The military coup in Fiji has been a curious affair. It’s hard to come up with a sufficient analysis of what has happened and which government is preferable – the deposed Qarase one or the Bainimarama military one. Ultimately both should be criticised and neither supported. They both reflect rival factions of the ruling class in Fiji.
The deposed Qarase government was not in any way progressive. It was put together as a result of the 2000 coup and was effectively an Australia/NZ supported fix or compromise to the last very reactionary coup by George Speight. It contained a large number of coup sympathisers and national chauvinists oriented itself towards the indigenous tribal elite on the basis of anti-Indo Fijian communalism. And what brought about the latest coup was their intention to pass bills that would establish indigenous Fijian tribal ownership over the country’s coastal land, and the grant amnesty to the 2000 coup plotters. Such bills were clearly pitched to Qarase’s racist constituency.
The new military coup lead by Frank Bainimarama is not a progressive either. Although maybe I’d agree with Chris Trotter that Coups are sometimes justified, I think it’s much more important to stress, as the a good article on the world socialist website does that ‘The military regime, however, has trampled on the basic democratic rights of ordinary working people—whether of ethnic Fijian or Indian origin—and will do nothing to improve their lot.’ Because the coup is simply a bitter faction fight between elites, it’s obvious that the new regime is no more concerned for ordinary Fijians than the old corrupt Qarase regime.
One of the military regime’s aims is to attract back foreign investment, particularly in tourism. No doubt, they will attempt to impose drastic economic restructuring measures, which has already meant that, according to another world socialist website articles, ‘Bainimarama has appealed to public service workers to accept a salary cut in order to reduce the budget deficit. Acting Prime Minister Senilagakali has publicly stated that his priority is to cut government expenditure, which will inevitably mean fewer resources committed to education, health, and other social services’.
What should our response in New Zealand be to the coup? Obviously the Government (along with Australia and the US) has imposed a whole raft of sanctions involving aid, immigration, defence and sporting ties. Such sanctions are probably not a good idea. They certainly don’t seem to be supported by the trade union movement in Fiji, which isn’t surprising since the sanctions will primarily hurt ordinary Fijians. The Fijian economy is already in crisis, and the quarter of the population that lives below the poverty line will be pushed lower because of the sanctions. When sanctions were imposed in 2000 the economy contracted by 10%.
The NZ Government has also attacked Fijian immigration:
No applications from Fijians wanting to enter New Zealand for seasonal work would be accepted, the country's participation in the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme would be frozen, and the eligibility of Fijians to take part in future immigration ballots had been suspended (The Press).
This comes at a time when the NZ Government has already been putting increasing restrictions on immigration from the Pacific – restrictions which are arguably racist.
It should be obvious that what the NZ and other governments are doing in reaction to the coup has nothing to do with the protection of ordinary Fijian’s democratic rights. The NZ Government has never even put sanctions on Tonga – where the case for them has probably be far greater (to say nothing of sanctions against other ‘rogue’ countries like Israel) - but instead have played a strong role in propping up the corrupt feudal dictatorship of Tonga. When it has suited the NZ Government’s interests, it has militarily intervened elsewhere in the Pacific – from the Solomon’s to East Timor to Samoa.