Although the AFP is reporting that the noon deadline set by Fiji’s military commander for the government to agree to his demands or face a coup has passed quietly, there is still an agreement amongst Fiji experts that a coup will happen at some stage. Fiji sources have told Crikey that Chief of the Fijian Defence Force Commodore Frank Bainimarama has extended the deadline until Monday.
Peter Thomson, who spent fifteen years in the Fiji government service and was permanent secretary to the Fiji Governor General in 1987, told Crikey that he was experiencing a strong sense of deja vu this morning — Thomson was jailed in 1987 after the second coup for his part in standing up against the military takeover.
“This coup, if it happens, is very different from the past three coups,” Thomson told Crikey. “For one reason in particular — the previous coups were about consolidating indigenous Fijian interests whereas this coup pits an indigenous Fijian army against a predominantly indigenous Fiji government. For the first time, the non indigenes are, in a sense, bystanders.”
“Having said that, the non indigenes also have much to lose from the current instability because the Fiji economy will inevitably take a dive and Fiji’s political health and national ethos will once again suffer.”
Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase has appealed to the military chief not to act outside the law and topple the democratically-elected government and on Thursday, the government agreed to several of Commodore Bainimarama’s demands, including suspending three controversial pieces of legislation. But the military chief says his demands are non-negotiable and the government has not gone far enough.
Thomson told Crikey, “talk of Australian intervention is foolhardy. The Fijian military is a highly trained, professional force,” says Thomson. “Even talking about Australian intervention, which I don’t consider a reality, is counterproductive because it gives the Fiji military a nationalistic excuse to mobilise.”
Meanwhile, Fiji’s police commissioner Andrew Hughes says he is still Fiji’s police commissioner despite returning to Australia for his own safety. “It’s very regrettable that the police commissioner, who has had a sterling reputation in Fiji up to this point, has chosen this moment to go on leave,” Thomson told Crikey.
“The presence of people like Commissioner Hughes and the RAMSI force in the Solomons is of particular importance on the ground at times of crisis.”
“Many Fiji analysts feel that this coup, if it happens, signifies that the army sees for itself a permanent place in the body politic of Fiji in the manner of such countries as Thailand and Pakistan,” says Thomson. “Regrettable as this may be for democrats around the world, we may have to learn to live with that reality unless the Fiji military itself chooses to back away from that position.”
And as the coup deadline passes quietly in Fiji, a meeting between Pacific Islands foreign ministers has kicked off in Sydney. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has just come out of discussions with Fiji’s Foreign Minister Kaliopate Tavola and Crikey understands that Fiji’s request is to not be subject to Australian military intervention or RAMSI-style intervention, but to be provided with support so that proper discussions can be held in order to reach some solution to the problem.