The Guardian July 19, 2000


Fiji:
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.

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