Fiji Coup Supplement
29 July 2000
FIJI: the new order
by Ross Nepia Himona
Finally, and in their own time, the military has rounded up the leaders of the revolution, including the military people who defected. And a new government has been installed.
Laisenia Qarase, the new Prime Minister, is a conservative banker, reported to be a Freemason, connected to high-ranking Freemason, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, the former president. Qarase, as Prime Minister of an interim three year government, is also likely to have only an interim career at the centre of political power.
The Deputy PM is Brigadier General (retired) Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, who is also quite conservative, and a son-in-law of Ratu Mara. He is a high chief in his own right, descended from the great Ratu Seru Cakobau who ceded Fiji to Britain. His late father, Ratu Edward Cakobau, was a much loved former commander of the Fijian Battalion, and a former Deputy PM.
Ratu Epeli served on active service on secondment to 1st Bn RNZIR in Borneo in 1966, during Konfrontasi, the Indonesian attempt to divert attention from its own internal conflicts by destabilising the new federation of Malaysia. Ratu Epeli rose to command the Royal Fijian Military Forces, and was displaced by Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka in 1987. He then served for a long time as High Commissioner to the UK, and later as Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs. In 1998 Rabuka appointed him roving ambassador to the whole of the Pacific, where his (and his wife's) chiefly kinship ties to many of the leading families of other Pacific nations were invaluable. When Chaudhry came to power he was dismissed.
Ratu Epeli Nailatikau's younger brother Ratu Tuakitau Cokanauto is also in the cabinet, and is an important figure as well in the new order.
Ratu Epeli Nailatikau was himself a member of the Military Council that ruled in the weeks after martial law was declared, as was Brigadier General (retired) Ratu Epeli Ganilau.
Ganilau is another son-in-law of Ratu Mara, a former commander of the FMF, and the son of former Deputy PM, and former Governor General, the late Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau. We will hear more of him in the future.
What we are seeing at the moment in Fiji is a re-assertion of chiefly control of political power, with the military and political elites working closely together.
Ratu Epeli Nailatikau is moving to assert his chiefly authority over the many chiefs of the Bau Confederacy, and has called a gathering of all those chiefs to elect and install a new Vunivalu, or paramount chief. The position has been vacant for some years since the death of his uncle, Ratu Sir George Cakobau, another previous Governor General.
If Ratu Epeli Nailatikau is elevated to that high status, then he will become the centre of political power in Fiji for many years to come, and a stabilising influence. There are however four other eligible male candidates for Vunivalu, including Ratu Epeli's younger brother, Ratu Tauakitau, and whoever is chosen will become that powerful stabilising influence.
Notwithstanding that, the whole Qarase government is committed to the paramountcy of indigenous Fijians in their own country, but mindful of their need to treat fairly with the Indo-Fijians. Their immediate tasks however are to remove the causes of Fijian revolutionary fervour, to promote national reconciliation, and to start the economic recovery.
Major General (retired) Sitiveni Rabuka will likely remain a key figure for some years to come, both as the present chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs, and in other roles in the future.
We should also watch the career of Lieutenant Colonel Phillip Tarakinikini. He is a graduate of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, and of the British Staff College at Camberley. He served as a junior officer in the Meridian Squadron. Ironically he was trained by coup leader Ilisoni Ligairi, and was named by George Speight as the new Commander of the Military. Tarakinikini also served as commander of the Fijian battalion in the Lebanon, and as a UN military observer during the Russian withrawal from Afghanistan.
He has as much experience, and is as capable as any officer of similar rank in any army. He is also highly intelligent. Although not of chiefly status himself, he is highly respected by his chiefs and people, who often seek his advice.
There is a new national leadership being prepared in Fiji, and these will be some of the key players who will fill the political vacuum left by the generation represented by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, the late Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, and the late Ratu Sir George Cakobau.
Fijian traditional social and political structure
Fiji Coup Supplement