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The origins of Fiji\'s New Order

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25 November 2010 09:49

To argue that Fiji's New Order regime is already a decade old means explaining what happened during the bizarre and violent period in 2000. To understand Fiji's New Order today means going back to its strange birth.

Marking 2000 as the start of Fiji's New Order regime sees the 2006 coup as part of an emerging order. Thus, 2006 is not an aberration but one element in a continuum.

Fiji in 2000 saw two coups – one a failed power grab by military renegades who seized Parliament (pictured), and one a successful takeover by Fiji's military commander. The coup that mattered was the slow-motion one conducted by Bainimarama, running in parallel with the siege of Parliament and continuing after the siege was resolved.

The dud coup was the one that had George Speight as its figurehead. The successful seizure of power was by the military.

Just over a week into the Parliamentary siege involving Speight, Bainimarama went to Government House and dismissed the President, Ratu Kamisese Mara. The Supremo put Mara on a patrol boat and sent Fiji's founding leader back to his home island, marking the end of Mara's public career. Up to that moment, Fiji had a legal regime in place, even if it was under great strain.

Mara had rescinded the commission of Fiji's Labour Government because Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his cabinet were being held hostage by military renegades and could not carry out their duties. Mara took the power of government back to the office of president using his proper, legal, reserve powers. It was Bainimarama who stepped over the legal boundaries, throwing Mara from office and declaring the creation of a military government.

The military takeover from Mara did little to end the siege, which ran for a further seven weeks. But the military government did, temporarily, end the rifts within the military and cause most officers to line up behind their commander. When the siege ended, Bainimarama refused to restore Fiji's elected government to office. Chaudhry's government was held hostage by renegade troops and was then formally dismissed by Mara. But it was Bainimarama who staged the coup that really counted and ensured that Chaudhry would not return to office.

Eventually Bainimarama handed power to Laisenia Qarase. The Supremo's second coup in 2006, to overthrow Qarase, marks the second phase of the New Order.

For Fiji, the Bainimarama crisis is entering its second decade. The New Order is still a work in progress. In fact, the New Order isn't delivering that much order or predictability. One of the great criticisms of Fiji's New Order is that the military has been at this job for a decade, yet delivered nothing that looks like a solution. Rather than conceding any failure, the military is going to soldier on and look for something that works.

The Supremo is still tinkering. His supporters in Suva hate the argument that the Bainimarama crisis should be dealt with as a single problem that has now run for ten years. It is much easier to argue the Supremo's good intentions by claiming that in 2000 he was merely responding to a crisis, while 2006 was a separate, new beginning. Yes, the 2000 crisis was brought on by other elements in the military, not by Bainimarama. But Bainimarama took control of the response. His series of improvised moves started a process that continues to this day.

Starting out in 2000, Bainimarama probably never imagined himself ending where he is now. Bit by bit, the New Order is taking shape, an ad hoc construction driven by opportunism. Using just such a base, Suharto ran his New Order for more than three decades and delivered considerable economic growth. Entering its second decade, the challenge for Bainimarama's New Order is to stop driving the country into penury and garner enough legitimacy to extend the life of the Order.

Photo by Flickr user jaredw_1986, used under a Creative Commons license.

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