Sunday 10 Oct 2021 | 01:56 | SYDNEY
Sunday 10 Oct 2021 | 01:56 | SYDNEY

Things I have changed my mind about this year


Graeme Dobell

22 December 2009 09:45

My reflex position on the South Pacific for several decades has been one of optimism. Make that sunny optimism – reflecting climate and the character of the people.

The Islanders may have weak states, but they boast strong, vibrant societies. The smarts and the social strengths of the people of the Islands are a good basis for optimism. Even with Fiji as the great exception, the Islands have been more successful at democracy than any other developing region in the post-colonial era. Australia – truly the Lucky Country again – gets to attempt leadership in one of the most beautiful parts of the globe. We help with nation-building in places where the rest the world would like to go for a holiday.

Fiji's military regime has caused a crack in my default position (I've recently done columns on Fiji's economic dreaming (delusions) and the Supremo's impact on decades of institution-building in the Pacific). Much as I love the place in all its maddening complexity, I've finally given in to pessimism about its political prospects.

My journey from optimism to pessimism about Fiji has lasted more than nine years. That's because the real start to the crisis was Frank Bainimarama's seizure of power and imposition of martial law back in 2000. Frank eventually installed his own choice as prime minister but hated the result. The Supremo came back to resume power in 2006, and here we are today.

Fiji has lived through a slow-motion crash-dive that has lasted a decade and shows no sign of bottoming.

The coconut wireless in Suva says the Supremo is careful about his movements in public these days. The gossip machine reports that Frank's son, also a military man, has had to stop going out to pubs drinking with his mates. People kept coming up to Bainimarama junior and punching him. In Fiji these days, that is one of the few ways to land a political point.

The punch-up story illustrates the personal problem confronting the Supremo. How does he create an exit plan that guarantees his own safety and freedom? To 'save' Fiji, the Supremo has laid waste to just about every institution of stature, from the legislature to the law to the chiefs. What institution can Frank rely on to protect him if he ever leaves the barracks?

The longer he lingers, the harder it becomes. At the moment, the target date for the end of military rule is 2014. Yet it all depends on the inclinations and interests of one man.

The old joke about Brazil now fits Fiji far too well: Fiji is the country of the future, and always will be.

Photo by Flickr user tommydavis209, used under a Creative Commons license.