Ratu Tevita Mara

Guest Post: Thakur Ranjit Singh

Thakur Ranjit SinghThe frenzied race for democracy in Fiji: What model the motley crowd promises to deliver?

Thakur Ranjit Singh,

As the race of fight for democracy in Fiji intensifies, it has now reached new heights of political expediency where hitherto diametrically opposed political animals are seen drinking from the same pail. In addition, we witnessed the genesis of a new adage that declares that a foe?s opponent or enemy is a political friend.

However, what still remains uncertain is the model of democracy that can be expected from those whose definition of democracy rests in self-interest or their ability to clamber back onto the gravy train from which they were jettisoned by the military take-over.

The media coup by the military fugitive, Ratu Tevita Mara has taken the fight for democracy to a higher level. Caf? Pacific columnist David Robie recently sought some answers: Who are the media minders behind Mara massaging his military message and what is their agenda? Why are things being taken at face value? Where is the evidence backing up Ratu Tevita’s sweeping allegations?

What have also come under scrutiny are not only the credibility of certain media, but also the credibility of Ratu Tevita Ului Mara and the stance taken by the Australian and NZ governments in bending their rules on military sanctions by granting special exemption to this former military henchman who had suddenly seen the light. This author had questioned the credibility and authenticity of the aristocratic Ratu Tevita who has been dangled as a devotee of democracy.

In presenting a ?smoking gun picture? from the Canberra meeting of the pro democracy and anti-Bainimarama brigade, Graham Davis questioned the motive of those behind the Canberra meeting and the ten point plan put forward to take Fiji back to democracy.?He questioned the inclusion and propriety of Simione Kaitani, a known ethno-nationalist and a former Qarase?s minister, as a pro-democracy campaigner.

Just in the week Ratu Tevita was scheduled to arrive in New Zealand, this author was able to produce his February, 2003 ?dragon-slaying? Close Up programme at Fiji TV, showing the same Simione Kaitani admitting to have committed sedition prior to the march that resulted in Speight taking hostage of Chaudhry?s government on 19 May, 2000.

Davis, in his earlier article had shown a photo of ANU academic, Dr Brij Lal with Kaitani. A clip of Fiji TV Close Up was forwarded to Dr Brij Lal who clarified his position through a personal e-mail to this author. Dr Lal unequivocally denies any previous association with either Ratu Tevita Mara or Simione Kaitani, nor is he in any way formally associated with any organisation. His views on Fiji are longstanding and well known. Dr Lal dismisses any attempt to link him up with the perpetrators of the 2000 coup, and calls it ?mischievous.? He stated that:

What I said in the meeting was what I have always said: that coups are bad, that the path of resistance should be peaceful, that there should be a genuine rather than a politically expedient conversion to the values of democracy. When the meeting concluded, and Padma [Mrs Lal] and I were about to head off to Sydney, Kaitani got himself snapped with me; and on the basis of that single photograph, people assumed that I was supporting Mara and Kaitani and crowd. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Davis had reserved most of his criticism for Kaitani who had been named by one of the soldiers during Speight coup as ?one of the indigenous extremists who?d encouraged George Speight to carry out his coup and was with him in the parliamentary complex.?

It is obvious Ratu Tevita Mara was enlisting support of questionable nationalist elements like one time George Speight?s treasonous Minister Kaitani who also later happened to be Fiji PM Qarase?s Assistant Minister of Information. Then he had appeared on Close Up and admitted his criminal activity of sedition. Contrary to being disciplined, reprimanded or charged by the police, Prime Minister Qarase rewarded Kaitani with a full ministerial cabinet position a month after his criminal confession on national TV. While all this was taking place, Fiji media, including Fiji TV and the normally vocal Rupert Murdoch?s Fiji Times remained mute on this gross violation of good governance. However, Fiji media?s dereliction of duties during Qarase regime is another story to be pursued some other time. Those interested in Fiji?s future and its model of democracy are bound to be confused if not worried. ?The question that arises is: what sort of democracy does the international community seek for Fiji? Kaitani, while admitting his crime, is non-repentant about being a nationalist, and still wants Fiji?s leadership to be in indigenous hands, and seeking ?Fiji for Fijians.? This is verified from the Close Up link.

What is also questionable is the credibility of Rajesh Singh who supposedly leads the makeshift break-away pro-democracy group hosting Ratu Tevita Mara in Auckland.

The break-away group was formed because the legitimate and long-standing Coalition for Democracy in Fiji (CDF), led by Nik Naidu is against the military-man?s visit to New Zealand because of his alleged act of torture in Fiji. On the eve of arrival of Ratu Tevita Mara in Auckland, CDF has filed a criminal complaint with the NZ Police against Mara.

Going back to the organiser of Mara?s trip Rajesh Singh, he is a former organiser for Naitasiri rugby and reportedly considers the Qaranivalu of Naitasiri, Ratu Inoke Takiveikata as his mentor and friend. Ratu Inoke was convicted and implicated for his role in the Fiji military mutiny of 2?November 2000. ?Singh is a former Assistant Minister in Qarase government and was sacked for insubordination. He also reportedly used to visit Ratu Inoke in prison. His political stability and loyalty for democracy is highly questionable because he was working for the Bainimarama government at Fiji Sports Council until recently when he failed to get reappointment. Like Ratu Tevita, he also is a turncoat, one of the inside persons, who had suddenly seen the light once things did not work their ways.

Is this the model or brand of democracy, led by such motley crowd that John Key, Murry McCully and Kevin Rudd seek for Fiji? Do they wish to push Fiji back to the dark days of the Taukei movement and ethno-nationalism, where the rule of jungle, chiefly aristocracy and Methodist church?s bigotry masqueraded as democracy, where Indo Fijians were relegated as second and third class stateless citizens?

While the clips of the Close Up programme and background information have been provided to both major TV stations, one cannot expect much from New Zealand media?s questionable, what some may call jaundiced reporting on Fiji. The NZ mainstream media equates democracy to mere elections; irrespective of what takes place after such supposedly democratic elections which Fiji already had many of, since 1987.

Now, armed with this information, when you see on TV or read of Ratu Tevita?s visit to New Zealand through its mainstream media, you need to take it with a pinch of salt because of their agenda-setting on Fiji where the media appears to sing from the same hymn-sheet as McCully?s and NZ government?s foreign policy, in which, like in George Orwell?s ?Animal Farm”. some [military personnel] are more equal than the others.

[E-mail: [email protected]]

[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a political commentator and a former publisher of Fiji?s Daily Post.]



Guest Post – The Khaiyum interview exposed Fiji issues and a wanting NZ media

Thakur Ranjit SinghThakur Ranjit Singh writes:

Sean Plunket is a former Radio New Zealand broadcaster and one on New Zealand?s most celebrated, informed, seasoned and award-winning journalists known for his sharp and probing questions. He has many feathers in his journalism cap where he has ?demolished? many a politicians. He heads the current affairs programme, The Nation on TV 3 in New Zealand. Therefore when it was known that he was going to interview Aiyaz Saiyed-Khaiyum, Fiji?s controversial Attorney General, made famous by the utterances of former military fugitive Ratu Tevita Mara, it was anticipated that he was going to have another ?killing? and another feather in his cap.

However those who saw the interview were pleasantly surprised at the performance of Aiyaz. Plunket appeared lost, rattled and defensive in front of a well-prepared and a composed Attorney General, who not only appeared to be at ease with the feared Plunket, but had occasions to even show smiles during the course of the interview.

When questioned about democracy devoid of fair and free elections, Khaiyum gave a third world lesson on democracy. ?Hitler came to power through elections. What a government does after it is elected also matters. Just because it’s been elected it doesn?t mean you’re suddenly democratic; what they do with the power is essential, ?he said.

When accused that Fiji was engaging more strongly or more proactively with countries like China, Khaiyum retorted that Fiji had not discriminated against any government. ??In fact we are fully engaging with anybody who wants to engage with us. Just treat us as equals. You need to understand what the Fijian situation is. We are engaging with all the countries in the world, except Australia and New Zealand from their side, but they’re not willing to listen to us. They don?t even want to sit down at the same table,? he complained.

A much awaited confirmation was the election date. Khaiyum announced that to be in or before September, 2014. Plunket did well to cover many diverse subjects in the fifteen minute segment from the ?horse?s mouth?, so to speak, for New Zealand audience which had been starved of the information on Fiji. Aiyaz filled this vacuum on the election date, relations with China, Ratu Tevita Mara, corruption, Fiji?s judiciary, NZ Law Society allegations, military repression, emergency regulations, land and vision for Fiji.

Before Plunket could successfully accuse Fiji of any wrongdoing, Khaiyum has special ammunition reserved for New Zealand media. When questioned by Plunket whether Fiji or Fijians were sophisticated to live with the level of freedom and democracy that New Zealanders and other countries had, Khaiyum retorted with an attack on NZ media.

?I would argue that at the moment the way your journalism is taking place in your country, lacks sophistication. In fact it’s very rudimentary, the sort of questions we get asked, the sort of answers that are formulated even beforehand,? he said. It would appear the attack on media was not without reason. The panel selected by Plunket and TV3 to deliberate on the interview lacked proper understanding and appreciation on Fiji.

Matthew Hooton, National Business Review Columnist, echoed sentiments about double standards of New Zealand that had been earlier cited by this author. Hooton said that the problem in Fiji had been going on for some decades with little headway. This indicated that either New Zealand and Australian policies have been irrelevant or they have failed. ?New Zealand deals with many countries that are not democratic and does not have free press; we have signed world?s first free trade agreement with China, we deal with Thailand as an economic partner in APEC. Thailand is a country where the military plays a very big role,? he said.

Simon Wilson, Editor of Metro Magazine supported a long-term stability in Fiji. ?It is very hard to see how that can happen until there is a period of long-term democratic government.? The information that Simon appeared to lack is that Fiji had a long-term democracy for seventeen years after its independence in 1970 under the leadership of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara of the Alliance Party. No sooner had Mara? Alliance Party and the eastern Chiefs lost power to Timoci Bavadra?s Labour Party in 1987, than it was declared by the Fijian nationalist elements that democracy was a foreign flower in Fiji. As long as Mara and the eastern Fijian Chiefs were in political control, the 1970 Constitution and democracy were acceptable. When they lost power, it became unsuitable and a ?foreign? imposition on the indigenous people. Fiji had lost the ultimate test of democracy: its inability to change leaders and governments in a democratic fashion. This deficiency was exposed both in 1987 and later in 2000.

Barry Soper, Political Editor of Newstalk ZB appeared equally misinformed on Fiji, by brandishing the race card. Twice in his comments he said that the reason coup was carried against Timoci Bavadra?s government in 1987 was that Bavadra had too many Indians in his Cabinet. What he failed to tell was that the party was led by a Fijian, had equal, if not majority ethnic representation but saw indigenous power shift to Western part of Fiji. The coup was meant to wrest political control and pass the power back to the ?right? Fijian group, which ultimately eventuated, with Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and the Eastern chiefs back in power. ?The 1987 coup had more to do with intra-ethnic Fijian issues rather than inter Indian-Fijian issues. Soper again displays his lack of knowledge on Fiji by saying that it was Khaiyum who was pushing for one equal vote for everyone. ?Timothy Bavadra included too many Indians in his cabinet and this man [Aiyaz Khaiyum], obviously an Indian; he says he wants one vote for everyone. That?s not gonna happen because the Fijians in the villages are not going to be happy with the Indians in control.? ?This electoral change is the initiative of the indigenous Bainimarama and not the Indo-Fijian Khaiyum. Indo-Fijians comprise some 35 per cent of Fiji population. With military 99.5 % indigenous, and indigenous domination at all levels of government bureaucracy, it defies logic how Soper sees that Indo-Fijians would again be in control.

It appears TV3 need to realise that with lack of diversity in NZ media, any and all Anglo Saxon journalists are not necessarily experts in Fiji. Mere journalism degrees and NZ experience does not bestow that expertise. They need to pick those who understand the Pacific politics and history and are rooted in the Pacific, particularly in Fiji. All the commentators failed this bill though Matthew Hooton appeared to be the most logical and lateral thinker.

Such blinkered versions on Fiji echoed by the mainstream media, distorts Fiji?s understanding by the Kiwis, and its foreign policy appears to mirror the media commentators. Nevertheless, kudos to Sean Plunket and TV3 for this initiative in providing an interview that should be a lesson for NZ Foreign office on Fiji issues.

E-mail: thakurji[at]@xtra.co.nz

[Thakur Ranjit Singh is a political commentator and has been through Rabuka?s and Speight?s coups in 1987 and 2000 respectively. During the latter, he was the publisher of Fiji?s Daily Post newspaper. He was Auckland University of Technology/ Pacific Islands Media Association (AUT/PIMA) Pasifika postgraduate scholar in 2009/10]