The Guardian November 15, 2000


Fiji: Struggle for democratic rights

The shoot-out on November 2 in Fiji's military barracks once again 
demonstrates how unstable the political situation remains in Fiji.

The immediate roots of the present upheaval can be easily found in the May 
events when George Speight took the constitutionally elected government of 
Fiji hostage on May 19. The present interim administration is there as a 
direct result of the coup.

In the short time that it has been in office, the interim administration 
has put in place new laws to counter activities which it claims could lead 
to the "sabotaging" of the economy. 

The new laws curb basic democratic rights such as freedom of movement and 
freedom of press, and provide for the confiscation of goods and property 
and detention without trial.

The interim administration claims the laws are for the "protection of Fiji 
and its people", to prevent trade union activities that could "cripple the 
country"  not that it was the trade unions who were behind the crisis.

The laws are specifically directed against the trade unions and in doing 
so, against the deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry who is an 
influential trade union leader.

Mr Chaudhry has been lobbying internationally for sanctions against the new 
administration.

The interim government has also taken actions against progressive activists 
and supporters of the deposed People's Coalition government.

This includes forbidding civil servants from wearing blue when supporters 
of the 1997 Constitution launched a "Fiji Blue" campaign to call for a 
speedy return to democracy.

Another disturbing example and a clear indication of the interim 
administration's policy directions is the fact the unionists and NGO 
workers have been removed from the boards of public organisations.

For example, Fiji Women Rights Movement coordinator Gina Houng Lee and the 
President of the Fiji Trade Union Congress Daniel Urai, were arbitrarily 
removed from their board positions on Airports Fiji Limited. Both belonged 
to organisations supporting the "Fiji Blue" campaign.

The Fiji Women's Crisis Center's Shamima Ali said that these terminations 
have reduced the number of women on government boards, that "it was 
definitely political interference".

Meanwhile George Speight and his close associates involved in the coup 
continue to be held on Nukulau island charged with treason.

The interim administration has set up a Commission to review the 1997 
Constitution. The Fiji Labour Party and the National Federation Party have 
refused to participate in the process and have called for a boycott of 
submissions.

Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase claims that while indigenous Fijian 
interests will be paramount during the Commission's considerations, no one 
will be disadvantaged.

The economic, political and social situation is only likely to remain 
unstable or deteriorate if the interests of the Indo-Fijians who constitute 
46 per cent of the population, are not also protected.

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