19th of May commemorates yet another coup in Fiji
– Fiji’s third , giving the nation the epithet of
Coup-Coup Land – an indication that by now our
coup culture was becoming
something of a joke on the international arena.
The terrorist takeover of Parliament on 19 May 2000, however, was no joke.
It was the most vicious, vindictive and violent usurpation of authority to date
sparking off, what was clearly well orchestrated, rioting in the streets of Suva
with Indian owned shops smashed, looted ransacked and torched.
Damage in the city alone that day was estimated at $35m.
Simultaneous, and also clearly orchestrated, terrorist attacks were mounted on Indian farmers in isolated rural areas of Tailevu/Naitasiri – the home of coup maker George Speight and his rebel supporters. As the terror unleashed, scores of Indian families were forced to flee. Their homes were looted, there were reports of rape and other forms of violence, houses torched, crops and livestock plundered often to provide food for the rebels in Parliament.
The coup unleashed months of violence, political and civil unrest with the terror later spreading to remote areas of Vanua Levu.
In Parliament, Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and 44 members of his coalition government were seized and held hostage at gunpoint for up to 56 days. Mr Chaudhry and his son were brutally assaulted by Speight’s thugs. The Prime Minister had a gun held to his head to force him to resign. He refused, daring the soldier to shoot him.
One of the most devastating features of the 2000 coup was the total paralysis of Fiji’s entire security forces in the face of the continuing violence that was unleashed on the Indian community. Police Commissioner Isikia Savua went surprisingly out of contact while Suva burnt and armed rebels took the Government hostage in Parliament. The Police Mobile Rapid Response Unit awaited orders to act but no orders until hours later, after the damage had been done.
Stories abound about how Commissioner Savua deliberately made himself scarce so that orders could not be given for a counter-attack on the terrorists.
Neither the Police nor the Army came to the relief of victims of terrorism in the Muaniweni/Dawasamu areas. Indeed, Police trucks were spotted taking stolen livestock to Parliament to feed the rebels.
If the 1987 coups had shocked the nation, the 2000 coup shattered the confidence of the Indian community in the security forces – the Police and the Army – responsible for maintaining law and order and providing security to all citizens. They realized how vulnerable they were as a community.
As in 1987, so in 2000 – the army and police were in cohorts with the rebels. Ostensibly, George Speight and his thugs had the armed support of just one faction of the Army – the CRW soldiers. But in truth, it seems the rebels had support and sympathy among the top brass at Queen Elizabeth Barracks.
While George Speight’s involvement in the coup broadened the motive to greed , it is clear that once again racism played a critical role in the political upheaval that took place. Speight tried to hide his true motives behind the banner of indigenous rights – and indeed, found support among ultra nationalists who went around proclaiming “We support the cause but not the method…”
What cause? Once again, as in 1987, there was no real threat to indigenous rights and interests. The multi-racial, Labour-led government in just one year had left a legacy of good governance, economic growth and social reforms that were unparalleled in Fiji’s history.
It was thus clear that the 2000 coup was instigated by nothing more than greed, lust for power and racism at its worst.
In this respect, while the coup in December 2006 may not have been racially motivated, it has created more serious problems for Fiji. Whatever it was that motivated Voreqe Bainimarama to execute the takeover of government in 2006, the long term effects of his coup have been even more devastating, and dangerous, for our nation.
His regime’s 2013 constitution is deeply flawed and has not restored democracy – oppressive laws are still in force, the independence of the judiciary remains circumscribed, workers and trade unions rights have not been restored and the total absence of transparency and accountability in governance continue to be a worry.
The manner in which the parliamentary process is being grossly manipulated by the regime, is another indicator of serious flaws in the system.
It all goes to show just how deeply entrenched totalitarianism has become.