‘I'm bounded by the majority rule and they want a Fijian prime minister’
The late Apisai Tora, the serial conspirator with coupists - here with George Speight. Tora inflicted untold sufferings on Indo-Fijians but always either excused or dismissed as firebrand rabble rouser in Fiji
"History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies."
Alexis de Tocqueville, French political scientist and historian
Fijileaks: Two decades later, we still find historical echoes rumbling inside SODELPA, with "Jenny Come Lately - Lynda Tabuya" threatening to tear party apart in leadership battle under Rabuka. We, however, take you to 1999, and the infighting among Fijian parties:
ONE of the most distressing spectacles in the run up to the appointment of the new Prime Minister of Fiji was the introduction of the race card by the Fijian Association Party (FAP) and some elements from the Party of National Unity (PANU). Here were two parties in coalition with the FLP, and yet when it came to the big prize they began to demand that a Fijian should be appointed the Prime Minister of Fiji.
They demanded the top post for a Fijian not on merit and electoral numbers but based on the crude politics of race and fear. What is more surprising, is that it was Adi Kuini Bavadra's FAP, which was the most vocal in pushing for a Fijian prime minister on the spurious argument that it represented the Fijian electorate in Parliament. It was a surprising demand on her part because Adi KuIni should have known better than any other Fijian politician, based on her own personal experiences of the 1987 coups, that her own late and former husband, Dr Timoci Bavadra, had been overthrown from power despite being a Fijian, and was married to a paramount Fijian high chief. Adi Kuini hails from the chiefly clan of Navosa and is also a niece of the great Fijian leader Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna.
Chaudhry, Wily Old Fox had Outfoxed the Political Bears - He fights his corner to be PM
The race for the prime ministership was like a tale of running with the hare and hunting the hound. But Chaudhry, the wily old political fox, had outfoxed the political bears. Labour’s overwhelming victory had put Chaudhry at the political helm. Once the official election results were announced, the Labour Parliamentary caucus elected him as the party’s nominee for prime minister. Soon afterwards, he was appointed Prime Minister by the President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. The Fijian Coalition partners claimed that they were neither consulted nor informed, and reacted angrily claiming Chaudhry’s appointment a breach of an implicit agreement to have an ethnic Fijian as prime minister. The FAP had decided that they would only join the FLP if party leader Adi Kuini was made Prime Minister. They said they would not join unless their stipulation was met.
Viliame Saulekaleka said instead of waiting to discuss the issue with them, they were shocked that the FLP had gone ahead in getting Chaudhry sworn-in. It was believed that PANU was also considering opting out of the coalition. PANU would have wanted their leader Apisai Tora to be PM had he won his seat. But Chaudhry was forthright in his desire to become PM: ‘It is the Labour Party which has the majority in this election and that’s what democracy is all about, and the people have given their mandate, and that mandate must be respected’, he said. Chaudhry was the obvious party choice for the position, although there were other contenders, including Tupeni Baba. Chaudhry also had the tacit support of his political adversary, the defeated NFP leader Jai Ram Reddy, who told the press: ‘One thing is very clear-the people’s mandate must be carried forward. And the people have overwhelmingly voted for the Fiji Labour Party. And the leader of the Fiji Labour Party, I think, is entitled to being the Prime Minister. And Isympathise with that point of view so that’s the correct thing to do. And their support is not marginal, its quite overwhelming. And as he (Chaudhry) put it, I think, the verdict of the people is crystal clear. So I’m hoping that he will be the Prime Minister.’
Adi Kuini Bavadra Speed missing from Chaudhry's Swearing-in Ceremony as Prime Minister
Chaudhry was sworn-in as the new and first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister of Fiji. The swearing-in ceremony was delayed because officials had to look for the Hindu holy book, the Gita. This small but significant piece of religious item of historical importance, just goes to show that the Government House had never been prepared for such an eventuality, for it was the Bible that had been used since the first elections in post-independence Fiji to swore-in prime ministers of Fijian origin. One noticeable absentee at the swearing-in-ceremony was Adi Kuini Vuikaba Speed. Her non-attendance, for whatever reason, was later to be taken as a snub and a detrimental move for her party by the FLP. Adi Kuini asked President Ratu Mara to revoke the decision and appoint her as head of government because she was the leader of the largest ‘Fijian’ party in the winning coalition. Poseci Bune, the VLV leader, reportedly began canvassing the possibility of heading a broad coalition of Fijian parties in opposition. Tora threatened to pull out of the coalition altogether. The Fijian nationalists proposed to march against the government. Ratu Mara however rejected a request from the FAP to install their leader, Adi Kuini as the new PM.
Ratu Mara rebuffs Adi Kuini's letter for her to be appointed Prime Minister based on Race and Party Identity
The letter was delivered to Ratu Mara by FAP official and Bau chief, Ratu Viliame Dreunimisimisi. Mara rejected the letter, saying he had already installed Chaudhry as the leader of the Coalition, and asked them to work with the Coalition. Mara did Chaudhry no favour: he did what the Constitution required him to do as President of Fiji: to appoint as prime minister the member of the House of Representatives who in his opinion commanded majority supportIn turn, Chaudhry offered Adi Kuini the post of Deputy Prime Minister. He had outmanoeuvred her. She had two choices: to accept the second top post in the government or sit on the Opposition benches with her former opponents from the SVT. Labour also threatened to invite VLV into Cabinet. After hours of deliberations with party colleagues, Adi Kuni accepted the second deputy prime minister position in the new Cabinet.
She quoted Mara’s advice: ‘It was basically appealing to us as leaders to consider the importance of co-operation rather than be at loggerheads with the new government.’ But coalition partner, PANU, expressed its disappointment with Chaudhry’s invitation to the VLP. PANU officials said they did not appreciate the fact that Chaudhry asked another party before even approaching them, their coalition partner. PANU however also accepted Chaudhry’s offer to join the government. Its parliamentary leader-Meli Bogileka-said they had accepted Chaudhry’s offer of two Cabinet seats to them: ‘The Prime Minister has offered us two ministeries positions. And I would like to thank Prime Minister for that being so generous because PANU-if you look at our constitution-there are only four elected members of parliament there. We are not entitled as far as the constitution is concerned. We’re supposed to have the number eight as you well know. So he has given us in realisation of PANU coming from the province of Ba-where more than 60 per cent of ALTA is based-the concentration of the population of our brother and sister Indians-who are mainly cane farmers-and that’s where the economy of the country lies-in the western division.’
Tora seems to have belatedly given his blessing. ‘He said your decision is totally yours and he has given us his blessings. He says whatever your decisions are-those are your decisions-and I leave it at that. I don’t like to intervene or interfere and he said so you have my blessings’, Bogileka said. Chaudhry also extended an invitation to the VLP and SVT to join Labour in forming government. ‘I hope they respond soon. Labour has the numbers to form government on its own but I would like them very much to join us so that we can have a government representative of all the people in Fiji. I have a duty to provide a stable government as soon as possible.’ Chaudhry was confident that the two parties would take up the offer: ‘There is not much difference between us except for (Sakeasi) Butadroka.’ On calls by some VLV members for Fiji to be made a Christian state and for a re-imposition of the Sunday ban, Chaudhry said VLP leader Bune had made it clear that there will be no Sunday ban and neither will Fiji be declared a Christian state.
Chaudhry makes Cabinet broad church but dismisses Rabuka's demand to make him Deputy PM
Chaudhry also invited the two Independent General MPs (Leo Smith and Bill Aull) and the lone Rotuman MP Marieta Rigamoto to be part of his Coalition. Chaudhry was suddenly under a siege situation as minority parties made impossible demands for places in his new Cabinet. In fact, Chaudhry had to delay naming his Cabinet because of demands made on him, especially from the SVT which was soundly thrashed at the polls. STV leader Rabuka wrote to Chaudhry saying his minority group will join a multi-party Cabinet if it is given four Cabinet portfolios, including the position of the Deputy Prime Minister for himself, the Ministry of Works portfolio for Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, and Ministry of Finance portfolio for Jim Ah Koy. Rabuka also demanded seats in the Senate and in the boards of state-owned enterprises. The results of the general election had given Chaudhry such an overwhelming majority to lead the country in the 21st century. But the Constitution had required of him to make an offer to the SVT. It was possible, some argued, that some of the demands being made, especially from the SVT, were being designed to put Chaudhry in a situation where he was damned if he said ‘yes’, and damned if he said ‘no’.
Rabuka's demands for Cabinet positions were cunning ploy to remain on Opposition bench
What is surprising is that the SVT caucus, according to Rabuka’s biographer John Sharpham, had agreed shortly after the election results were announced, to remain on the Opposition benches, and not be a part of the multi-party government. Rabuka later claimed that, ‘We had accepted the Prime Minister’s invitation to be part of the multi-party Cabinet on the condition that I become the Deputy Prime Minister. Our collective decision was that because we structured the new Constitution, we should join the multi-party Cabinet of Chaudhry’s government. Our collective decision is that because we were party to the Constitution, we structured the Constitution in our belief that it was good for the country, good for us to have a multi-party Cabinet and to uphold those we decided to be part of the new Government’. The terms put forward to Chaudhry included that Rabuka be also made the Minister for Fijian Affairs. As we have already noted, Chaudhry found these demands unacceptable, specially from a party which was not only soundly thrashed at the polls, emerging with only eight seats, but the fact that it was not even part of the People's Coalition in the first instance. 'I invited them and they wanted to dictate to me their terms which I just can not entertain’.
Fijians dominate Chaudhry Cabinet: He bent backwards, angering Indo-Fijians, to form Government
While Chaudhry seemed like he was under a lot of pressure, political observers insisted he was in too strong a position to be bullied. Unfortunately, while Chaudhry refused to be bullied, he however, bent over backwards to appease the Fijian community at large, and in the process drawing the wrath of his own community in the appointment of his Cabinet. He had to appeal to his Indo-Fijian members of his Government to accept his desire to share power with Fiji’s other communities. Chaudhry picked a Fijian dominated Cabinet as he moved to bring the two major races together. He had made a great political sacrifice after 11 Fijians were sworn into the 17-member Cabinet. Many thought the Cabinet was going to be dominated by Indo-Fijians. There was widespread rumours that Ratu Mara had a hand in shaping his Cabinet. ‘I must admit that His Excellency played a very major role in the naming of my Cabinet and he did it in his usual way’, Chaudhry said. Asked why his cabinet weighed heavily in favour of Fijians, Chaudhry said: ‘Why not?’.
Chaudhry blunders in appointing Adi Kuini as Fijian Affairs Minister, to face Rabuka as GGC Chairman, for after all he also demanded that he be made Minister for Fijian Affairs to enter Cabinet
Chaudhry’s strategic move was seen by political observers as sensitive to the sensitiveness of the Fijians. He was trying to fulfil the multi-racial, multicultural and multi-party spirit of the 1997 Constitution of Fiji. Chaudhry left the post of the crucial Ministry of Home Affairs vacant until further consultation with his FLP partners. He however intimated that the post will go to a FAP MP and not to the VLP as speculated. It was rumoured that the post would go to the defeated VLP candidate and one of its founders, Ratu Epeli Ganilau. While Chaudhry seemed to have won the first round of the battle, Rabuka resigned from his embattled leadership of the SVT, and went on to become the chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs. Chaudhry allocated Adi Kuini the powerful but sensitive Fijian Affairs portfolio which made her chairperson of the Great Council of Chiefs, from where she was expelled by the Rabuka Government because of her leadership of the FAP.
From hindsight, it was a strategic mistake, for now Adi Kuini suddenly found herself having to deal with Rabuka as the leader of the powerful body when she and her party expected a senior Fijian chief to fill the revered role. Moreover, Rabuka had wanted her Fijian Affairs post as part of the condition to enter Chaudhry’s government. As he exited from the political scene, Rabuka again blamed the Indo-Fijians for rejecting his party’s philosophy of multi-racialism. There was no call to the indigenous Fijians to shed their own insular and inward looking nationalism, and to reciprocate by accepting the People's Coalition’s version of multi-racialism. We have already pointed out elsewhere why the charges against the Indo-Fijians are false. What had caused SVT’s defeat, according to Rabuka, was ‘the personal weaknesses of the candidates, the personal weaknesses of those that were sitting in the last [Rabuka] government, failing to visit their Constituency regularly, the unpopularity of some of the Government policies, the weaknessesin our party machinery and structure’, and of course, ‘my coalition with the National Federation Party (NFP) was one of the causes of the SVT downfall’. It was not THE cause of SVT’s downfall.
What role did the Mara family play in the SVT and Rabuka’s downfall was another topic of speculation, for the family was very closely aligned to the VLP? Rabuka himself raised the issue with Mara, who told him ‘my conscience is clear’. Rabuka recounts to The Review: ‘I don’t know whether that is true...whether they [the Mara family] were instrumental in the formation of that party [VLP] or whether they supported it for...can’t be ideological reasons because ideologically they were not different from the SVT. In fact, when I handed in myresignation, I asked the President whether he was involved. I asked him whether he was actively involved in the VLP. All he said to me was ‘my conscience is clear’ which is very non-committal. I asked him whether he was actively involved in the VLP and I related to him the Saul/David situation in the Bible where Saul was anointed King. While he was still reigning as king, Samuel the prophet anointed David to be his successor. Then David went and killed Goliath and was brought into the palace and lived withSaul as an entertainer. On three occasions Saul tried to kill David and David’s followers said ‘kill him’. He had so many opportunities to kill Saul but David said ‘The Lord forbid that I should lift up my hand against the Lord’s anointed’. I related thatto the President and said: ‘Sir, even if you are, I believe that you were called to that position and I was called to this position and I will not lift my hand or raise my hand against you because I believe that you were anointed. All he said to me was ‘my conscience is clear’.’
Before the 1992 general election, Rabuka stood for the presidency of the SVT, beating Mara’s wife, Adi Lady Lala Mara to the post. Was that where things went from bad to worse in his relationship with the Maras. Rabuka replied as follows: ‘It shouldn’t have been because my selection was done the proper way. Hers was only thought of at the meeting. Yes! My candidacy was lobbied for by Cakaudrove. We went to Bua and Macuata and asked Lau for support and some other provinces. At the meeting, someone realised what was going to happen (that Rabuka was going to win) and Tomasi Vakatora stood up and nominated Adi Lala.’
Rabuka on Rabuka: Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu and Kubuabola asked me to step down as SVT leader
In the same interview, he gave an insight into his own departure from the leadership of the SVT: ‘Two members of Parliament from Cakaudrove-Kubuabola and Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu-asked me to step down as Leader of the Opposition and party leader. I told them if they had the support of other members of the SVT, the UGP and the Independent members, I would step down. They said they would talk to them. Five minutes later David Pickering called me and asked me if I had agreed to step down. I asked why and he said Ratu Inoke asked him in the morning-we had met at 12 o’clock-whether he would support him for the leadership. This is despite Ratu Inoke saying to me that he would seek support after talking to me. That is a very devious way of doing it. I don’t mind now that I know, but I just want them to be very clear about what they’re doing because if their plot backfires on them, they can only blame themselves.’
When asked whether it was a wise move by the SVT to ask him to step down, Rabuka replied as follows: ‘At that time racial feelings within SVT were very strong. People thought that my conciliatory stance and my leadership of a racially-based party in an inter-racial search for harmonious coexistence in Fiji was incongruous. They felt that a more nationalistic leader should be asked to take over the reigns. I don’t know how those people who came up with that idea are feeling now...whether Kubuabola or Ratu Epeli Mataini who are now Leader of the Opposition and SVT president respectively are doing what those people wanted.’ Rabuka then ventured to comment on other Fijians, notably people like Ratu Tu’uakitau Cokanauto, who was harbouring leadership ambitions and saying Fijians should be invited.
Rabuka told The Review: ‘I think the very simple-minded will probably believe him. The serious thinkers won’t. They will see through that very thin veil. Fijians lost the government because they were not united. We had the first when the Fijian Association (FAP) ceded from the SVT in 1993. Now members of the FAP, particularly those who were behind that split are calling for unity. You see the hypocrisy of these people like Cokanauto and other people now calling for unity. They were the ones who started the break.’
Fijian infighting embroils Chaudhry, again, and overthrow of Adi Kuini as FAP Party Leader
In fact, the petty rivalry and factionalism that saw the split of the SVT in 1993, was once again to resurface with greater ferocity between the FAP MPs in Chaudhry’s People's Coalition Government. This time the principal actors were Ratu Tu’uakitau (Tuki) and Adi Kuini over leadership and Senate nominations. Chaudhry’s troubles began when Adi Kuini did not name Rewa chief and former President of the Telecom Employees Association, Ratu Timoci Silatolu, in the Cabinet. He went on to establish a Foundation for Indigenous Fijian People. The main objective was to reportedly ensure that indigenous rights were safe guarded, so that nothing that would be done by the Chaudhry Government or any other interest group would affect the interests of the indigenous people. Silatolu became its chairman.
The SVT's Kubuabola said he personally supported the principles of the foundation. Silatolu later went on to overthrow Chaudhry from power. He was named by George Speight as his Interim Prime Minister, and is currently with him on Nukulau Island awaiting treason charges.The infighting between the different factions of the FAP intensified when Adi Kuini left for Australia for medical treatment. Ratu Tuki tried to bring out an injunction to stop Dr Isimlei Cokanasiga, a Cabinet minister in Chaudhry’s government, from leading the FAP. The High Court refused to issue an injunction. Cokanasiga claimed he was nominated acting leader by Adi Kuini. The Fijian Association Party crisis had deepened with unconfirmed reports claiming that the executives who ousted their leader, Adi Kuini, were planning on also removing their general secretary, Josaia Gucake. It was understood the executives were also not happy with Gucake. A party insider told the press that the decision was taken at the executives meeting. It was alleged that Gucake would be replaced by senior journalist, Jo Nata.
Like Silatolu, Nata also crossed over to join Speight’s storm troopers in the overthrow of Chaudhry. Nata became the press spokesman of Speight and one of its most anti-Indo-Fijian critics inside the parliamentary complex during the 56 day siege. He is currently awaiting treason trial on Nukulau Island. Meanwhile, Adi Kuini threatened to take legal action against the FAP executives. She claimed that the meeting of the executives to have her replaced by Ratu Tuki and change the Senate nominees were illegal and unconstitutional. Ratu Mara however rejected FAP’s lists, calling upon the Leader of the Opposition Kubuabola to submit only five and not 10 names. Instead of submitting eight names to the President Mara for endorsement, as stipulated in the Constitution, Kubuabola sent a list containing 13 names. Three of those names were his own nominees which Mara accepted. The remaining ten, however, came from two factions involved in a bitter power struggle for control of the FAP The first list of five names was submitted by Adi Kuini Speed to Kubuabola on Monday, September 6, in compliance with the Supreme Court ruling.
A second list of five names however, was submitted to Kubuabola by RatuTuki, who was elected new FAP leader at an emergency national executive council meeting of the party on Saturday, which forcefully ousted Adi Kuini as party leader. However, instead of sending only five names, Kubuabola decided to send both lists-resulting in the President throwing it back at him for non-compliance. Meanwhile, Adi Kuini filed papers in court seeking a judicial review on the controversial meeting which overthrew her as party leader. In that meeting, Ratu Tuki was voted FAP leader, ousting Adi Kuini allegedly with the votes of the executive's majority, which included five parliamentarians. Ratu Tuki claimed that meeting was perfectly legal and Adi Kuini was no longer party leader.
FAP rift damages Chaudhry
The Daily Post, in its editorial comment, captured the impact the infighting was having on Chaudhry’s leadership and the image of the People's Coalition Government among grassroots Fijians throughout the country. The paper wrote as follows: ‘The division and leadership struggle within a political party is nothing new in Fiji politics and certainly won't be the last we hear of. It is part of the game politicians play in their quest for power and dominance, even though in the process they confuse the ordinary people who cannot understand the intricacies of the party system. As the biggest Fijian party in the Government, the Fijian Association Party supporters would be devastated to see their leaders already divided only four months after the general elections. Party leader Adi Kuini Speed, a high chief of the Navosa district, suddenly finds herself being dethroned by a group of disgruntled party members who are not happy with her list of Senate nominees. The breakaway group has elected its own party leader and officials and picked its own list of Senators The last thing the party members want is anything to jeopardise their numbers in the House of Representatives and the strong power-sharing position they currently enjoy in the People's Coalition Government.’
The Post noted that, ‘The Government too has rightly expressed its disappointment with the rift. It should be angry because this does nothing to strengthen the People's Coalition which is fighting to address many national problems, the most menacing of which is the land leases under the Agricultural Landlord and Tenants Act. Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry has worked hard to solidify the Coalition, beginning with the composition of his Cabinet. He recognises the importance of the FAP in his Government by appointing its party leader, Adi Kuini, as one of his two deputies. Not only that, his confidence in her leadership quality and political influence prompted him to allocate the important and sensitive Fijian Affairs Ministry to her’.The spectre of PANU spoiling the party was also of grave concern. The Post continued: ‘Apart from the FAP division, the Government also faces the threat by another of its Coalition partners, the Party of National Unity which meets this week to withdraw its two Cabinet ministers. Mr Chaudhry does not want this adverse development at this point in the life of his Government. The power struggle within the Fijian political parties has also been deemed by some as a reflection the political quandary some indigenous Fijians find themselves in today. There is a general feeling of instability and insecurity among those who still cannot accept a non-Fijian leading the nation. They choose to be blind to the results of the elections and the requirements of the new Constitution. And this is not healthy for democracy and the political development of this nation.’
Was it a Coup?
Ratu Tuki said the main reason behind the change in leadership was the lack of consultation within the party. ‘If its a multi-party Cabinet, one of the unwritten rules is greater consultation in parties on national issues and especially in addressing the more sensitive issues. Consultation is first and foremost under the existing system of multi-party government, and we just wish to continue with that and that is what we wish to promote under our new leadership because it has been frustrating elected members due to a lack of consultation and one cannot act unilaterally when it comes to party interests," said Ratu Tuki. Was it a coup? The Post’s acting editor and political columnist Mesake Koroi neatly summed up the infighting. He wrote as follows: ‘The talk around the tanoa at the weekend is that it was. Others have described it as just another crisis. The central figure in the power struggle, Adi Kuini Vuikaba Speed, prefers to call it a storm in a tea cup. That is how she is treating the events of Saturday morning in which she was unceremoniously removed as Leader of the Fijian Association Party. "As far as I am concerned, I am still the Party Leader and very much in control of the activities of the party," Adi Kuini said yesterday. "The majority of the party executives are with me, including all FA parliamentarians who are in Cabinet. I still enjoy the majority support within the party."
Yesterday she met party executives to decide what is to be done. While Adi Kuini downplays Saturday's events, she cannot ignore the danger which threatens her party now. They say that where there is smoke there is fire. She must act decisively now to maintain party unity and solidarity for the sake of the country. She must not allow the split within the party go any further. When the FAP dissident group, led by Party President Ratu Viliame Dreunimisimisi, took over the party operation on Saturday, it became obvious that it was not just a simple take-over bid. Whether the FAP dissident group were aware of it, their action of forcefully removing Adi Kuini from party leadership was the beginning of a well-planned move to destabilise Mahendra Chaudhry's government.’ Mesake Koroi said that was not an isolated event but part of a bigger plan to derail the Chaudhry Government. ‘
The main cause of this leadership struggle can be found on page 13 of the September Review where it is said that Ratu Tu'uakitau Cokanauto is to be made the compromise Prime Minister of Fiji, leading a grand Fijian coalition government with Ratu Inoke Kububola and Poseci Bune becoming Deputy Prime Ministers. If Ratu Tuki can depose Adi Kuini as leader and take the FAP out of the coalition government, the next step is for the Party of National Unity (PANU) to withdraw from the People's Coalition. The plan is for the grand Fijian coalition parties to woo across two Fijian members of the Fiji Labour Party (FLP). Under the present Constitution, this wooing across of two FLP members may not be possible because any MP who crosses the floor, loses his seat in Parliament. Ratu Inoke and the chiefs of Cakaudrove are now using the ALTA issue as the leverage to force the new government to its knees’.
Like Silatolu, Nata, and others, Ratu Tuki was also reported to have backed Speight’s coup against Chaudhry. He was reported by the newspapers to be among several People's Coalition Government backbenchers that had given their support to Speight’s short-lived Interim Administration that was to be led by Silatolu. Ratu Tuki, other FAP MPs and former Minister for Health Leo Smith, were escorted out of Parliament where they were locked up with other Fijian MPs and ushered into a meeting with coup leader Speight. In a press conference Speight announced their support. Ratu Tuki is currently in Qarase’s Interim Government alongside PANU’s Apisai Tora. In a most recent press statement Ratu Tuki said he no longer supported Chaudhry’s leadership because the former Prime Minister was directly responsible for the events of 19 May. The Bau chief said the members of the People's Coalition should be realistic and move away from the call for a Government of National Unity.
He said now was the time for political parties to move away from the Coalition and ‘ask themselves how much they contributed to the situation we are now in’. Ratu Tuki said individual politiciansand members of the Coalition espousing the return of the 1997 Constitution and promoting the Gates Judgement should first seek mandate of their people. He said those calling for the set up of a GNU had the opportunity to do the same before 19 May. ‘So, why know? Too many times we have played issues for our own political gain and political survival. We should not talk multi-racialism as a political front to gain yardage’, he said. Ratu Tuki went on to single out Chaudhry for special criticism: ‘Chaudhry has been identified as one of the people directly or indirectly [who] caused the problem. He never addressed the concerns raised by various expressions of dissatisfaction-they may have been small and isolated but they were part of the same unrest that became part of May 19. People should be realistic. They call us unelected but what are the consequences-it could become a firebomb. It could allow people to resurrect what they could not complete on May 19. The army put the Interim [government] in as a body that could carry out the governance of the country and give security at a time when the country was at the verge of anarchy.’
Chameleon Apisai Tora resurfaces from political shadows. Tora wants Fijian premier
Interestingly, Chaudhry had never been a member of Speight’s anarchists, nor endorsed or condoned their actions, which brought murder and mayhem to the streets of Fiji. He was its unwarranted victim. As expected, Tora, the political chameleon of Fiji politics, had suddenly re-emerged from the shadows. He not only revived the fearsome and, at times, violent Taukei Movement, but went on to become the Minister for ALTA in the Qarase regime.
On 22 August 1999, Tora said that he did not want an Indo-Fijian prime minister. ‘I'm bounded by the majority rule and they want a Fijian prime minister’, he said. Tora said that he had dissociated himself from Chaudhry and he would stand by that. Tora said that Chaudhry had broken promises and would continue to do that while in power. He said he was disappointed with what had happened and that was the reason he would not align himself to the prime minister of the day. He said that when they formed the coalition they had discussed many things but unfortunately Chaudhry took things into his own hands when his party won the election with a good majority. ‘They used us and they rode on our backs to win the majority seats and once they got in they forgot all about our coalition agreements.’ Tora said that the FLP and the prime minister should bear in mind that they were not fooling the Fijians but themselves.
In September, however, Tora himself was faced with the possibility of being ousted as general secretary of PANU. Like the rivalry inside the FAP, Chaudhry was once again saddled with another political infighting inside his Coalition, this time it was PANU. Tora, as general secretary of PANU, also reacted to claims that he was working against the Chaudhry government and siding with the SVT. ‘Because of divisions in the Fijian community, we have lost the elections. I think it's in our interest if we want to make sure that our rights, our privileges, our resources are protected. What I am doing is part and parcel of my job as secretary of a very important political party to unite Fijians,’ he said. The possibility of PANU pulling out of the Coalition again intruded into the running of the government.
One seasoned political commentator, writing elsewhere, has this to say about Tora’s entry into the 1999 elections: ‘Tora first broached a coalition with the SVT, and wanted a seat sharing arrangement which would recognise his influence in the west. He was rebuffed by western Fijian members of the SVT, especially Isimeli Bose and Ratu Etuate Tavai. Tora, they felt, was a spent force, his reputation for integrity and probity tainted by his impressive record of political bed-hopping. Moreover, the seat-sharing formula sought by Tora would have ended SVT’s reign in western Viti Levu, a prospect no serious party could countenance. Tora then turned to labour, which responded favourably. It was a coalition of convenience. Labour gave Tora wider platform upon which, relying on his cunning, he no doubt hoped to enlarge with his own agenda. Tora promised Labour western Fijian support and assistance in resolving the issue of the expiring leases. Tora held or seemed to hold powerful cards.’
The commentator continued: ‘Tora’s own seat was contest by Labour, whose candidate beat him. Outmanoeuvred, Tora refused to attend any of the Peoples Coalition rallies. Towards the end of the campaign, he became a vocal critic of the Labour Party, chiding Labour president Jokapeci Koroi for not forgiving Rabuka for his past actions and accusing Chaudhry of treachery. Tora refused to give preferences to his coalition partner, the Fijian Association Party, which had fielded candidates against his own. But by then, he mattered little. For once, the Machiavellian politician had been marginalized.’ Ironically, it was not for too long. Tora would re-emerge to set the stage for Chaudhry’s final exit from power.
Rebels don't scare me, says Chaudhry
Chaudhry said he was not bothered by moves to topple the government. Chaudhry, who had returned from abroad, said that he was aware of these actions initiated by ‘a group of defeated elements’. ‘Government is aware of such a move, but let me assure the public that we're the least bothered,’ he said. Chaudhry said his government was elected into office by the people. And he did not see why the defeated politicians of this country were going around asking for people's support to oust the government. He urged the group to come forward with positive recommendations for the betterment of the country. Chaudhry said his government had five years in office and they should be given the opportunity to deliver their promises. He said that it would be up to the people in the next general election which government they want to lead the country.
Chaudhry’s Deputy Prime Minister, Tupeni Baba, said Tora had every right to work constitutionally under the law to change the Government. Tupeni Baba said the rights of Tora would not be denied. Tora had told Radio Fiji News that he was taking moves to overthrow the Government. ‘Any Fijian in his right mind, anything and everything that this Government is brought down off course when I say brought down I mean legally, lawfully, constitutionally brought down,’ Tora said. When asked as to how he would achieve this, Tora said ‘Well we are thinking of mobilizing the Fijian Political Parties to form a coalition and move on from there, but I must stress it must be done legally’. Baba said Tora had been misinformed. ‘It saddens me to see that a very senior citizen of this country and politician being mis-advised about the Chaudhry Government, obviously he has got other agenda's and he is using the land negotiations, which is currently in process as a vehicle to segregate us’ he said.
Baba also said the Government was not trying to deny Fijians of their land rights. But Tora was unstoppable. The racial bandwagon was in full swing and hurtling out of control towards the Chaudhry government.
The Ghost of Pinochet and Tora
I have written elsewhere about the likelihood of the former military dictator turned late prime minister of Fiji, Sitiveni Rabuka, and his conspirators, facing legal prosecutions for their roles in the 1987 coups following the decision of the highest British court that former heads of state are not immune from prosecution from crimes against humanity. It is no secret that Tora played a leading role in the downfall of the Bavadra government, and in the process escaped the sedition charges that had been filed against him before the coups. His actions during the 1987 coups, and most recently, again smacks of paradox. In 1980 Tora led demonstrations against the Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet’s visit to Fiji. A picture of him in the Pacific Islands Monthly of June 1980 shows Tora at his vintage; being restrained by two Indo-Fijian police inspectors, he holding a microphone and a banner headline reading: ‘Death to Pinochet’. Many commentators of the day attributed Pinochet’s humiliating retreat from Fiji to the protests of Tora, his human rights followers, and the combined churches of Fiji who encouraged churches to hold a special day of prayer for persons known to be then suffering gross violations of human rights in Chile. They also ignored the protestations from the then prime minister Ratu Mara that the protests against Pinochet was ‘unchristian’ and that the visit was an opportunity for citizens of a free country to persuade and influence General Pinochet.
A group of Fijians wearing traditional grassskirts performed ceremonial mourning. Others wore black arm bands, chanted protests and held placards in Spanish and English, some of which read: ‘We hate dictators-Chile si, Pinochet no’. Pinochet’s car was pelted with several eggs and water bombs splattered across the windshield. Pinochet had enough of Tora’s hot taste of Fiji. He cut short his visit to the country and fled to his oppressive Chile. Now, Pinochet is likely to be tried on murder, torture, and genocide charges in his own country.
The late Fijian nationalist, Sakiasi Butadroka, had put up a sign outside a house in the Suva suburb of Flagstaff shortly after the election of Chaudhry as Prime Minister. The sign read: ‘Wake up Fijians, the Indians are taking over.’ He also tried to get a permit to stage protest rallies around Suva. He also planned to meet army commander Frank Bainimarama sparking fears of a third military coup. Butadroka did not have to wait for long. George Speight and his storm troopers did the job for him.
Chaudhry was bundled out of the political office by the machinations of those who remained on the fringes of power while their colleagues and opponents taunted and haunted them from inside the Peoples Coalition Government.The Fiji Labour Party, and its leader, remained constitutionally impotent ringside spectators as the various non FLP groups tried to settle political scores with their rivals.
The political show is over, and perhaps it is time for the Fiji Labour Party to go home: to leave the kingdom of the People's Coalition Government.