473,983 Assassins

November 10, 2007

When news emerged that Ballu Khan and eleven other conspirators had been arrested for being involved in an assassination plot against the President, the Commander and several ministers, there was a widespread reaction of shock, horror and disbelief. The donor’s darling, Angie Heffernan, and the ex-retired opposition leader Mick Beddoes just couldn’t believe the military’s claims, and asked for evidence. Commentators doubted it was possible, suspected exaggeration or accused the police chief of setting up a smokescreen. But …. lets get real. Around the grog bowls of Fiji, everyone knows that there are 473,983 would- or could-be assassins in Fiji – give or take a few thousand, this way or that.     

Frank’s coup has drawn a very different reaction from Fiji’s separate peoples. It has the backing of the Suva elite and most of the part-Europeans, a few pompous other-worldly chiefs and failed politicians struggling to get back into the limelight. Thanks to Mahen Chaudhry having signed up and Frank’s many years of challenging the despised Qarase government, it has the backing of the overwhelming majority of Indians in Fiji. Its funny to watch what happens whenever anyone says that December 2006 was (or was “perceived to be”) an Indo-Fijian coup,  as did deposed Vice President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi a few months back and as did a rambling Nepalese economist from USP  this week. In response, the denials come thick and fast, and the politically correct line about ‘cleaning up’ Fiji is quickly reasserted. All this really is a smokescreen. You only need to spend a few hours conducting your own opinion survey on the streets of Suva, Nadi, Lautoka or Labasa to find out that almost all the Indians support Frank’s coup, except for a few National Federation Party politicos who are angry because most positions in the new order went to their arch-rivals the Fiji Labour Party.  

On the other side of Fiji politics, the same survey would show that 473,983 Fijians recorded in the 2007 Census provisional results are even more unanimously against Frank than the Indians are for him. Many will nowadays be guarded and cautious, for good reason. Epeli will tell you ‘can’t say much’, and Isimeli will say he’s not interested in politics. Probe a bit deeper, and tongues will wag more freely, especially after a bowl or two. Check out the reaction to the RFMF’s attempt to smuggle all of its murder suspects in the Rabaka case onto a UN-chartered flight bound for Iraq, and the hatred most Fijians feel towards Frank’s government will come out into the open. Or suggest that the much-despised interim Attorney General, Aiyez Sayed-Keiyum is doing a splendid job as Attorney General and take your readings from the silent reaction or the incredulous eyebrow movements. No-one these days is certain whether Fiji is living under martial law or not, and so everyone is cautious, especially in public places where plain-clothes military snoops bend their ears towards your conversations. But, as some in the Director of Public Prosecutions Office and the Rewa Provincial Executives showed this week, there are still some willing to speak out openly against the current regime.  

Fijians have tried peaceful methods of defiance. In December, the Great Council of Chiefs rejected the regime’s entreaties to recognise its ‘reappointment’ of the President and, earlier this year, it refused Frank’s nominee for the Vice Presidency, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau. Methodist church leaders who denounced the new government as the work of the devil were silenced. The teachers and the nurses challenged the interim government using industrial action, but they too failed. As a result, people all over Fiji have been saying for some time, rightly or wrongly, that they think this ‘nightmare’ will be ended with an assassination. Rumours flow thick and fast that Frank sits alone at night sweating it out on his bed, trusting few around him. Ave Ceasar, but where is Brutus? And all the morbid talk about deaths up at the camp, and about Frank behaving like the military equivalent to Mahen and attending every soldier’s funeral, strengthen that strong indigenous Fijian superstition that what has gone around will come around, that vengeance is nigh and that Frank’s derogatory comments about talatalas and chiefs will earn him, as a commoner and a usurper who has got above his status, some impending retribution.   

Okay, ….maybe some of the 473,983 Fijians would stop short of assassination, but few would shed any tears if it happened. Many are devout Christians and deeply opposed to violence. But the Methodists, easily the largest denomination among Fijians, would exact such vengeance on the military as to make the crusades look like a teddy bear’s picnic party, if the stirring rhetoric is to be believed. And, on top of the give or take 473,983 Fijians, you need to add the increasingly despondent elites, disillusioned by the failures of the ‘clean up’ campaign and angered by the wanton thuggery of Frank’s new order. They too keep whispering about bullets and bombs.

There’s something strange about the assassination plot story. The truth may surface when the unenthusiastic Director of Public Prosecutions Office has to present state’s evidence in court. But just look at the principle suspects. ‘Man of honour’ Jone Baledrokadroka has been under close military surveillance since January 2006, when Bainimarama claimed he had ‘threatened to kill me’. Yet instead of confronting Bainimamara, back then his Marist school mate went off home to work various rural agro-projects in upland Naitasiri. Whenever he’s been in Suva, military minders are close by. Ratu Inoke Takeiveikata was only released from prison a few weeks ago, where he was banged up for plotting the previous mutiny back in November 2000. If what the RFMF say is to be believed, the minute he got out he organised a fresh conspiracy against the commander. The idea of mover-shaker Ballu Khan as the mastermind defies belief. Most probably, the RFMF snoops who have been following these guys around for the past ten months got itchy, wanted to justify their postings, and took the anti-regime bravado of the grog bowl as a sign of a genuine conspiracy. Getting Ratu Inoke Takiveikata back into prison is one in the eye for Gordon Ward. Locking up the arch-conspirator Metuisela Mua and the ex-CRW men surely seems like a good insurance policy for those who must spend the rest of their lives looking nervously over their shoulders.        

But what if its true? Around the Bucket, we’re none too happy with the thought of another coup d’etat, in the literal French sense of chopping off the head of the state. Its not as though everything would then revert neatly to the way it was before December 5th. Its pretty clear that Bainimarama has the support of the Military Council and, until Mahen jumps ship saying that he wants to contest the next election, easily the most ambitious politician in Fiji is in the wings ready to takeover. So no sniper is likely to relieve Fiji of its trials and tribulations. Better to pin down the commander to elections in 2009, or before, and prepare the groundwork for some better way out of the ever deeper hole into which Fiji is digging itself.  

When Frank Bainimarama overthrew Qarase’s government and then put together an interim cabinet featuring Mahen Chaudhry, you had to wonder whether the two men could work together without Qarase being in the picture. Chaudhry used to spit hell, wrath and fury at the military commander, accusing him of being responsible for the ‘real coup’ on 29 May 2000 (& calling Speight’s coup ten days earlier a mere dress rehearsal). It was common hostility to Qarase that drew Chaudhry and the military commander together. But with Qarase out of the picture it didnt taken long before the sparks started flying. The Suva journalists have, for the most part, not dared to cover this story. Around the cyberspace Yellow Bucket, people are able to be less cautious, especially after a bowl or two (& some hot stuff to chase).  On the information superhighway, none of us feel easily intimidated by Mahen Chaudhry, who is well known for being very free and easy with his threats against journalists (he instinctively dislikes them, … unless they parrot what he says).   

Chaudhry’s now in a double-blind, having told the Indian community that their low standards of living were due to corruption under Fijian leaders like Qarase, he now has to explain why they are even worse off under his own stewardship. For his big compromise with Bainimarama what has he got to offer? Well, truth up, he still has a fair old collection of portfolios in his own right (the big one being finance), but he can hardly claim to be accompanied by the cream that Fiji Indian politics has to offer. The deposed cabinet had star performers like Krishna Datt, Dr Gounder, the recently deceased Gyani Nand, Udit Narayan aand Chaitanya Lakshman whereas Chaudhry’s only other Labour ally in cabinet is Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi, who is making almost as bad a job of his sports portfolio as he did as minister of information back in 1999. Subtle politics is not his forte. Nor is man management …. but if you have a chinashop and need a bulldozer, well here’s your man! And the only other Indian minister in the military cabinet is Jainend Kumar, who has made such a mess at the Ministry of Agriculture that they had to send Major Neumi Leweni in to help him. Oh boyorboy! Imagine just how bad things must have been for anyone to think that someone like Neumi Leweni could actually improve the situation! Just the very thought of it makes us here, around the Yellow Bucket, need another bowl. takitaki!  

Indo-Fijian criticisms of the military government have increased of late, and many in the business community are realising that their initial hopes that the Bainimarama-led government would, as they said they would, ‘clean up’ the country were way off the mark. Much of the clean up talk has vanished, with FICAC going into a long and well-deserved slumber except when men in green want to run the odd protection racket (‘You grease my palm, and I’ll get you off the clean-up hitlist’). Instead, the Commander now describes the coup objectives as being to get rid of racial politics. Whatever next? Maybe soon the text messages buzzing through on his mobile phone will tell him to start talking about environmental catastrophe, genocide or terrorism as the ‘real reasons’ for the coup. Maybe he can tour the world, with Aiyez Sayed-Kayum at his side, to persuade everyone that Darfur is actually a province of Fiji or that the coup was necessary in order to wipe out Kurdish militants hiding in the mountains. Hey, anything goes! This guy Aiyez sure is believable. He has us here around the Bucket completely convinced about everything; one and one is four, and mashed up lamb and pork make chicken.   

A few weeks ago, the coup leader talked about bringing back the military checkpoints in Suva and elsewhere to get down soaring crime levels. That was a comment aimed at the Indians, for whom the checkpoints were the best thing about Dec 5. If you spend your life living behind wire grills and put up with dogs on heat howling all night but still get burgled all the time, well that makes crime your No 1. issue.  And the military checkpoints had pretty much stopped it after the coup. But the reason Frank raised the checkpoints issue in September was not because of his concerns about crime (not much of a problem at his super secure Domain residence now that his feisty next door neighbour Mike Green has gone home to New Zealand), but because he knew his support from the Fiji Indians was flagging and this was the one super-popular thing he could fall back on. Frank even called in the new police commissioner, Esala Teleni, and told him to earn his pay rise by doing something pronto! about crime-levels, all in the hope of reviving flagging support in the Indian community. 

And its not only soaring crime levels, break-ins, murders of Indian taxi drivers and the old staple temple raids that have made the Indo-Fijians think long and hard about the coup. The ignorant thuggery of Bainimarama’s public statements recently, live on Fiji TV, have cast him in an increasingly poor light of late amongst the Indians, just as his offensive remarks about Fijian culture have triggered a strong reaction from the indigenous community. 

But getting back to the IG’s big claim that it is eliminating race from Fiji, the four hundred billion dollar question is can Frank get rid of racial politics in his own cabinet?This is why the Diwali firecrackers have recently been exploding in cabinet.  Everyone knows that Chaudhry is no great mate of Poseci Bune, and the two men have barely managed to publicly conceal their distaste for each other. After the 2006 election, they fell out badly – with Poseci (always the opportunist) participating in Qarase’s mulit-party cabinet and then jumping across to be a minister in the illegal coup regime, even if he all the time stuck close to his Gujerati mates up at Kundan Singh. But the frictions with Chaudhry are still there beneath the surface. Mahen was none too happy that he lost the public sector reform portfolio to his one-time deputy FLP leader, and the present office politics of the post-coup interim cabinet doesnt quite do it for him. He is still ill at ease amongst the Fijian ministers like the two Ratu Epelis, and cant quite communicate with the more blithering well-past-their-retirement-date ministers and mystics. Its not like the glory days in 1999 when Chaudhry could sort everything out via a cabal of trusted Indian allies at secret meetings in Suva’s suburbs and then scoot down to cabinet to get the Fijian ministers to rubber stamp everything he’d decided.    

As finance supremo, Mahen is also pissed about resistance to his efforts to reign in military spending, which bust all budgeted limits during the coup months.  

Did anyone notice that, when Frank Bainimarama went abroad to the UN in New York and to the Forum in Tonga it was not his supposed Deputy Prime Minister, Mahen Chaudhry, who acted as Prime Minister, but instead Ratu Epeli Nailatikau? There’s a good sign of how much confidence Frank has in his deputy.   

So what’s the money on Chaudhry jumping ship or getting the push? Down at the betting shop at Nabua they’ll give you good odds. Weeding the garden beds down at Suva Point might get a bit risky soon. Who knows maybe he’ll skip the country (if he isnt put on a travel ban) and take up that long-cuiltivated residence in India. Or maybe he will end up at the Hague, answering charges of rank hypocracy.  

Meanwhile, its not possible to revive that great old Yellow Bucket tradition without a word or two about our boys in France. What a performance! Crushing the Welsh and then nearly beating the boks. And each time just when the boys looked dead and buried, back they came. Even the line-out, terrible in some of the early games, got better as the competition got sharper. If only the politicians could play politics like that, Fiji would be the way the world should be.     

Till next week & Namaste bro and sis!

Yellow Bucket Re-emerges

October 29, 2007

Its been a long time out of the picture, but the Yellow Bucket is back to create mathem,  offend the powers that be (or would-be) and tell it like it is. But this site has no connection with that which was circulating before the Fiji coup of December 5th 2006. After so many people were harrased and intimidated by the Fiji military, that websight stopped. Afterwards, blogs sprang up mostly carrying silly teenage comment about the Fiji coup and those involved.  The new Yellow Bucket site aims to give something better, more accurate and more penetrative. Watch this space for more (initial posts are experimental – while we master this strange system!).