The army has staged a coup in Fiji taking over executive control and declaring a state of emergency.
It is the 4th Fiji coup since the first one staged by Col Sitiveni Rabuka in May 1987.
Army Commander Frank Bainimarama declared at 6pm Tuesday that he had “stepped into the shoes of the President” and taken control of the nation. He named retired civil servant and former Fiji ambassador Dr. Jona Seinilagakali as interim prime minister.
Bianimarama’s actions followed a Government House statement distancing itself from the actions of the military. The President Ratu Josefa Iloilo made it clear that his office neither condoned nor supported the illegal takeover of the government, after days of speculation that the President’s office would support the Commander.
Up to then Bainimarama had hoped that the takeover could be legally instituted with the President dismissing the prime minister, dissolving Parliament and appointing an interim administration.
However, he claimed that the President’s statement distancing itself from the actions of the army, was issued under pressure from the Vice President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi and “others”.
This was based on reports that early yesterday morning the President’s office had asked the prime minister to concede fully to the army’s demands or to resign. The Prime Minister refused to resign but was unable to hold a Cabinet meeting scheduled for Tuesday morning.
Relations with the media took a nose dive last night when the army tried to stop the Fiji times and Fiji TV from running statements from the deposed prime minister and his Cabinet ministers. TV has since suspended its news programmes claiming it will not report under censorship and control. The Fiji Times also did not publish last night but is expected to resume normal publication from tomorrow.
The military takeover followed weeks of stand off between the Laisenia Qarase led government and the army over government policies and contentious legislation. The government, returned to power in May 2006, had become increasingly unpopular in recent months as economic misrule and financial mismanagement and corruption brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy and increased social distress as more than half the population faced dire poverty or lived at risk of it.
Bainimarama issued a 9-point demand to the government warning Prime Minister Qarase that if he did not concede to the army’s demands, the army would step in and would do it themselves.
Qarase, placed under house arrest yesterday, was early this morning put on a plane and flown out to his island home in the Lau groups. His chief executive officer Jioji Kotobalavu was arrested by the army and taken to military HQ in Nabua.
After that, the military spent the morning consolidating its position – all CEOs of government ministries were taken to the army HQ in Nabua for a meeting with the Commander who is now self-appointed president of Fiji.
Also the Police under command of deputy Commissioner Moses Driver was meeting in Nasinu, surrounded by armed guards, to discuss the current political crisis. He had refuted claims by the Commander that the army and police would cooperate to ensure law and order in the nation.
The army also moved into Parliament this morning but allowed the Senate sitting to continue tomorrow. It is expected that Parliament would be dissolved by Friday.
A special gazette notice declaring a state of emergency is being printed at the Government printery today.
The army chief expects to call a council of chiefs meeting soon to re-appoint Ratu Josefa Iloilo as President.
He said elections would be considered after the country returned to stability and new electoral rolls could be readied.
Capital city Suva remains calm and most businesses and retail shops are operating as normal despite several army roadblocks at strategic points leading into the city. The army has warned it will not allow any attempts to disrupt law and order.
Among the army’s 9-point demand are:
- The scrapping of all three contentious Bills: the Amnesty Bill, the Qoliqoli and the Indigenous Claims Tribunal Bill
- PM to get rid of all Ministers complicit in the 2000 coup and to make a public statement to say that the 2000 coup and army mutiny were illegal and unwarranted
- Remove Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes
- Scrapping of all investigations against the army for sedition etc
- Disbanding of the Police Tactical Response Unit
- The NLTB to drop its commercial arm and continue with its core function of administering native lands
- To ensure good governance govt to introduce Code of conduct legislation and anti-corrupt practices legislation