Support democracy in Fiji
Editorial : Support democracy in Fiji
The Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) appointment on July 14 of coup leader George Speight's nominees, Ratu Josefa Iloilo as Fiji's president on July 13 and Ratu Jope Senilopi as vice-president, marked the Melanesian-Fijian elite's capitulation to Speight's annulment of democracy.
An agreement signed between the GCC and Speight guarantees amnesty for the terrorist gunmen who seized and held Fiji's elected government hostage. The soldiers who participated in the coup will be reinstated.
All that remains is for the new "president" to appoint an interim cabinet, which is likely to include other Speight nominees. Speight has threatened further unrest if his supporters are not given control of the new administration. The 1997 constitution will be replaced by one which will meet Speight's chauvinist pledge that there "will never ever be a government [in Fiji] led by an Indian".
Missing from the equation is the democratically elected People's Coalition government, led by the Fiji Labour Party (FLP). The last of the hostages were released, including PM Mahendra Chaudhry, on July 13.
The release of the hostages is a step forward only in as much as it will allow the People's Coalition, FLP and union movement to conduct a thorough campaign for the reinstatement of the elected government. But the appointment of the "civilian" administration and the impending establishment of a constitution which entrenches power in the hands of a handpicked elite will further disenfranchise workers, working farmers and the poor from all Fiji's ethnic groups.
Since colonisation by Britain in 1874, Fiji has been plagued by the rule of an elite which has served the interests of Western capital and gained a privileged position in Fijian society by dominating political structures. Speight's coup, and Sitiveni Rabuka's coups in 1987, followed hard on the heels of the election of FLP-led governments that seemed to threaten the elite's privileges.
The election of Fiji's first multi-racial party, which posed policy in terms of economic and social justice rather than ruling on behalf of particular ethnic groups, needs to be defended. It was an important step by the Fijian working people towards challenging the elite's political domination.
International support for the reinstatement of the FLP-led People's Coalition is essential. Governments, especially the Australian government, must immediately support Chaudhry's July 15 call for the reinstatement of the elected government and any calls from Fiji's trade union movement for help in their campaign for democracy.
The Australian union movement must respond positively and decisively to such calls for solidarity, especially since Australia's imperialist government will have to be forced to impose serious pressure on Fiji's elite. Australian big business has large investments in Fiji and dominates the country's trade. When push comes to shove, the Australian government will maintain good relations with Fiji's despotic elite — an elite it has fostered for decades — because it knows that elite will protect the flow of Australian profits.
For Canberra, democracy and workers' rights in Fiji are secondary. The Australian workers' movement must force it to change its selfish priorities.