To them, his word is worthless. He is still in their eyes the man who made so many bold promises in his broadcast takeover address of December 5, 2006. He solemnly pledged an election in six months, that no minister in his interim government would stand, that racism would end, that government borrowing would be reined in and, of course that no member of the RFMF would benefit from this coup. He has reneged – spectacularly so – on every one. He has slashed pensions and at the same time looted the nation’s savings for his very dubious schemes. He has alienated the Methodist Church, the mainstream chiefs, even larger sections of his own military. It would be a grave error to imagine that villagers are not aware of this.
And Bainimarama’s political record is, to put it mildly, poor. On the day he is dislodged from power, the dictator is likely to face charges that include his laughingly titled Truth and Justice drive during the 2006 election campaign under which batches of soldiers were ordered out into the villages to blatantly campaign against the sitting government and urge villagers to cast their votes instead for a new party. It failed to return a solitary member and its leader lost his deposit, turning up later as the minister for deportations before he discovered some conscience and quit Bainimarama’s illegal regime.
What’s more, it’s certain that in 2006 even his own squaddies declined to vote the way he ordered them to. Certainly none voted for his favoured party while overseas voting patterns strongly indicate the soldiers’ support for the SDL. Since then, of course, the troops have enjoyed generous pay rises but Fiji will probably never know if it’s enough to buy their votes. Bainimarama has thumbed his nose at the international community, the European Union, the Commonwealth, the IMF and the world’s labour unions. He thinks he is using the Pacific Forum, especially its Melanesian Spearhead Group, but is in fact used by them while at home his frequent travels, often with a large retinue of family and hangers-on, as well as his constant need for a heavily armed bodyguard team are subjects of much tanoa talk.
| International union pressure |
Fiji’s economy is also exposed to action by the world labour movement – action that draws closer by the day. Any concerted effort would mean disaster for Bainimarama and blaming it all on Australia won’t help him. He is in effect cornered if that happens. He can’t go back on the trade union decrees and he can’t survive a prolonged effort by the world’s labour organisations. Quite what he or world labour will do remains to be seen.
He’s been praying, of course for a change of government in Australia, and his prayers will be answered in September when the Labour government of Julia Gillard (or possibly Kevin Rudd) is removed. But that’s probably as far as it will go. The most likely new foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has talked of re-engagement with Fiji (just as Bob Carr tried to do) but there is as yet no evidence of any intention to overturn policy. And that’s because the very existence of the Bainimarama regime flies in the face of what most Australians, Labour or Liberal, hold dear – democracy, human rights and a fair go for all. Ms Bishop will find it difficult to sell any policy that goes against those group feelings. Indeed she may find it more practical to steer well clear of the issue.
For all of those reasons and more 2014 will be a stern test for Voreqe Bainimarama. While his almost certain failure of that test won’t end his regime it will further erode his standing at home and abroad. And with his bag of political capital all but empty he can’t afford that.
Editor: The article is also on the Opinion page