The Guardian August 2, 2000


Fijian coup unravels

The Fijian coup led by failed businessman George Speight began to 
unravel last week when the Fijian Army and the Great Council of Chiefs 
refused to respond further to Speight's blackmail and threats and arrested 
the coup leader and around 360 of his followers. According to reports these 
threats went as far as threatening to assassinate the new President of Fiji 
appointed by the Army and the Chiefs.

However, the new government is not representative of the Fijian people, 
virtually excluding representation of Indo-Fijians.

It is also intended to once again rewrite the Constitution to enshrine a 
privileged position for ethnic Fijians.

The coup of 1987 led by Sitiveni Rabuka went down the same path, 
established a government of ethnic Fijians and rewrote the Constitution to 
ensure their dominance.

However, it did not work and was not accepted by many other countries. 
Eventually, a Constitution had to be written which accepted equal status 
for Indo-Fijians who constitute over 40 per cent of the population.

Many of the Indo-Fijians are third or fourth generation, having been 
blackbirded to Fiji to work on the sugar plantations by the British 
colonialist in the 19th century.

Those ethnic Fijians who are again trying to maintain privileges for 
themselves will once again find that such a course is no longer acceptable 
and fails to recognise the realities of present day Fijian society.

The Government of Mahendra Chaudhry (an Indo-Fijian) was elected by an 
overwhelming vote under the equal status Constitution which meant that many 
ethnic Fijians had also voted for the Labour Party.

The central issue is land ownership which, in the main, remains the 
property of Fijian families and is not privately owned. Indian sugar 
farmers lease the land from Fijian family owners and have prospered under 
this arrangement.

Even though the government just appointed by the Fijian military may 
survive the two or three year period before another general election is 
held, it will not be able to solve the social and ethnic problems if it is 
motivated by an intention to maintain the exclusive political power of 
ethnic Fijians.

A fully elected, non-racial government will have to be re-established 
sooner rather than later. Such a government, however, will need to work 
hard to overcome the racial and hooligan passions raised by George Speight 
and take into account the historic land ownership pattern as well as the 
economic interests of all Fijian citizens, irrespective of racial origin.

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