Bainimarama’s behind-the-scenes backers were in the judiciary
By Victor Lal
At 6pm on 5 December 2006, Frank Bainimarama, the future dictator of Fiji, declared his takeover of the SDL-FLP multi-party government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. The bleary-eyed Bainimarama, who had been drinking heavily in the RFMF’s Officers Mess before appearing on TV, claimed that he was taking over the Qarase government under the Doctrine of Necessity, a legal doctrine deployed elsewhere, most notably in General Pervez Musharaf’s Pakistan.
However, in the same takeover speech Bainimarama claimed that the RFMF not only believed in the 1997 Constitution of Fiji but it also believed and adhered to constitutionalism. He claimed that he had “stepped into the President’s shoes” (in fact he had illegally stolen the President’s constitutional sulu and sandals) to dismiss the duly and constitutionally elected Prime Minister Qarase.
What of the future? Bainimarama outlined the course of events that were to take place in the next few days after the 5 December 2006 takeover. Let him speak to us: “The takeover will not be permanent; tomorrow I will summon the chief executive officers and charge them with the duty of running their own ministries until an interim government is appointed. During the Great Council of Chiefs meeting next week I will be requesting the Great Council of Chiefs to re-appoint the Turaqa na Tui Vuda as the President. His Excellency will then appoint a caretaker government. In the meantime a military council will provide me with advice. When the country’s stable and electoral rolls and other machineries of election have been reviewed and amended, elections will be held. We trust that the new government will lead us into peace, prosperity and mend the ever widening racial divide that currently besets our multi-cultural nation.”
In February 2006, the former Australian High Commissioner to Fiji, Jennifer Rawson, passed to the US Embassy in Fiji copies of two documents that raised concerns about RFMF Commander Bainimarama’s intentions in the run-up to the 2006 planned elections in Fiji. Both documents were given by the RFMF to the former Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes.
According to Larry Dinger, the then US ambassador to Fiji, it was unclear if Bainimarama meant for Hughes to receive both documents. He specifically directed his staff to give Hughes only the first, a letter Bainimarama had written to Vice President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, dated February 14, 2006, that detailed RFMF complaints against the government and called for the delay of elections until a census was conducted.
The second document, titled “Doctrine of Necessity,” argued that under certain circumstances extra-constitutional action by the military would be justified. Hughes had planned to share the documents with his boss, the Minister of Home Affairs, Josaia Vosanibola. The letter from Bainimarama to Vice President Madraiwiwi stated that the RFMF “would like to express its dissatisfaction and disappointment on the general state of affairs in the country.”
The letter listed a series of complaints about the Qarase led government including: perception of widespread corruption, failure of Fiji’s electoral system, deterioration of the rule of law, and the government’s attempt to destabilise the RFMF. The letter reiterated the point Bainimarama had made to Dinger in February 2006 that unless a census was conducted, the general elections should not be held. Unless there was a census, “the upcoming elections will not be contested on a fair and democratic basis and it will deprive the people of Fiji a truly democratically elected Government.”
The document titled “Doctrine of Necessity” appeared to be anRFMF-prepared think piece on extra-constitutional options and justifications. It began by referring to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which after the military takeover in that country, “declared that when the state of affairs in the country deteriorate (sic) to such an extent (crisis situation) where there is no constitutional provision to provide a remedy, extra constitutional measures can be taken under the doctrine of necessity.” The document enumerated the evidence that the Court relied upon to determine if a crisis existed in Pakistan and noted the Court’s finding that General Musharraf acted for the welfare of the people in taking over the government.
In subsequent pages, the document discussed “the prevailing political, legal and social conditions in Fiji.” It noted that a census had not been conducted, questioned the independence of the Elections Office, and stated that many voters were disenfranchised. Under “Collapse of the Rule of Law” the document attacked the proposed Reconciliation Bill, stating that it was unconstitutional and would result in amnesty for persons convicted of treason and others not yet charged.
The document charged that the Supreme Court was biased, and noted a rift in the judiciary. It stated that “ethnic considerations are now utilised to appoint judicial officers and these have been carried out unopposed by the President of the Fiji Law Society (who is Graham Leung) and the PSC.” It claimed the government was filled with corruption. Finally, the document stated the government had attempted to destabilise Fiji’s military forces “by way of administrative action and trying to incite members of the FMF to rise against the Commander and those loyal to him.”
The final page of “Doctrine of Necessity” listed a number of actions to be taken “in the event extra-constitutional steps are taken”: appoint interim administration, members of which will not contest the next elections; inform the public as to why such action was taken; give assurances to the business community to ensure stable commercial and economic activity; and seek assistance from the international community in order to undertake a census and electoral reform.”
Police Commissioner Hughes told Rawson he didn’t know if Bainimarama meant for him to see the “Doctrine of Necessity” document, whether it was given to him accidentally, or whether an RFMF staffer intentionally gave it to him without Bainimarama’s orders. Rawson told Dinger the document clearly was contemporary, since it referred to issues like the census, and the alleged attempt to incite members of the military “to rise against the Commander.”
The document, at times, used the same wording as the letter to Vice President Madraiwiwi. On the other hand, the document always spoke of the military in the third person, and referred to the “FMF” instead of the “RFMF” as used in the letter. Dinger could not say for sure, therefore, that the RFMF drafted the document.
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