Action needed to restore democracy
The release last week of the hostages held through armed force by George Speight and his armed thugs is a short, but important step towards the restoration of the elected government led by Prime Minister Mahendra Chauhdry. It is now possible for Mahendra Chauhdry to rally the Fijian and Fijian-Indian forces who voted overwhelmingly for his government only a year ago. Fijian-Indians make up 44 per cent of the population of Fiji, yet Speight and his supporters and the Great Council of Chiefs, (an exclusive indigenous Fijian body) are attempting to exclude them from any part in the government of the country. Any government based solely on indigenous Fijians can only be described as racial discrimination. In statements following his release, Mahendra Chauhdry of the Fijian Labour Party, has called for the reinstatement of his elected government. He said that some Indo-Fijian and indigenous Fijian business circles had plotted his government's removal. His statement reveals that the real reasons for the coup were not based on ethnicity but on commercial interests. George Speight is himself a businessman with a shady past. He is an undischarged bankrupt and appeared in the Suva High Court on charges of extortion four days before staging the coup. He is a descendent of a fourth generation white settler. Mr Chauhdry said that "Our commitment to [democratic] principles requires the reinstatement of the legitimate, democratically elected people's coalition government. "The opposite of that would be to condone an act of anarchy and the unlawful seizure of a government elected by the people. We don't have much of a choice." The overthrow of the Chauhdry Government is the second occasion that an elected Labour Party Government has been overthrown by the military which is dominated by indigenous Fijians. On the first occasion the Prime Minister was Dr Bavadra who was an indigenous Fijian and had advocated rights for workers. "Smart sanctions" While the ACTU lifted the sanctions that had been imposed following the coup at the request of the Fijian Trade Union Congress, ACTU President Sharan Burrow has called on the Australian Government to impose "smart sanctions". She said that "After 50 days of being held to ransom by George Speight, the hostages and supporters of democracy in Fiji need decisive action from the Australian and other international Governments. You have to question the legitimacy of a government that leaves half the community unrepresented", she said. The Speight coup has done considerable damage to the Fijian economy, but this seems to be of no concern to Speight and his followers. The tourist industry has been wrecked and other small manufacturing enterprises disrupted. Fiji's economy largely depends on sugar, tourism and its commercial dealings with other countries. At the time of going to press, the Australian Government has not yet announced what action it will take although Foreign Minister Downer previously called for the restoration of the elected government under the existing Constitution which incorporates the principle of multi-racial democracy.