Guest Post: A first hand but different view on Fiji

January 27th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

A guest post by Deane Jessup:

On Tuesday the 21st of January 2014 Josiah Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama announced that on February the 28th he would resign as leader of the Fijian Armed forces so that he could contest the 2014 election as a candidate for Prime Minister.  On Friday the 19th of January I had returned from a two week holiday in , and weirdly I knew most of the details of Commodore Bainimarama’s announcement before I left Nadi Airport.  In fact I already knew such a surprising degree of detail that I was initially confused that it was new news.

I knew because the people of Fiji seemed to know, en-mass, well before it was announced.  They were also excited; not because a dictatorship was coming to an end, but because they were very happy that they would finally get to show their confidence in the man that had for so long ruled Fiji without a proper election.

At this point I probably need to make a few things clear; I am not a regime apologist, I am a politically aware centrist New Zealander, before this trip I knew about as much about Fijian politics as any other New Zealander does from the news, I have a couple of Fijian Friends, we have never talked about their home, and I had never been to Fiji before my family trip at the beginning of January this year.  In fact the last I had seen about Fiji was the horrific video David Farrar posted last year showing a prisoner being tortured by “police” officers of the incumbent government.  On political topics I often agree with David, I certainly agree that a solid democracy with a good electoral process is the corner stone of developed society.  I thought the coup was wrong, and the ends never justify the means.  That is why I am surprised, so much so that I felt the need to write this, and on top I am going to try and tell you why I have changed my mind and that Fiji may actually be one of those rare examples of an exception proving a rule.

While I was in Fiji I met and had deep honest conversations with people from all walks of life, the stories started with me overhearing and people volunteering information, eventually I became so drawn in that I was actively looking for opinions.   I’d like to think that I am a disarmingly genial chap, someone who people enjoy talking to and someone who attracts no ulterior reason’s to be disingenuous with.  So with that in mind I don’t believe I got a safe and couched view, I also work in high end sales, so I know when people are being dishonest and “selling” to me, this never happened.  Well almost never, I don’t count porters in Denerau, they nod and smile to anything you say as long as you’re out of the pool by 7pm and buying enough souvenirs and cocktails. 

Throughout my travels I met a senior manager from a large Fijian owned company and his wife who is a teacher, they both live in Suva.  A kiwi property developer who had lived and owned properties in outlying Fijian provinces for 20 years (currently in the far north).  Village elders (got to love those kava ceremonies), from Navua to Korovou and lots of taxi drivers both Fijian and Fijian Indian.  A Canadian man and his wife who had been in Fiji since 1997 who own a successful tourism business employing many locals.  A just arrived American couple managing a small dive resort, and many more including villagers from both rich and poor villages, expats, and tourists like me spending their own money in a country they felt very comfortable in.


A village elder tells me about traditional weaving

The message was the same, consistent, and delivered with vigour; the current government has done a great job, everyone expected the Commodore to step down and run for Prime Minister, and everyone intended to vote for him.  It was hard to argue looking around, education has been reformed and well-funded… from a system hardly anyone could afford to one that looks much like New Zealand’s, complete with a new law compelling parents to send children to school.  Roads look great, and the bustle of road development is everywhere, bridges are being built and other infrastructure is being improved, the police are out in force slowing down the traffic and checking seatbelts.  Health and hospitals are performing 10 times better than ever before, and new hospitals and clinics are being built everywhere.  Tourism is rising again, confidence in travel to the region is returning.


A very courteous sign warns that your speed will be checked soon.  Road-spikes impress that they are serious.


A man walks his horses on the very nice Kings Road over the top of Viti Levu through sugar cane country.

The really surprising thing was the anti-corruption and equality messaging, it was everywhere, from bus stops to bill boards; several people said to me that they simply did not realise how bad the racism and corruption was until attention was being called to it.  In fact the surprising thing was how welcome it really was.  One Fijian Indian taxi driver actually said to me, “Voreqe showed me I was a racist, and he also showed me a way to be different”.  Another, a villager said to me “I used to think it was right that my Chief got gifts to make decisions for people, even though my family never saw anything from it”.


A roadside bus stop encourages locals to call a toll free number to report corruption

Bainimarama is always painted by his opponents as a man who wanted control, a man who would do anything for power, and a man that has constantly meddled in Fijian politics (since he was able from 1999).  The funny thing is I sort of agree with them, and he probably would too.  I remember a line that Commodore Bainimarama used a while ago; it went something like “We cannot hold elections because the country will elect the old prime minister”.  At the time I thought how arrogant and dictatorial.  Retrospectively, and after seeing the bustling economic proof of his actions, I have come to see him slightly differently; yes he wanted and took control, but he has the air of a disappointed man with a heavy heart, I think he hoped that Fiji could find another way, yes he put Laisenia Qarase in power, and yes Qarase turned out to be quite a native Fijian nationalist, perhaps to begin with maybe Bainimarama thought the New Zealand apologise, respect, and repay (the indigenous) model could work for the Fijian Indian’s.  But at some point it seems he decided it wouldn’t, Fiji simply has too many other dominant points on its political compass, namely the Council of Chiefs and the Methodist Church, on top of this the Fijian Indian’s were not the dominant all controlling invading force that had something to apologise for.  Most of them were in Fiji because of external forces, brought as slaves to work fields, those forces have largely been dealt with by Fiji’s move to a republic.

I don’t know this for certain; I did not go before the coup, but I suspect that Fiji was effectively Feudal before the recent changes, and yet we are judging the change by modern standards applied to the creation of a 21st century country.  Realistically though the changes that the last coup brought could be viewed as little different to the American Revolution, or so many others that took place before and after.  No, this is not how you create a country these days, but viewed through a different lens perhaps it could be seen quite differently, perhaps even justifiably.

Bad things do happen occasionally, we saw that with the video I spoke of earlier, but bad things happen in New Zealand too, ask any European camper traveling Aotearoa with a touch more trepidation for those quite country nights than we would want them to have.  The kiwi’s, American’s, and Canadians I spoke to who have invested in Fiji are certainly staying, they are excited by the opportunity presented by an economy clearly poised for growth, every foreign ex-pat I spoke to said that without the current government they would have left years ago, some were considering it prior to 2006.  I bet the racially motivated nationalists in Fiji hate me saying that.

Either way, I have seen with my own eyes and more than 1000km of travel that Fiji is improving, and I cannot deny that the people at all ends approve of the changes.  I would put money that Voreqe Bainimarama will be elected with a good margin, and I will also bet that if he wants a second term he will get it.  Not because he will control the military, rig the election, and oppress his opponents.  But because he will literally do the exact opposite at the same time as running the best government he can muster with the people elected by the country he loves more than anything else.  Don’t forget he is a Fijian Native Methodist, for him to push equality ahead of his personal upbringing and risk the hatred of all he cares about he must have been completely determined that this was the only way.

As for me, I am already planning my next trip to Fiji at the end of this year, it will be twice as long as the last one, and my wife, my two children and I will see twice as much of the country that welcomed us in and told a fascinating story of positive change through revolutionary glasses.  Perhaps then, post-election I will get to see if sometimes the end can indeed justify the means.

By Deane Jessep; father, enterprise communications specialist, traveller, writer, and semi-reformed politico.

28 Responses to “Guest Post: A first hand but different view on Fiji”

  1. RRM (12,547 comments) says:

    Wow, fascinating, thanks for sharing.

    (Please look up the correct use of the apostrophe though, you will be surprised at just how wrongly you have been doing it.)

    Vote: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  2. hj (8,596 comments) says:

    So what sort of investment will the foreigners be investing in? What is Fiji’s comparative advantage?

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1 You need to be logged in to vote
  3. hj (8,596 comments) says:

    Seems like the sort of place that could benefit from comprehensive land tax so Donald Trump doesn’t mine the Lions share of capital gain.

    Vote: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1 You need to be logged in to vote
  4. hj (8,596 comments) says:

    This opinion piece says the same sort of thing

    Vote: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1 You need to be logged in to vote
  5. OneTrack (4,602 comments) says:

    If he is such a great guy, why didn’t he put it to a vote years ago?

    Vote: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 8 You need to be logged in to vote
  6. Viking2 (14,364 comments) says:

    Having seen the racism in Fiji first hand and the filth that once was Suva it needed a change.
    Whale has been pointing out that there was change going on with the emphasis to get rid of privilege and corruption that went with that privilege.
    For anyone taking notice it has always been Bainimarama’s goal to achieve this.

    Unfortunately NZ’s and Australian foreign policy wankers were more bothered by the fact that it was a military coup than by what was actually wrong and needed to change and how that would be bought about.

    And of course removing the obnoxious constitution the entrenched that racism and privilege was paramount. A constitution written by racist Kiwis socialists. Palmer and Reeves.

    Vote: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  7. mudrunner (107 comments) says:

    Thanks hj 8.22pm for you link to Les Simpson’s 2009 article in the ODT where he finished:

    “From a moral viewpoint, how is it possible that world leaders can support or prop up non-democratic governments, but criticise Mr Bainimarama for trying to introduce real democracy into Fiji?”

    I have often wondered exactly the same.

    Many I have spoken to, with some depth of Fiji, support Deanne Jessop’s comments.

    NZ and others supported less than democratic options that Bainimarama removed (and that Reeves supported).

    Given the vilification that he continues to receive, how can anything he has done ever be acceptable to those who flung the mud?

    Vote: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  8. BlairM (2,755 comments) says:

    If he is such a great guy, why didn’t he put it to a vote years ago?

    The same reason MacArthur didn’t give the Japanese the vote after WWII. They all would have voted for the same scumbags who started the war.

    Democracy is always two wolves and a sheep voting on dinner, and if you don’t protect the sheep before you vote, they get eaten.

    Vote: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  9. King Kong (72 comments) says:

    “Either way, I have seen with my own eyes and more than 1000km of travel that Fiji is improving”

    That is quite a statement from someone who was on their first two week visit to Fiji.

    Vote: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5 You need to be logged in to vote
  10. hj (8,596 comments) says:

    Interesting that Fiji is racist rather than celebrated for multiculturalism? The Fijian should be “enriched”? The UN should send Professor Spoonley to sort it out?

    Vote: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1 You need to be logged in to vote
  11. BeeJay (113 comments) says:

    Thanks Deane Jessep, for an eye, and mind, opening post. I worked in the Pacific in 70s and 80s, my first job in Fiji. I have had very confused views of Fiji politics since the coups first occurred in 1987. I had many Indian friends who left Fiji or were thrown out after being arrested, jailed and then left the country. I still have a few who stayed and worked through the considerable unrest that has occurred since the first coup. I also had many Fijian friends who felt disenfranchised by the growing financial and political strength of the Indian community. The Indian had the jobs and the money, while the Fijian seemed dominated by the Mataqali and the chiefly system. My company employed 120 staff in Lautoka, 80 were Indian, 40 were Fijian. The Indian occupied all of the skilled jobs, while the Fijian did the manual work. We tried to bring young Fijians into more skilled work, but often the pressure was overpowering, and so often they would return to their village and our pleas to the then Tui Vuda achieved nothing. I grew to have a real dislike for Frank Bainimarama and his actions, and obviously a closed mind about his politics and his dictatorship! This post has made me open the mind and really wonder if Frank really did have a plan and stuck to it. I have been back to Fiji many times since I left to work in PNG for the company and my love for the country and it’s people has never altered. I am going back again in June with all of my family, sons, daughters and grandchildren, maybe my eyes will stay open this time

    Vote: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  12. GPT1 (2,155 comments) says:

    FICAC has been a success. The current government has failed to root out police brutality but is not the cause of it. Bainimarama’s government has been far from perfect and there are real questions around freedom of the press particularly but it is far from as simple as Bainimarama bad, democracy (such as it was) good.

    Vote: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  13. Scott Hamilton (762 comments) says:

    I do wonder about the point of running an article by a person who admits he knows nothing about the history or social structure of Fiji, and whose ‘survey’ of contemporary Fijian opinion consists of conversations with anonymous people. There’s no mention of the fact that all of Fiji’s political parties, from the right to the left, have united around criticisms of Bainimarama; nor there is any mention of the criticisms that the regime has attracted from trade unions and religious organisations. The author refers to Bainimarama’s membership of the Methodist church, and suggests this will win him Methodist votes; he is apparently unaware that the Methodists have been some of the fiercest opponents of the present regime. And the author ignores the fact that it will be virtually impossible for Fiji to experience a free an fair election this year, because of the laws Bainimarama is using to limit free speech and his refusal to allow proper monitoring of the polls.

    It’s ironic to see Kiwiblog, whose proprietor and readers are so critical of authoritarian regimes in places like Cuba and North Korea, giving space to a clumsy apology for a dictatorial regime in New Zealand’s backyard. For an analysis of Fiji by someone who has actually studied the country and interviewed its key political players, check out Dr Maikolo Horowitz:

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5 You need to be logged in to vote
  14. Deane Jessep (77 comments) says:

    RRM, thanks for the comment – ironically I was an avid follower of the apostrophe protection society in my earlier life, I will have to remember when I write articles at 2am to edit them properly the next day before sending them. Thanks for the call out.

    HJ, you touched on it precisely, the money to be made will mostly be in property. Property will rebound quickly inline with economic growth. I also think that many will carve out new areas like Denerau and create great tourism wealth from the local climate, and phenomenal natural sea life. I may invest sometime myself (after the election and it’s wake, i’m not an idiot). Also thanks for the link to the earlier article, honestly I wrote this because when I went looking I could find nothing except vitriol and hatred surrounding Fiji’s current position.

    OneTrack, BlairM sum’s it up nicely, my read is that the old ways were so entrenched that something solid had to be done to break them, it seems that every time he set a date he then realised that it was too soon.

    Viking2, I saw hints of what the racism used to be like, and did some reading on the topic. I actually think Bainimarama thought a pathway to prosperity through nationalism was possible, but somewhere around 2004-2005 he realised things were only getting worse. The big points I think are that many of the native Fijian talent and intellect had moved off shore, the country was obsessed with Kava (a drug that slows you down and makes you care less), and the Indian work ethic was to intrinsically linked to the economy. All in this means that you cannot guilt the Indian population treating them like a minority and expect it to actually make everyone’s life better, when an economy worsens, everyone goes with it.

    King Kong, you might not travel with your eyes and ears open but I do. I listen to everyone, I cover lots of ground, I look at everything, I don’t tend to spend much time in manufactured tourist areas, and most importantly I know how to see signs of progress. It is easy to see when a road has just been paved, a building is new, and a population is buzzing about social-political and economic change. Also I may never have been to Fiji, but I have been all over SE Asia, China, and the US, all of them during times of political and social change. It may sound masochistic, but that’s the kind of holiday I actively seek out. One day I will write about my travels through Alabama, Georgia, South and North Carolina, and Virginia in 2011; that was an eye opener if you think what we see of DC, New York, and Los Angeles is the real America.

    BeeJay, thanks for the open mind, I think Bainimarama is trying to undo a lot from those first attempts at change. What he seems to be doing is breaking the political back of both sides and then forging a new government in the center. A lot of people have condemned his constitution and charter for the way it was written and achieved. I actually don’t care about who writes a founding document, it is the outcome, and public buy in that matters. I am thinking that what you saw at the time from the Tui Vuda, was the same as what many chiefs were doing, trying to undermine the process of change. Bainimarama seriously weakend the entrenched position of the chiefs. Good luck with your trip back, you can find my contact details pretty easily reach out to me with what you see and any recommendations for my next trip.

    GPT1, just quietly I think more is happening on the police brutality front than we see externally, one gentleman from Suva told me that the police are in for reform and that bad police are no longer tolerated. I don’t expect to see that kind of dirty laundry aired in the public eye though. We probably wont approve of them only being made to step down without much in the way of punishment.

    Vote: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  15. Scott Hamilton (762 comments) says:

    ‘my read is that the old ways were so entrenched that something solid had to be done to break them’

    The old ways were so entrenched that an Indian Prime Minister was elected in 2000. This same man is still the leader of the Labour Party, as well as a key figure in the Indian community, and he is also one of Bainimarama’s most vociferous critics, alleging that supporters of his party are being beaten and jailed for trying to conduct democratic political activity and pointing out that this year’s election cannot be free and fair when a free media does not exist and proper provisions for the monitoring of polling stations do not exist.

    Yet a Kiwi businessman seems to know more about the interests of Fiji’s democratic forces and Indian community than Mahendra Chaudhry.

    Vote: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5 You need to be logged in to vote
  16. Deane Jessep (77 comments) says:

    Scott, sincerely thank you for reminding me why I mostly find the far left (and often right) distasteful.

    The point is a point of view; I wrote that article with no agenda, and in it contains nothing more than my unbiased, observed opinions. I saw something very different to what I usually see written. (by biased people like you).

    You twisting my words so you can link unashamedly to your own politically motivated and unbalanced piece does nothing except make you look closed minded and self serving. I never said or even implied that Bainimarama being a Methodist will get him votes, I made the point that you don’t just stop being a Methodist and that fact must have made his decisions hard to make.

    You either skim read until you found something you thought you could use, or you read it and then deliberately twisted it, either way you are behaving like a complete Numpty.

    As an aside, I read your article, and it is actually quite good, very representative of how many elements that were once in power see Frank. Maikolo also sounds like quite the practical moderate. It is a shame that he chose to only interview the exact political elements in Fijian Society that Bainimarama has sought to hobble because of their racist, nepotistic, and largely corrupt practices.

    Vote: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  17. Deane Jessep (77 comments) says:

    You still miss the point Scott; I don’t claim to know more than anyone, this is my opinion, an opinion gathered myself by meeting and talking to people from every end of Fijian society. I am entitled to my opinion, and you are entitled to yours. The difference is I wont twist what your saying to meet my ends. Because I don’t have any ends in mind.

    Vote: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  18. Scott Hamilton (762 comments) says:

    You must be the first person to describe Mahendra Chaudhry as racist and nepotistic, Dean. A comment like that confirms my impression that you haven’t taken the time to make the most elementary study of Fijian history and society.

    The interview I linked to was with a Tongan-based sociologist and journalist who has been travelling the Pacific studying various regimes. I don’t necessarily agree with all of his analyses, as I made clear in the interview, but what is significant, and what you completely fail to address, is the firsthand evidence he provides of political repression in Fiji. Dr Horowitz witnessed a peaceful demonstration against Bainimarama being broken up with tear gas and long batons; he talked to the leader of the Labour Party, who described how Labour activists are beating beaten and jailed; he described the ferocious opposition of the Methodist church to Bainimarama; and he pointed out that the new constitution makes free and fair elections impossible. How does all this fit with your image of a peaceful and united Fiji delightedly preparing to re-elect that benevolent autocrat Commodore Bainimarama?

    What you are doing, in your bumbling and ill-informed way, is apologising for a dictatorship that tortures and locks up its opponents and keeps democratic politicians like Chaudhry out of office.

    I look forward to David Farrar giving a guest column to the North Korean Friendship Society.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5 You need to be logged in to vote
  19. Tautaioleua (431 comments) says:

    As of July 2013, the number one South Pacific holiday spot for New Zealander’s is now the Cook Islands. The number of kiwis travelling to Fiji since the 2006 coup is falling.

    The same is true for Australians with arrival numbers down by more than 50% despite the more than 80% discounts and flight packages for the more upscale resorts.

    The tourists have voted with their feet.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  20. Scott Hamilton (762 comments) says:

    Dean claims that he talked with people ‘from every end of Fijian society’, and they all, without exception, supported Bainimarama. At the same time, he warns that the people Maikolo Horowitz interviewed during his recent trip to Fiji, like the leaders of the Labour Party and the Methodist church, are ‘racist’, ‘corrupt’, and ‘nepotistic’, and shouldn’t be taken seriously as representatives of Fijian opinion.

    And yet the Labour Party and the Methodist church are two largest organisations in Fijian society. Is it likely that, if Fijians were as united behind Bainimarama as Dean claims, that the leaders of the nation’s mass political party and its majority church would be condemning Bainimarama as a tyrant who must be thrown out of office?

    Dean’s claim that, apart from a few bad eggs like Mahendra Chaudhry, Fijians are united behind their benevolent dictator reminds me a lot of the propaganda produced by apologists for old-fashioned Stalinist regimes. I’m old enough to remember the Communist Party of NZ claiming, in its newspaper The People’s Voice, that in the socialist paradise of Albania every single person not only supported but loved their supreme leader Enver Hoxha. Years after Albania and the CPNZ imploded, I talked with one of its members, a chap who had travelled to the socialist paradise of Albania and lauded it in print, and asked him how he could have come to such wrong conclusions about Hoxha. He explained that he had talked with scores of Albanians, and that they had all praised the regime that ruled them. What he hadn’t realised, of course, is that his interlocutors had no option but to echo the party line, if they wanted to keep their jobs and their liberty.

    Bainimarama’s Fiji is not as repressive as Hoxha’s Albania, but it is nonetheless a dictatorship in which the dark arts of detention without trial, torture and censorship are regularly practiced. In his interview with me, Maikolo Horowitz noted that many of the Fijian journalists who helped him acquire information and make contacts were very worried about their security, and insisted that he keep his contacts with them secret. Suva was, Horowitz found, a tense, troubled city, whose people were continually looking over their shoulders.

    I suspect that, when talking with Fijians, Dean failed to take into account the chilling effect that the Bainimarama dictatorship has had on free speech. How else can the absurdly one-sided response to his enquiries about Bainimarama be explained?

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5 You need to be logged in to vote
  21. Kea (15,179 comments) says:

    Other Pacific nations that do not have democracy have been supported by NZ. A king is simply an unelected dictator. In the past NZ has sent NZ Police to squash pro-democracy uprisings in the region.

    I am wondering why the double standards ?

    Vote: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2 You need to be logged in to vote
  22. Deane Jessep (77 comments) says:

    Scott, I wasn’t, I was referring to the un-named Methodist leader. I have the utmost respect for Mahendra Chaudhry. And accept that his potentially progressive government was a casualty of the move away from the old Fiji. It was not Bainimarama that caused that casualty though, from memory he cleaned it up and negotiated their release.

    On the topics that I wrote an opinion of I was not ill informed, I am also not apologizing for anything, just writing what I saw and was told, interesting how it is completely out of step with what people like you write having never actually done any eyeball investigation of your own.

    As much as I am enjoying this pointless tic for tack with you this will be my last comment, you seem to care significantly more than I do. I will probably write up the experience of my next holiday there after the election. I encourage you to visit Fiji to see for yourself, it would be a rewarding experience.

    Vote: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  23. Kea (15,179 comments) says:

    New Zealand must protest arrest of pro-democracy leader

    New Zealand should be pressing for the release of the leading Tongan pro-democracy MP Akilisi Pohiva, Green Party Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Keith Locke says.

    Mr Pohiva was arrested on Thursday. Earlier, Tongan police had arrested a second pro-demcracy MP Isi Pulu, who now faces charges of murder and sedition in connection with the riots last November in the Tongan capital, Nuku’alofa. In all, some 700 people have been arrested in the wake of the riots.

    Tongan Riots
    A 72-strong contingent of NZDF personnel were sent to Tonga on 18 November 2006, at the request of the Tongan Government.
    A demonstration by pro-democracy protestors in Nuku’alofa on 16 November….

    The NZDF contingent was supported by NZ Police and personnel from a variety of other Government agencies.

    NZ has supported tinpot regimes in the region for decades.

    Vote: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2 You need to be logged in to vote
  24. Scott Hamilton (762 comments) says:

    Tonga offers a warning to anyone who thinks that Bainimarama’s anti-democratic constitution and continued rule should be supported as somehow preferable to all alternatives.

    After the revolt of the Tongan people against their monarchy and nobility in 2005-2006 New Zealand and Australia sent police and troops to help impose order. Realising that it had to offer some concessions to its opponents, the Tongan elite negotiated a constitution that, like Bainimarama’s document, blended apparently democratic with blatantly anti-democratic clauses. For instance, the constitution allowed for the election of a majority of MPs by commoners – but it reserved a third of MPs for nobles. When elections were held under the new constitution seventy percent of Tongans voted for the Democratic Party, but the constitution’s gerrymandering meant that nobles formed a government. The results have been disastrous, both for the Tongan people, who have had to put up with the same corrupt and incompetent rulers, and for New Zealand’s government, which has watched with dismay as the nobles have steered closer and closer to China. Now the New Zealand government and its Canberra ally have belatedly sided with the Democratic Party. But it is far from clear how the opposition can gain power in this year’s election, given the gerrymandering built into the constitution that NZ hailed as a democratic document. If the Democrats again win a huge majority of the vote and again are denied government, then a return to the violent unrest of 2006 is hardly unlikely.

    Bainimarama’s constitution provides for multi-party elections, in an apparent concession to democracy – but it also makes its very difficult for parties to register themselves and limits their scope for activity and publicity. Without a free press and freedom of assembly free elections are impossible. As one of Maikolo Horowitz’s informants noted, people who are blocked from exercising their democratic rights will find other means to power. Bainimarama’s constitution is a guarantee of serious unrest in Fiji.

    Vote: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4 You need to be logged in to vote
  25. Bingo99 (167 comments) says:

    Wow we’ve really set the bar low for evidence now – the kind of evidence DPF insists upon for critiquing policy. Perhaps foreign policy requires more gut feel? More, taxi driver wisdom? Because taxi drivers everywhere are known for their erudite and fascinatingly non-partisan analysis of local political situations.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5 You need to be logged in to vote
  26. Scott Hamilton (762 comments) says:

    I don’t think I’ve seen a more idiotic opinion piece than Jessup’s on a NZ blog. His spiel is full of the most ridiculous claims – he insists, for example, that Fiji’s health services have improved tenfold since before the Bainimarama era – which are undermined not only by the complete lack of data he provides to back them up, but by the fact that he admits he has only the vaguest idea what Fiji was like before Bainimarama came along. I think there’s a culture in NZ of not taking the Pacific seriously, and this extends to analysis. Instead of drawing on some of the rich body of informed research produced by Pacific experts like Maikolo Horowitz, Kiwis turn to a mate who sent a week or so on a beach recently and talked to a taxi driver.

    Vote: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3 You need to be logged in to vote
  27. whiplashed (1 comment) says:

    “Dr Horowitz witnessed a peaceful demonstration against Bainimarama being broken up with tear gas and long batons…”
    Rich body of informed research Scott? I think not.

    Neither the Fiji Police nor the military even possess long batons let alone tear gas. Dr Horowitz must have “witnessed” this in another country.

    People in glasshouses Scott?

    Vote: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1 You need to be logged in to vote
  28. simonway (507 comments) says:

    Compare these comments to what happens when Gareth Morgan writes about his experiences in North Korea.

    Vote: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote