The Fijian leader, Frank Bainimarama, has strongly denied claims made by two prominent former local journalists – writing in the New Zealand media – that he tried to mount three coups before his successful takeover in December 2006.
In two articles in the New Zealand Herald, the Oxford-based academic Victor Lal and Russell Hunter, the former publisher of the Fiji Sun, said Bainimarama had tried to take over the country after the Speight coup in 2000, and then again in 2004 and 2005. The latest article today details what the authors say is leaked correspondence from some of Bainimarama’s fellow officers urging him not to proceed and warning that they would oppose him.
In his interview with Grubsheet in Suva, the Fijian leader said the allegations were “not true”. In the case of 2000, Lal and Hunter report that Bainimarama demanded that the military should be given the authority to rule Fiji for 50 years but this was opposed by the then president, Ratu Josefa Iloilo. Denying the account, Commodore Bainimarama said he was already in control of Fiji in 2000. “For their information, I was in charge of the nation in 2000, so I took over in 2000. I gave the government to (Laisenia) Qarase”. The Prime Minister said it was historical fact that he had handed the reins of power to Laisenia Qarase hoping that he would govern for all Fijians and not just the indigenous majority. “Everyone knows the story of 2000 when I came in, so why they change this and (have) people believing it, I don’t know”.
Commodore Bainimarama also denied subsequent attempts to seize government before his successful coup in 2006. ” In 2004 and 2005, there was no intention then to remove the government because I was trying to tell the government to play ball. There was a build-up of animosity between us and the government of the day, but there was no intention then to remove them because I was trying to get them to change their stance on the Qoliqoli ( coastal resources ) Bill and the racism that was rife. I was trying to persuade Qarase that he was wrong but there was no talk of us wanting to do coups then”, he said.
The Fijian leader also responded to the account by Lal and Hunter that the former Australian police chief in Fiji, Andrew Hughes, tried to persuade NZ police to arrest him during a visit there in the lead-up to the 2006 coup. According to their report, Hughes believed that comments made by Bainimarama during the visit constituted grounds for a NZ charge of perverting the course justice. These comments related to an ongoing police investigation in Fiji into whether Bainimarama’s could be charged with sedition for threatening to overthrow the government of Laisenia Qarase. In the event, the New Zealanders refused to act, primarily because of fears for the safety of NZ citizens in Fiji if the arrest provoked a backlash in the military.
In the Grubsheet interview, The Fijian leader said he’d been aware at the time of the Hughes plan to have him arrested but had ignored it. “I didn’t think much of it because I think this guy is a twit. I mean, who would think of getting away with the arrest of a defence force chief in the Pacific, especially an Australian coming to arrest a commander of the Fiji Military Forces”, he said. Noting that the then NZ Police chief, Howard Broad “had more sense” than Hughes to reject the request, Commodore Bainimarama said the arrest attempt “didn’t surprise him” and he believed that Andrew Hughes was acting on the instructions of the Australian Government. “I have no doubt about that. The government of the day ( Qarase’s SDL) were puppets in the hands of the Australians so Hughes was doing the bidding of both the Qarase government and the Australian Government”, he said.The Fijian leader said the arrest attempt did not change his behaviour in any way. “We’d already made up our minds on what we were going to do and that was to remove Qarase”. he said.
He also launched an attack on Lal and Hunter, claiming they were engaged in a personal vendetta against him. “You should look at the writers. They are not credible people. Victor Lal runs down everyone in Fiji. So does Russell Hunter”. The prime minister said Hunter was motivated by anger that he’d been expelled from Fiji after 2006. “He got the kick from here so obviously he will try and retaliate”, Bainimarama said.