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Fractious week in Fiji parliament

Thursday 12 February 2015 | Published in Regional


SUVA – Fiji’s newly democratic government has moved to abolish the death penalty, but the opposition has demanded it be kept in order to deter its military from staging coups.

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama appeared to then threaten another coup after being insulted by opposition MPs during a fractious parliamentary session in Suva this week.

He said the insults flying did “not augur well for the relationship we want to establish here and the people of Fiji”.

Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has this week introduced a bill amending the military act to abolish the death penalty for assorted offences.

However Opposition MP Tupou Draunidalo strongly objected, saying the death penalty should remain in the Army Act as a deterrent to future coup makers.

Her stepfather, Timoci Bavadra, was prime minister in 1987 when he was overthrown in the first of four military coups. Draunidalo’s mother, Kuini Speed, was deputy prime minister in 2000 when she was overthrown in a coup led by George Speight.

At the time Bainimarama declared martial law and Speight was captured and sentenced to death on the civilian charge of treason.

It was commuted within hours to life imprisonment. Later the civilian death penalty was repealed.

In another row this week opposition members claimed there was another coup coming, followed by Bainimarama turning on them.

“Be quiet. Because of my coup, that’s why you are sitting there. Remember 2006,” he said.

“It’s very insulting to hear one of our members being insulted from across the room from that side with the iTaukei insult ‘kaisi’.”

Chiefly titles and insulting remarks should be kept outside parliament, he said.

He also attacked the opposition members who used the chiefly titles of Ratu and Adi.

“I know that side of the house does not like this comparison but I compare this August house to the military establishment.

“When you walk through that door, nobody really gives two hoots about your title, supposedly your blue blood; you walk through there as in a military establishment.

“When you walk out, you can pick it up again, your Ratu, your Adi, and you walk out with it,” Bainimarama said.

Draunidalo fired back that the opposition were not doormats: “And this is not a military institution. The military is beneath this house.”

Bainimarama’s arbitrary decision to remove the Union Jack from Fiji’s flag later this year is also creating tension, not helped by Prime Minister John Key saying New Zealand’s flag will change only after a referendum.

Bainimarama is pressing ahead with his plans to change the flag without a referendum.

Opposition member Biman Prasad, referring to New Zealand’s referendum, said it was only right that people decide on the issue given its importance and value.

“Change is good but let people decide,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fiji’s military commander Mosese Tikoitoga has got behind Bainimarama’s new flag campaign.

Tikoitoga said the army not only agreed with changing the flag, but said they will design one.

“Any design that the boys can come up with, we will leave it to their imagination.

“The only instruction we’ve given them it has to have the same shape of the flag that we have now, to have the same light blue background on the flag because it’s then important for our national anthem to the continued blue banner,” he said.

Anti-government website Coup4.5 says: “If it wasn’t so wrong, it’d be funny.”

“Bainimarama wants to ditch the Fiji flag but there’s resistance, so the gutless wonder has called in the military to endorse his plan and to remind citizens the army is only too ready to step in when he needs them.

“Hilariously, it’s been announced that the soldiers would be taking part in an internal flag design competition.

“It seems Fiji soldiers can do anything – from being peacekeepers, thugs, ‘elected’ government ministers, to catching American iguanas and now flag designers,” Coup4.5 says.