A series of recent clashes point to deteriorating relations between the army commander and the Prime Minister.
The most recent incident occurred on Friday evening when the army suddenly withdrew all soldiers posted as security at the prime minister’s residence. The PM’s office was not informed in advance of the withdrawal.
It has left a very angry Laisenia Qarase. The army claimed the soldiers were recalled temporarily to attend an important briefing at the Barracks. But reports confirm that three days later, the soldiers are not back.
Instead Police confirm that they have taken over security detail for the PM and his residence.
The Fiji Labour Party is questioning the use of soldiers to provide security for the PM. It is the duty of the Police to provide security for a civilian prime minister. Why was the army involved in the first place, former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry asked?
Relations between government and the army commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama, however, have been strained for weeks.
A week ago, government confirmed that Comm. Bainimarama’s contract as army chief would not be renewed when it expires next year.
This was preceded by a series of meetings between the army chief, PM’s office and the President over what is believed to be a falling out over the stepped up prosecution of those involved with the May 2000 coup.
Comm. Bainimarama has pushed ahead with the arrest and prosecution of all soldiers involved in the army mutiny of 2 November 2000 and the coup. He has stated publicly that before he leaves office, he wants to ensure that all those complicit in the terrorist events of May 2000 are held accountable.
In doing so, he has obviously come to loggerheads with President Josefa Iloilo and the PM, both of whom are beneficiaries of the coup. The media has published reports of an order signed by Ratu Josefa, no doubt as commander in chief of the army, calling on Bainimarama to drop all investigations against soldiers implicated in the two events of May 2000.
Soon after this, there were reports of government wanting to send Bainimarama away on a diplomatic posting, no doubt to get rid of him. These reports have not been denied by the authorities.
Also last week, in a Media interview that stunned the country, the army chief cautioned politicians against making racial slurs. Although no one was named, he is believed to be pointing at government ministers and SDL Party officials who have issued a number of shocking racist statements against the Indian community and its leaders.
All this takes place against a backdrop of increasing instability, and talks of another coup, as high chiefs with involvement in the coup find themselves facing the long arm of the law. This move began with the departure of Isikia Savua as Commissioner of Police who himself is very closely aligned to the May 2000, and is believed to have suppressed evidence as well as a number of pending cases involving coup-related charges.
First, Naitasiri chief Ratu Inoke Takiveikata was charged. A month ago charges were laid against Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and Cakaudrove high chief Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure who was sworn in as attorney general in coup-maker George Speight’s illegal government. He is charged with taking an illegal oath related to seditious activities.
As a result of these moves, there is panic among other chiefs who now fear they may also face charges for involvement in the political mayhem of 2000… a number of these chiefs are in the Qarase government.
Just this week-end, another Cakaudrove chief, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, with close links to the coup, launched a scathing attack against Commodore Bainimarama on a Fijian language radio.
Unfortunately for these chiefs they cannot even hide behind the protection of the Great Council of Chiefs anymore. GCC chairman Ratu Epeli Ganilau has made it very clear that chiefs involved in the coup must face the full brunt of the law.