#97 THE ATTACK DOG BITES BACK (REVISED 19/6)

“Strive to the very end”, says the family motto on the coat of arms that Mick Beddoes displays  proudly on his website. All of which means that dogged persistence comes naturally to Mick Malcolm Millis Beddoes, the businessman and politician who heads the United Peoples Party in Fiji. Grubsheet has labeled Beddoes the attack dog of the Three Amigos – the improbable alliance of himself, Laisenia Qarase of the SDL and Labour’s Mahendra Chaudhry in their current tussle with the regime over a new constitution. And true to form, Mick bit back when we criticised him for willfully elevating the national temperature by threatening to jail the military leadership over their 2006 coup.

In comments to the anti regime website, Coup 4.5, Beddoes took issue with our claim that the fallout was self inflicted, describing it as “ridiculous”. He said his comments were a response to “threatening” statements made by the military spokesman and land force commander, Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga. In other words “I didn’t start this, he did”.

But Mick, you just escalated it out of all proportion by threatening to send Tikoitoga and the entire military hierarchy to jail for life. Then when prime minister Frank Bainimarama muttered darkly about the day that happened being “the end” for those who tried to do it , what do you do? You and the other two amigos raised the stakes by saying you were “reviewing your stance” on the constitutional discussions. In other words, signalling that you might refuse to take part and elevating the national temperature yet again.

In his comments to 4.5 – which described Grubsheet as “the regime and Fiji Sun propagandist” – Beddoes let fly with a stream of personal criticism that steered well clear of addressing the concerns we’d raised. “Graham Davis is obviously a desktop journalist whose opinions are based largely on impressions gathered from people in Fiji who share his and the Fiji Sun’s prejudices and bias. Davis and the Fiji Sun are either ill prepared for, or simply afraid to engage in, any real and balanced debate on all of the issues that will arise as we start the journey back to constitutional governance”, he said.

Let’s get one thing straight, Mick. I’m not fearful of engaging in any debate. In fact I ran the last statement you emailed me – also personally critical – in full. But what I am fearful of are the consequences for the nation as a whole of your provocative and irresponsible statements. As I’ve written before, this is a time for cool heads and a determined effort by all people of goodwill in Fiji to restore the country to democratic rule. It is not a time to inflame an already delicate situation with the ludicrous taunt that those who currently hold power could be jailed for life when that power is returned to the people.

Let’s also get another thing straight – the reason you are adopting the stance that you are.  I suspect that it suits you to threaten to withdraw from the constitutional discussions – complaining about “threats” and a climate of fear – because you don’t want a new constitution at all. You want the old one back – the 1997 version – because it renders you and the other two amigos relevant when a future one may not. Why? Because instead of relying on your existing power bases in the country – “general electors” in your case, i’taukei in the case of Laisenia Qarase, and a large number of Indo-Fijians in the case of Mahendra Chaudhry – you will have to build new ones. You will need to devise policies that appeal to all races and contest multiracial seats for the first time. And only candidates with a multiracial following will have any chance of succeeding.

Scary, isn’t it Mick? All the old political paradigms in Fiji – the ones you’ve all built entire careers on – out the window. So scary that the grandees of Fiji politics  – Qarase, Chaudhry and Beddoes –  are prepared to morph from career-long adversaries into the most unlikely bedfellows in a joint effort to retain the comfy old framework on which their political lives depend. Hold that thought, Mick, and let’s go one step further.

You know that elements in the military are sensitive about the prospect of any return to the previous order. Yet instead of assuaging their fears – the responsible thing to do – you provoke them. You give them visions of languishing in jail for the rest of their lives. Now, why would you do that? Is it because you hope they will overreact, reinstate the Public Emergency Regulations and censorship so that you gain some kind of personal political advantage? That the Three Amigos can proclaim to the world – ” see, they’re bullies who can’t be trusted, just like we said all along?” That Professor Yash Ghai and his team on the Constitutional Commission will abandon the process? That the return to democracy in Fiji is actually delayed? Because that’s what it’s starting to look like to some people like me.

I’m not a propagandist for the regime or the Fiji Sun, Mick. I propagate the notion of a stable, prosperous multiracial Fiji as opposed to the racism and corruption of the past. When you threaten the military,  you are propagating conflict not stability. When you call for the retention of the 1997 Constitution, it isn’t for the good of the country but for the good of Mick Beddoes, Laisenia Qarase and Mahendra Chaudhry.  It’s the way you all came to power in the first place, riding the communal wave. But it’s the politics of division – the old order – that has hampered Fiji’s development, not advanced it. And I happen to think that most Fijians have had enough.

This article has subsequently appeared in the Fiji Sun.

FURTHER READING ( ADDED ON JUNE 19TH): A withering critique of Mick Beddoes and his racial attitudes by the New Zealand academic commentator Crosbie Walsh.