AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch / The Nation): The leader of Fiji’s first two coups and a former elected prime minister who ushered in the 1997 constitution, Major-General Sitiveni Rabuka, admits he still has political ambitions.
He also believes Australian and New Zealand sanctions imposed on Fiji are “punishing the innocent”.
Rabuka, who led both coups in Fiji in 1987 and was prime minister from 1992-1999, said in an exclusive interview on TV3′s The Nation this weekend that he had not ruled out contesting next year’s post-coup elections.
“I believe God doesn’t believe in retirement,” he said.
“I am still available to contest if my chiefs and my people want me to run as their representative.”
While he would most likely be a member of Parliament if he re-entered the political sphere, he did not rule out a prime ministerial bid.
Rabuka also said New Zealand and Australia’s sanctions on Fiji were punishing the innocent.
“They’re being felt by the people who have no say in what is going on.”
Rabuka said the sanctions were being particularly felt by the people in the army.
“They’re just slogging along and they need medical treatment in New Zealand and Australia, they’re not allowed to come in,” he said.
“So we have to take them all the way to India. You’re punishing the innocent."
He said that because of the sanctions, New Zealand and Australia had lost a lot of mana.
“Even after the restoration [of democracy in Fiji] it will not be a restoration, it will be the establishment of a new order.
“If we have elections and Australia and New Zealand want to come in, we have the right to say where were you when we needed you.”
LT. COL. SITIVENI RABUKA
Interviewed by RACHEL SMALLEY
Rachel Smalley: Former Fiji Coup Leader, Sitiveni Rabuka says he’s ready to re-enter politics and will stand in next year’s election – if it goes ahead. As an army officer, Rabuka led two coups in Fiji in 1987 for which he was later granted immunity. He is in New Zealand at the moment for Otago University’s Annual Foreign Policy School, which is being held in Dunedin this weekend. I interviewed him a short time ago and asked him if he was confident that Fiji would have democratic elections in September next year.
Major-General Sitiveni Rabuka – Former Fiji Coup Leader: Democratic elections is a relative term, because if you have elections that is a democratic process. So generally it is a process of democracy where you try to get the will of the people into the ballot box. To answer that I would straight away say no, because the people have not participated in the formulation of the system of the election. It will be an imposed system on the people to try and get the people to express the people’s will through the ballot box, and that has not happened because the constitution and its electoral provisions will not be the will of the people.
RS: So we won’t see a democratic election, we won’t see a constitution any time soon?
Rabuka: We don’t have a constitution. It has not been promulgated and when it does come into being it’ll be similar to the 1990 Fiji Constitution which was forced on the people after the coup in 1987, but it was a constitution which allowed the people to have their own representation in Parliament, and those representatives were mandated to reveal the unfair constitution by which they were elected. And by that reveal in the House they eventually came up with the 1997 Constitution which clearly says in the preamble, we the proposal of Fiji, God being our witness, give ourselves this constitution.
RS: Do you agree with non-racial seats?
Rabuka: I agree. I agree as long as you have a place for the races. You have to accept the races as a fact of communities and societies, and you have to deal with them on a race by race case.
RS: Right, so you would have race-based seats or community seats as they’re called as well as non-race based seats?
Rabuka: No, elections will not be race-based. The elections will be universal franchise, one man, one vote, one vehicle. That’s what this government is saying, and we are going straight into it from a system where you had one Fijian vote, one gender vote or open vote. Now we have one vote for one member.
RS: There’s a book that’s recently been published by Michael Green, New Zealand’s former Ambassador to Fiji. He says the coup is an [Indian] coup, is he right?
Rabuka: No that’s not right. The ascendancy of the visibility of the Attorney-General has given that perception.
RS: Mr [Aiyaz] Sayed-Khaiyum?
RS: There is some suggestion that he has more influence than [Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe] Bainimarama?
Rabuka: He’s higher profile, because he’s there facing the cameras, facing the media more occasions than the Prime Minister.
RS: Why is that do you think?
At home more
Rabuka: Maybe he’s at home at the time, more of the time when [Prime Minister] Frank is away negotiating overseas.
RS: So who’s actually running Fiji then, is it Bainimarama, is it the Attorney-General?
Rabuka: They have a Cabinet to run Fiji. It’s just that one personality comes out, appearing to be running the country. I believe Frank is still running the country, with his Cabinet. It’s just the profile that the people see is very heavily in favour of them thinking that the Attorney-General’s running the country.
RS: Okay, the political scientist Steve Ratuva has said in a recent article in the Fiji Times, he said the test of Fiji’s acceptance of democracy next year, will be whether the losers accept the result. What does he mean by that?
Rabuka: Well, first of all he’s got to identify the loser. Maybe he’s assuming that the current regime and their party which they have not formed, will lose. And I agree with that. And if they form a party and stand for election and find themselves losing that would be the test. If this current – maybe Steve shouldn’t have said the losers, he should have said will a current regime accept losing the election, the result.
RS: So, will Fiji therefore still be in danger of another coup?
RS: New Zealand and Australia still maintain many sanctions on Fiji. What impact is that having on Fiji?
‘Punishing the innocent’
Rabuka: They’re punishing the innocent.
RS: What impact is it having? How are those punishments if you like being felt?
Rabuka: They’re being felt by the people who have no say in what is going on. They have no say in the ousting of the people who are in the Army. They’re just slogging along and they need medical treatment in New Zealand and Australia, they’re not allowed to come in. So we have to take them all the way to India. As I said you’re punishing the innocent.
RS: Has New Zealand lost some mana?
Rabuka: New Zealand and Australia have lost a lot in the last seven years, six years, and will continue to lose. Even after the restoration it will not be a restoration, it will be the establishment of a new order. If we have elections and Australia and New Zealand want to come in, we have the right to say where were you when we needed you.
RS: You sound frustrated. Can you rule out ever returning to politics. Do you foresee a time when you may return yourself?
Rabuka: Well, I’ve just been contemplating on that and I believe God doesn’t believe in retirement, he has equipped us to be of service in whatever way. If I believe the door is open I will go into it until I see that it’s closed, and I am still available to contest if my chiefs and my people want me to run as their representative.
RS: What role would you want?
Rabuka: Just being their representative. Leadership is really something that you have to go for right from the beginning. Aspiring to be the political leader of Fiji now before the election is unrealistic. First of all you’ve gotta get into Parliament and get in with a new big base of support, to be able to go and lead. But you can be the voice of the people in Parliament. You may not be heard, your vote may not count. You may be voting with the losers. But you’ll at least be voicing their concerns, and eventually somebody will listen and some changes will be made, and that is what the people need, an evolution.
RS: So at some stage in the future we may see a Prime Minister Rabuka?
Rabuka: Not necessarily Prime Minister, but maybe a Member of Parliament. A Member of Parliament for his province. I have no personal wish to do that, but if it’s the will of the people I’ll be available for them to call on.
RS: You would like to be?
RS: Alright, Sitiveni Rabuka, appreciate your time this morning, thank you.