RNZ Pacific has obtained documents that detail the run-up to the military coup in Fiji in 2006. Then Commodore Frank Bainimarama seized power. Now Prime Minister, his Fiji First party is favored to win Fiji’s second post-coup election next month.
The documents include a long, confidential letter that Fiji Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes sent to his counterpart in New Zealand ten days before the coup; Hughes died of cancer this past August.
Amid widespread rumors of a coup, Commodore Bainimarama was in Wellington for talks mediated by New Zealand with Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. Commissioner Hughes begged New Zealand to arrest him.
“His arrest in New Zealand would demonstrate in Fiji that no one is above the law,” the letter said, “Failure to do so will reinforce that whoever controls the military controls the government.”
Hughes said an arrest in Fiji was not possible, because even if Commodore Bainimarama’s bodyguards could be overcome, the military would intervene to free him. He warned that the commodore could not be trusted, and predicted the exact date of the coup - December 4th; and he got that exactly right.
The coup continues to reverberate. Bainimarama’s military government rewrote Fiji’s constitution to extend rights to the large minority of Indians, imported as laborers under British rule; at the same time the powers of indigenous Melanesian chiefs were sharply reduced.
In 2009, the Pacific Islands Forum suspended Fiji for failure to schedule an election, a move Bainimarama blamed on Australia and New Zealand and which he continues to resent to this day. In 2014, he lead Fiji First to victory in elections deemed free and fair by international observers.