arrogant). They could have used more reasoned arguments (e.g. the land rent reflects undeveloped value, and does not give landowners sufficient incentive to improve land usage). Many of those against the coup have revealed racist stereotypes of their own.

I am trying to present my views on the coup, which include my understanding of the facts, interpretation of their causes and general philosophy on life.

Disclaimer

Since I am not continually exposed to the news in Fiji, it is quite possible for some of the information I state as basic facts to be mistaken. Since I cannot look into another person's mind, my interpretations of people's motives may be off. But since I can look into my own mind, my view on life remains. People are quite free to disagree with me though.

My Fiji

I lived in Fiji for 4 glorious years, going to school in Nadi and Suva.

Information sources

  • See Fiji Live for up-to-date news. This tends to be anti-coup.
  • Mathilda is a message board that includes some pro-coup comment.

Potted History Wood icon

  • Prehistory. Polynesian settlers arrived about 1500BC, leaving "lapita" pottery for us to look at in museums. Melenesian people arrived about 500BC, and the fusion of these cultures created the indigenous Fijian population.
  • Fiji's colonial past. In 1874 the chief of the small island of Bau, Ratu Seru Cakobau, ceded the islands to the Great Britain. He had proclaimed himself the Tui Viti (King of Fiji) in the 1840s but had experienced difficulties in imposing his authority on the country, despite the help of 2,000 Tongans in 1855. The capital was moved from Levuka to Suva in 1881.
  • Indentured Laborers. To provide labour for sugar plantations while not disturbing Fijian traditions, Indian laborers were introduced under the "girmit" system. Indians agreed to cut sugar-cane for 10 years to become free settlers. This system was in force from 1879 to 1916, and the decendants of these labourers make up a large proportion of the population.
  • Independance. Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara led Fiji into independance in 1970 and ruled until 1987 with brief interruptions in 1977.
  • First Coup. In 1987 Dr. Timoci Bavadra, a Fijian from the West, won the election with a coalition between the Fiji Labor Party and the NFP, which included Indian members in the cabinet. This party threatened to investigate alleged corruption in the previous government, and may have wanted chiefs to share the lease rental money more evenly with their subjects. Former cabinet minister Apisai Tora (co-incidentally appointed to government post-coup 2000) quickly arranged a protest march at "Indian domination" which threatened to deprive Fijians of their land. Of course this was false since the constitution required that the vast majority of land remain held by the chiefs in trust for their people, and was only leased out to Indian farmers (or anyone else). Freehold land in Fiji tends to be just small islands and Suva, and that provision could only be changed with the consent of the council of chiefs (and a super-majority in both houses of parliament). On 14 May 1987 Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka and 10 armed men entered the House of Parliament and took the Prime Minister and his government hostage. They were released 5 days later, with Rabuka remaining as a minister.
  • Post 1987. Many Indians left the country, which meant a slight Fijian majority. A racist constitution was introduced in 1990. Rabuka softened during the Nurses' Strike, becoming more populist and won elections to become Prime Minister. A new multi-racial constitution was introduced in 1997 with agreement on all sides, and Mahendra Chaudhry won elections under it.

Main Players

  • George Speight - under investigation for embezzlement.

Local Grievances

  • Monasavu
  • Turtle Island

Economics Fiji dollar icon

  • Globalism
  • Capital vs. Labour
  • Immigration.

Identity

  • Are you yourself, or what your great grandfather was?
  • Sons of the soil vs. jobholders. In the 21st century, we are not all farmers.
  • Inheiritance vs. Merit
  • Social vs. Economic Status
  • Economic Inheritance vs. Moral inheritance. Accumulating wealth versus sentimental value.
  • Ethnicity. More Samoans live in New Zealand than in Samoa.


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Copyright © 2000, 2005 Carl Muller (carlmuller@hotmail.com). All Rights Reserved.