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Fiji's ethnic divisions Fiji's ethnic divisions
by Amin George Forji
2006-10-26 10:09:26
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Fiji may be heading towards their fourth coup d'etat in just under two decades following recent threats from the country's chief army commander, Frank Bainimarama, to the government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. The cause of disagreement is the proposed Reconciliation and Unity Bill by Qarase, which Bainimarama has warned as being contentious and may seriously jeopardise peace in the country.

One of the proposed legislations in question grants amnesty to those involved in the November 2000 coup, while the other known as the "Qoliqoli Bill" institutes a new regime of indigenous land rights. The mentor behind the bill is said to be the country's Justice Minister Qoriniasi Bale.

Bainimarama fought the coup plotters, the so-called armed nationals of 2000, and came was victorious. He later imposed martial law in the country. He equally backed the appointment of Qarase at the time as interim Prime Minister, who legitimised his position a year later in 2001 during free and fair elections, plus a second term last May.

Bainimarama fell out with Qarase in 2001 after accusing the latter of being too lenient with the coup plotters, whom Bainimarama insists on putting in prison. He responded to the PM with the following ultimatum:

"We do not want or expect violence from any quarter unless of course Qarase and Bale want to take us in that direction, in which case they should be held responsible for any bloodshed. The military would like to state the situation does not have to be illegal when it comes to options it is offering to the Government - get rid of the bills or resign. What we are trying to tell the Government is if they can't give good governance then move aside and let some other people come in and take the nation forward."

His warnings left the country in total panic. Qarase gave a live broadcast to the nation and broke the silence on the matter for the first time, "I urge all citizens to remain calm and carry on with their daily lives in the normal way. They should not be misled by rumours and hearsay. Both the military and the police advised that there was no cause for alarm....There was no threat to order and security,"' reassured Qarase. "The Government, through the Ministry of Home Affairs, will continue to closely co-ordinate the security forces in monitoring the situation."

The ethnic Indians, who oppose the government in place because of marginalisation, have already voiced their support to any mutiny to bring it down. Notables of the "Lobuofiril", an ethnic Indian lobby movement, met behind closed doors following Bainimarama's statement and were reported to have given their endorsement for a change of government, in favour of a new administration that will be truly representative. Leaders of a parallel indigenous Fiji movement are scheduled to hold an emergency meeting on the latest crises.

Although there are at least six ethnic groupings in Fiji, just two of them continue to dominate social life, notably the indigenous Fijians and the ethnic Indians. In fact, 55% of the population are indigenous Fijians, while the ethnic Indians are 40.5% meaning that the other smaller communities are less than 10% of the 906,000 population.

However, many of the ten per cent prefer to identify themselves with one of the two dominating communities rather than postulating separate identities. The indigenous Fijians dominate political power and administration, while the ethnic Indians control the sugar economy, industries and tourism.

The relationship between the two main communities has never been cordial. The latest unrest just fuelling already strained relations.

 
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