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Fiji: Bainimarama steps down, but military still waits in wings

Fiji: Bainimarama steps down, but military still waits in wings
Published 7 Mar 2014 



Almost eight years after assuming power in Fiji, Voreque Bainimarama has fulfilled his own government decree regarding the separation of military and state. On 5 March, Bainimarama stepped down as Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces. He remains in power, but that power is to all intents and appearances no longer mediated by the barrel of a gun.

And so, with state power extricated from  military control, Fiji edges closer to a return to democracy. What democracy in Fiji will look like, and how Bainimarama's military sensibilities will respond to it, are questions already on our lips.

At a basic level of electoral politics and popular participation therein, Fiji knows how to do democracy. But the people of Fiji know, too, that democracy is contingent, dynamic and sometimes ephemeral: from the mispronounced 'coop' of 1987, through to government hostage-taking in 2000, to the unprecedented (at least in modern Fiji politics) coup of indigenous Fijian against indigenous Fijian in 2006.

Fiji demonstrates a peculiarly Pacific perspective on power. It is one wrought in transformative tendencies, in which everything remains the same while also changing, 'becoming' without ever quite 'being'. [fold]

Bainimarama is part of a culture of politics in Fiji that acquiesces to the transformative quality of politics. In 2000, he re-inserted the military into the political landscape, assuming executive authority from President Ratu Mara, abrogating the constitution, removing the hostage government of Mahendra Chaudhy from power, and installing his future nemesis at the helm of a Fijian-led government.

Thus, Bainimarama overthrew a democratically-elected government as long ago as 2000. He simultaneously restored order. The past eight years have continued the trend of contradictions.

Since implementing the coup of 2006, Bainimarama has consolidated the Fiji culture of dichotomies. He has been both dictator and democratiser, both usurper of human rights and author of the most multi-ethnic and inclusive constitution Fiji has ever known.

In relinquishing military leadership, Bainimarama appears to be committed to returning the country to a state of democracy. However, it is unlikely the separation of military and state will persist.

It is also unlikely that democracy will persist. The history of Fiji speaks against this eventuality. The 2006 'coup to end all coups' was a chimera, a pronouncement entirely in keeping with the grand words and rhetoric of Fiji politics while also discordant with its continually transforming nature.

Bainimarama has not exited stage-left in the ongoing drama of Fiji. He is waiting in the wings, ready to wow the audience by fair means or foul.

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