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Ape or Darth Vader, it was ‘just a joke’

Thursday 26 November 2015 | Published in Regional

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SUVA – Fiji’s Speaker of Parliament, Dr Jiko Luveni said “everyone took it as a joke” when Acting Prime Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum made comments and gestures about a character from Star Wars – a joke aimed at Opposition Whip Ratu Isoa Tikoca.

She said she even laughed herself because she found it funny. She said MPs on both sides of the House – who were debating the 2016 budget – laughed about it.

The opposition say the Darth Vader imitation was lost on them – and claim the acting prime minister was making “ape-like” gestures and referring to Ratu Isoa as a monkey – a joke that they found not funny and smacking of racism.

Dr Luveni said she was surprised that two days after the incident, Ratu Isoa raised a point of order and said Sayed-Khaiyum’s action was offensive to him and the i-Taukei. Ratu Isoa demanded an apology from Sayed-Khaiyum.

Dr Luveni said she ruled it a non-issue because it should have been dealt with immediately after it happened. The real meaning of what was said should have been discussed, she said. But no one objected to it at the time, she added.

Sayed-Khaiyum said he had mimicked Darth Vadar’s speaking style in Star Wars movies by lowering the register of his voice to mimick that of Ratu Isoa and adopting what he suggested was a “Darth Vadar pose”.

However, opposition critics have asked “in what scene did the famous Star Wars’ villain adopt a gorilla-like stance and grunt like an ape?”.

Sayed-Khaiyum– of Indian descent – said he was saddened that lighthearted comments and gestures he made had been deliberately twisted to imply that he made a racial slur against indigenous Fijians.

Dr Luveni said the late protest over the Darth Vader joke – and the way it was was turned into a racial issue – was the only blemish in an otherwise great budget debate.

She said there were a lot of interjections and the debate was robust because the house was in committee.

She said she did not have the authority to stand and stop the interjections because she was not sitting in the Speaker’s chair.

She said MPs had learnt a lot during the first year of parliament. She said debates could be intense but when MPs knew the rules, she would not have to do much.

Pacific news media commentator, Michael Field, has jumped into the fray asking – “when did Darth Vader, albeit a movie creation of some standing, mince about like a monkey?”

“Anybody who has watched any of Star Wars movies knows that he never did. This simple fact does not make Fiji’s Machiavellian plotter Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum a racist.

“Opposition Whip Isoa Tikoca is accusing Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum of being racist. He probably has a good point given that the attorney-general-and-minister-of-everything Sayed-Khaiyum minced around Parliament pretending to be an ape. This was, he told the nation, how Tikoca looked, and by extension, all indigenous Fijians. Fijians equal apes.

“It is easy to call racism, especially in the heat of parliamentary debate. In the words of the philosopher Tana Umaga ‘we’re not playing tiddlywinks’.

“Given the obvious passions involved, it would have been better that Sayed-Khaiyum not act like an idiot. And that he did, he should have withdrawn and apologised.”

- PNC sources