The Fijian military has overthrown the government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. Military head Commodore Frank Bainimarama has declared himself interim President and appointed military doctor Jona Senolagakali as Prime Minister. This is the nation’s fourth coup in 19 years.
After threatening for weeks that he would seize power Bainimarama has declared a state of emergency and placed Qarase under house arrest. Heavily armed soldiers are currently patrolling the streets of Suva, Fiji’s capital. Some senior police and civil servants have also been detained.
Soldiers have been dispatched to various media outlets to prevent any negative reporting of the coup. Bainimarama has said that the military had taken charge of the South Pacific island nation because the government had been “unable to make decisions needed to save our country”.
The stand off in Fiji started a month ago with a dispute that is centred on two bills proposed by the Qarase government. One bill was aimed at establishing indigenous Fijian tribal ownership over the country’s coastal land, and the second granting amnesty to the 2000 coup plotters. Bainimarama claimed some of the plotters of that coup had been allowed back into government.
The military regime now faces international sanctions. Both Australia and New Zealand have already cancelled joint defence programs and imposed travel bans. The US has suspended all aid and the European Union is considering following suit. It is estimated that sanctions will deprive Fiji of about $US200 million a year.
Bainimarama has said that a caretaker government would run the country until new elections could be held he has however not set out a specific timetable. He has so far failed to outline any program or policies beyond his criticisms of Qarase. However it is probable that the new regime will attempt to impose some sort of neo liberal economic restructuring aimed at encouraging foreign investors back to Fiji.
Qarase’s removal is a setback to the Howard government in Australia. Howard fears further destabilisation in the region as a result of the coup. The Australian government has turned down an appeal from Qarase to send in Australian troops. Howard said that it was not in Australia’s “national interest”.
It is probably more so domestic considerations that were a factor in Howard’s reluctance to intervene in Fiji at this stage. The last thing Howard needs, a year out of an election, is troop casualties in Fiji that could lead to opposition his other adventures around the globe. Currently Australia has troops deployed in East Timor, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Iraq and Afghanistan amongst others.
Poverty and unemployment are already widespread in Fiji. Very few workers have any choices apart from low paid jobs in the sugar industry or tourism. The sanctions against Fiji will obviously hit poor and working Fijians the hardest. They are not designed to defend the democratic rights of the people but are more so designed so Howard can reassert his authority as the main mini imperialist power in the region.
Some sections of the ruling class are warning that Howard must rethink his role in the region as developments are increasingly dominated by intensifying imperialist rivalries. Some commentators are calling on Howard ensure he secures control over the region in order to shut out other challengers. Many bosses are concerned that other countries, especially China, are seeking to advance their economic and strategic interests in the South Pacific.
There is an urgent need in Fiji and the entire South Pacific for a socialist alternative for workers, and the poor. Whilst socialists oppose undemocratic coups we do not support capitalist governments who represent only the big business elite. On the basis of capitalism it is a race to the bottom for ordinary people.
On the basis of a socialist programme, a mass movement could be developed to oppose all sections of the ruling elite and replace the system with a government that will bring into public ownership the key sections of economy. Only this would allow the living standards of the masses to be lifted significantly.