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FIJI- Qarase consolidates while the case for multiparty cabinet continues in the Court.


Paper no. 546                        15.11.2002

by Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

Race is a fact of life and is not a problem unless people make it out to be soRatu Epeli Ganilau, Chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs.

While the legal wrangle between Fiji Labour Party of Mahendra Chaudhry and the SDL ( Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua ) of Prime minister Qarase continues, the latter appears to be consolidating his position.  Another major development was that the military court finally sentenced the leaders of the mutiny that occurred two years ago to various jail terms.

Guilty by charge of Mutiny: On November 7, the Court-Martial Board presiding over the case of 15 former members of the Counter revolutionary Force (CRW) of staging a mutiny on November 2, 2000 in the main barracks of Fijian Army at Nabua, killing eight soldiers and wounding another 20 reached a verdict of guilty by charge of mutiny. The leader of the mutiny was given a life term and another officer was given eight years in prison.  Others were given various sentences ranging from eighteen months to three years.

The rebel soldiers could have been awarded death sentences by a firing squad but escaped due to forgiveness asked by some of the wives of the soldiers now sentenced as also the soldiers themselves who sought to give a traditional apology ‘isoro’ to the Great Chiefs.  The assembly of Christian churches in Fiji also submitted to the court that it would use "every cultural means to bring about reconciliation. " The intervention of the Church is not understandable as there is no issue involving culture in the mutiny that was a deliberate act on the part of the mutineers and several soldiers were killed.

The Supreme Court appears to be taking its own time to decide the case filed by the Labour Party for inclusion of Labour party members in the Qarase cabinet.  Expecting a decision against him Qarase has already made known in a private conversation that the Fiji Labour Party will not get its preferred portfolios and it would be entirely upto him to decide.  It could even be ministers without portfolio! A second alternative will be to expedite the revision of the 1997 Constitution which may take a long time.  But there appears to be a third option in his mind as he could seek fresh elections on the basis of the Supreme court verdict going against him..

Some indications that the last option may be perceived to be  viable could be seen from the following.

* In the recently conducted municipal elections, Qarase’s party SDL and the National Federation Party of Prem Singh ( the leader of opposition who lost his seat on a court verdict to the Labour party candidate, Krishna Prasad at Nadi) joined hands and fought together all the seats.  The team made sweeping victories in most of the places including those at Nadi.  In Nadi, Fijian voters turned up in large numbers to defeat the Labour Party candidates.

* The National Federation party consisting of mainly Fijians of Indian origin won in six municipalities staking its claim as a viable political force.

* After a lapse of three years, the Light House Party having a make up of multi racial candidates won six of the nine seats in the Savusavu Municipal elections.

* A major blow to the Labour Party of Chaudhry was in Suva itself where it got five seats out of twenty and the Mayor Chandu Umaria was elected to a third term on the basis of an agreement signed between Qarase’s SDL and the National Federal Party Coalition.

Notwithstanding the court case pending against his regime, Qarase is going about his work with a two pronged objective- one to consolidate his own position and acceptance by countries that matter like Australia and wooing the Indian minority in the hope of eroding the influence of Mahendra Chaudhry’s Labour party.  By aligning with the little known National Federation party he handed over a crushing defeat to the Labour party in the recently held municipal elections..

When Chaudhry declined his appointment as the opposition leader and suggested that the appointment be withheld until the Supreme Court determines the multi party cabinet case, he disregarded his advice and appointed Mick Beddoes of the United General Party as the leader of the opposition. Mick Beddoes in turn appointed Ms Swann as chair person of the Public Accounts Committee.  Ms. Swann is a strong critic of Mahendra Chaudhry.

Qarase made formal visits to Japan, the main donor and Australia.  A five-member Australian Parliament delegation visited Fiji ( the first Commonwealth visit since May 2000) and in the four-day tour held talks with their counter parts, political leaders and business people. The head of the delegation Mr. Lloyd described the visit as a "further stamp of approval from the Australian capital on Fiji’s remarkable recovery and progress since May 2000."

Wooing the Fijians of Indian origin. Some instances that have come to notice on the policy of the government to woo the Indian community were-

- On the occasion of Diwali, the government assured the Indian community that Fiji "is their home and they can be proud of ".

- The government announced that they plan to increase the multi ethnic scholarship for students from the Indian and other minority communities.

- A review is being undertaken to improve the terms and conditions of teachers particularly in the rural areas.  Many such teachers are from the Indian community.

- In the northern division the Native Land Trust Board in consultation with the government is making land available to relocate or resettle the tenants whose leases have expired and have no where to go.

Call for unity and racial harmony. On the occasion of Fiji national day, the indigenous Fijian leaders called for racial amity, tolerance and goodwill.  The chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs said " If we accept that all races in Fiji have a unique contribution to make the enrichment of our national life and acknowledge that each race has its particular sensitivities, we will be promoting racial tolerance and cooperation. " President Ratu Josefa Iloilo is said to have declared that the nation should understand that people would always be different from one another and that weaving together whatever was good inside would ensure that everyone would enjoy the progress of the nation together.

There is no doubt that the bitterness of the events of May 2000 should be put behind and both communities should look to the future to make the 1997 Constitution which was primarily designed for racial harmony, work.  Both Qarase and Mahendra Chaudhry have this responsibility.

As press reports indicate, there was a show of multi racialism as students of Fiji’s two prestigious schools the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial school and the Ratu Sukuna Memorial School celebrated the Mahatma Gandhi day together and mixed with each other in a show of racial harmony, something the students said "should put our leaders to shame".  Indeed it is a shame that bitterness amongst the political leaders continues. For  hundred years the two communities lived in peace until the character in the name of Col. Rabuka intervened!