Fiji's tenuous grip on political stability

Author: William Wakawakatoga, University of Adelaide

After the December 2022 elections, Fiji will have a new prime minister for the first time in more than 15 years. A new government was formed with People's Alliance Party leader Chithiveni Rabuka replacing Frank Bainimarama of Fiji First. A former democratically elected coup leader was replaced.

The The main challenge Because the Rabuka government must run an effective coalition. The coalition lasted despite the tensions and on 1 January 2024, the Rabuka government broke the record for the longest tenure of any Fijian government to come to office through a peaceful transfer of power.

The suspension of several senior government officials and public comments on constitutional changes have prompted the Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) to raise concerns less than a month after the government took office. RFMF Commander Major General John Kalauniwai quoted the 'defender'. Role of Fiji's military – An ambiguous and controversial section of the military-run 2013 constitution, which places responsibility for the 'well-being' of Fiji and its people on the RFMF.

The dramatic exit of Bainimarama and his former Attorney General Iyas Said-Qaiyum, followed by several resignations by Fiji First MPs in early 2023, lit up the political scene.

Significant changes by the Rabuka government included the repeal of the controversial Media Industry Development Act and the iTaukei Land Trust (Budget Amendment) Act (known as ').Bill 17'), new appointments to Permanent Secretaries and Statutory Boards, the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the re-establishment of the Council of Grand Leaders. The evolution of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the involvement of a revitalized Council of Great Leaders in politics will be of particular interest given FijiFirst's opposition to these measures in 2024.

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A highlight of 2023 was the acquittal of Bainimarama and suspended police commissioner Sithiveni Giliho on charges of interfering with the investigation of a corruption complaint filed by the University of the South Pacific in 2020. This may have fueled his intention to convert Rabuka. Attorney General Siromi Duraga with Minister of Lands and Mineral Resources Philemoni Vosaroko.

The plan was scuttled after the Fiji Law Society informed Rabuka that Wosaroko had been disqualified from the post of Attorney-General due to a poor disciplinary finding during his tenure as a lawyer. The RFMF weighed in on the proposed appointment, which foreshadows future military involvement in government decisions.

Saeed-Qayyum was accused of abuse of office, but the case was delayed due to his medical trip. Said-Qaiyum resigned as Fiji's first Secretary-General in December 2023.

Another notable event in 2023 was the return of University of the South Pacific Vice-Chancellor Paul Ahluwalia to Fiji. In 2021, Ahluwalia was controversially detained and deported. It is noteworthy that the remains of academic Brij Lal were returned to Fiji. Fiji's foremost historian, Professor Lal, was arrested and exiled in 2009 after Bainimarama's military government criticized the government.

Rabuka, who also served as Foreign Affairs Minister, helped Kiribati return to the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). His meeting in February 2023 with Benny Venda, leader of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, contradicted his predecessor's position. Rabuka and the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, James Marabe, have been appointed as special envoys by the Melanesian Spearhead Group to resolve the West Papua issue with the Indonesian government.

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The Rabuka government has reassessed Fiji's relationship with China, with a significant shift towards long-standing Western partners. Rabuka said the AUKUS security agreement 'does not affect the Rarotonga Treaty or the non-proliferation agreement'. [of Nuclear Weapons] Agreement'. Rabuka reiterated a phrase often used by Pacific leaders – 'friends to all, enemies to none' – arguing that the Pacific is a 'zone of peace'.

The announcement of a planned new Fiji embassy in Jerusalem satisfied the government's largely conservative base. Fiji voted at the United Nations against a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza in October 2023, facing strong opposition from Rabuka's ally, the National Coalition Party. The RFMF also raised concerns about its potential impact on Fijian soldiers on peacekeeping missions in the Middle East.

The vote underscored Rabuka's pro-Israel stance. A permit for a 'Free Palestine' march in November was denied by Interior and Immigration Minister Pio Dikoduatua, drawing criticism from his own supporters and advocacy groups. But successful pressure on Rabuka led Fiji to vote in favor of an immediate humanitarian ceasefire at the United Nations in December 2023.

Rabuka's expression of satisfaction with Japan's plans to release a million tons of treated nuclear waste water into the Pacific Ocean over the next decade also drew condemnation. Fiji's parliament unanimously supported PIF leaders' desire to protect the Pacific Ocean and protect its resources.

The government faces future challenges and its performance will be closely scrutinized. A no-confidence motion against the prime minister could lead to Rabuka's downfall if one of the minor parties falls out of favor with the coalition.

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Rabuka's decision-making appears to be ad-hoc, often caught off guard by his announcements. But Rabuka's unpredictable nature may be linked to his desire to have a lasting legacy as a statesman and politician.

William Wakawakatoga holds a PhD in Politics and International Relations from the University of Adelaide. He is a former teaching assistant at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji.

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