President Ratu Josefa Iloilo told the Prime Minister in a meeting on 18 June that he must withdraw the highly controversial amnesty Bill.
The request surprised Prime Minister Qarase who had actually asked the President to use his influence to curb public criticism of the Bill by the army commander and get him to toe the government line.
He had also connived to have a Great Council of Chiefs delegation visit the President to influence him against the army commander.
The Labour Party was aware of these developments and the President’s directive to the PM but received further confirmation of this through a Fiji Times article on 25 June by freelance journalist Wainikiti Bogidrau whose husband is an army officer.
Bogidrau’s article confirmed the growing public perception of a serious rift between the army and the Qarase government on matters relating to the setting free of people convicted for involvement in the May 2000 coup and the mayhem that followed.
The army has taken a very vocal critical stance on the amnesty Bill which facilities the release of all those convicted for coup-related offences.
Bogidrau says the PM has still to give an answer to the President. She speculated that although the PM is not bound to accept the advice, rejecting it would pose a serious political dilemma for him. Defiance of the President would mean defiance by a commoner of the chiefs who had appointed the President.
The coming GCC meeting next week will see some of this internal politics at work as the government will lobby hard with the chiefs to get their support.
Will this leave Ratu Josefa and the army isolated?