Former US ambassador to Fiji the late Don Gevirtz remarked in a conversation with me that Sitiveni Rabuka was a man “with a horde of demons to confront”.
There can be no doubt he was right. Rabuka is guilty of all the sins that Victor Lal and others have piled at his door – and probably many more besides.
The man has a past. It’s all, or mostly, there on the public record.
But might he not also have a future?
If the main objective for Fiji now is to rid itself of Bainimarama and his gang of crooks and thieves it might be useful to become pragmatic about the means to achieve it rather than dwelling too much on the past. For while the vilification (however justified) of Rabuka here and elsewhere will be music to the ears of Frank Bainimarama and his cronies, it does nothing to advance their removal.
And if we accept that politics is the art of the possible, there can be little upside in continuing to campaign for the impossible.
Rabuka’s immunity is the virus that has infected Fiji since1987. Anyone who doesn’t like an elected government and can persuade or bribe the military may use it to illegally remove that government and then declare themselves immune from prosecution for all crimes. Unless, of course, that person happens to be George Speight – but that is another matter.
That chain of immunity – the cause of so much woe in Fiji – needs to be broken. And Frank is not about to even stretch it.
The chain will only be broken by a return to the rule of law as enshrined in the 1997 constitution (ask Rabuka about it) which has never, even according to Anthony Gates in the days when he was a judge, been legally rescinded and remains in force.
That means, among other things, a return to freedom of movement, of association, of expression and media. It means a return to the independence of the courts, the separation of powers and the sanctity of the ballot box. It means a return to the independence of the police force.
It’s hard to argue with such aspirations. But who will deliver them?
The task is gargantuan and will require more than a politician. For, as I and others have pointed out, Frank will not be removed by an election. In a system overseen by his principal ally and rigged heavily in his favour, he’ll “win” any ballot. People power is all that he need fear. And that is what Rabuka might – just might – be able to bring to being.
Before then, though, he’ll need to rediscover his political and social mojo. The decision to boycott the multifaith service designed to gain political mileage for Bainimarama while the cyclone victims suffer on was the right one.
But it was abysmally communicated to a media controlled by the regime. He will need to do better than that.
But he’ll achieve nothing from the prison cell to which so many wish to condemn him.
Meanwhile, that same past shows Rabuka as a man capable of learning and listening.
We should allow him to put his future to the test with open minds.
*The above is a personal opinion and not that of Fijileaks.