Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 19:56 | SYDNEY
Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 19:56 | SYDNEY

Fiji: Coup coup land


Graeme Dobell

24 March 2009 10:11

It takes a certain journalistic verve to publish a column out of Suva these days describing Fiji as ‘coup coup land’. Score points for cheek to the Suva-based  Islands Business. The monthly magazine can get away with that flippant characterisation of Bainimarama’s Fiji because it buries the quip in its regular gossip column, Whispers.

The normal fare of Whispers is tales of those who haven’t paid their bar bills, journalistic feuds, and yarns about public servants who go to make a powerpoint presentation but flash up pornographic pics instead. One of the Pacific perennials is trying to put names to the mostly anonymous faces in the Whispers column.

The ‘coup coup’ line is minor proof of the much larger truth that Fiji’s journalists are still  doing a good job despite the constant pressures applied by a moody military regime. A society that has seen some of its key institutions fail or crumble can still have some faith in its journalists and editors. Fiji’s media is probably one of the few institutions that has done something approaching proper duty during this troubled decade.

The same edition of Islands Business has worrying evidence of the Suva disease — the belief that if only the rest of the region would understand Fiji’s point of view, everything would be smooth sailing. The editorial on the Pacific Islands Forum challenge to Commodore Bainimarama is a good summary of the way the regime sees the world. Fiji doesn’t need Australia or New Zealand. It can turn to China for soft loans.

The editorial lambasts the ‘smugness and insensitivity’ of western nations towards Fiji (read Australia and New Zealand). Indeed, it argues, these Western countries are the ones that will ‘find themselves isolated because of the practicalities of realpolitic facing the Pacific’. The Suva view is that the other Island states won’t bring themselves to expel Fiji from the Forum because of Fiji’s status as the nerve centre of the region:

Whether the suspension will happen or not cannot be said at this stage. What is certain, though, is that the bloc of western nations that has been forcefully pushing for the suspension option on the Forum's agenda will find itself increasingly at odds with the rest of the Pacific. Island nations — and for their own very practical reasons — do not favour the idea of suspension with the same fervour and urgency as the western nations do.

This is a fair representation of Bainamarama’s belief that the Forum will flinch from throwing out Fiji. Actually reading what the Forum leaders announced in Port Moresby in January suggests a different interpretation.

Patience with the Commodore (and any belief in his promises) has been shredded over the past two years. The Forum will do itself great damage by expelling Fiji. But Fiji has left the Forum little option. The leaders have cocked the pistol and handed it to Suva with a clear message: announce a democracy timetable or you will be responsible for pulling the expulsion trigger.

Exactly that point is put in an interview with the secretary general of the Forum, Tuiloma Neroni Slade. The Forum had issued its ultimatum, he said, and the matter was now with Fiji:

I would draw attention to the fact that the Port Moresby decision calls on the interim government to take certain actions within a stated timeframe beyond which with automaticity, the decision to suspend the involvement of the interim government takes effect.

The key word is ‘automaticity’. Act or Fiji is out. It is not a message that Suva wants to hear.