The ordinary people of any country – what Richard Nixon famously called the silent majority – hope for leaders with judgment and Fiji is no exception. All of which makes it extraordinary that a senior politician like Mick Beddoes has taken to taunting the military with the threat of life-long jail sentences in the current political environment. Beddoes – the solidly-built former opposition leader and president of the United People’s Party – was responding to comments by the military spokesman and land force commander, Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga, that politicians should be constructive rather than destructive in their criticisms of the military and the Bainimarama Government.
No-one – least of all Grubsheet – is saying that the military is without fault. Indeed, many people question the wisdom of Colonel Tikoitoga taking part in any political discussion at all when his commander, Frank Bainimarama, is Prime Minister and ought to be doing the Government’s heavy lifting. But the response by Mick Beddoes was totally disproportionate – the verbal equivalent of an Exocet missile lobbed at the heart of the Queen Elizabeth Barracks.
Beddoes said the military’s reaction smacked of increased anxiety as it contemplated the ultimate return of Fiji to its people. With it, he said, came the likely commencement of an independent judicial investigation into the events of December 2006 – the Bainimarama-led takeover. “Fronting up to a truly independent court to account for their part in the events of 2006 and the prospect of spending the rest of their natural life in prison without the possibility of parole would have an impact on any individual who may not be covered under any military immunity, but are perhaps relying on the promise of one”, Beddoes declared.
Now you have to hand it to big Mick. To make such a statement so soon after the lifting of the emergency regulations and media censorship and 27 months out from any election requires a pretty thick hide. His small band of supporters – and let’s not kid ourselves, the UPP is tiny – will undoubtedly regard him as brave. But for anyone who values stability in Fiji, it smacks of a recklessness that is deeply worrying in a man who evidently aspires to national leadership again in the elections of 2014. Blind Freddy can see that the military is having trouble grappling with the idea of the people it removed at gunpoint five years ago regrouping for another tilt at leadership. Yet instead of adopting a posture of vaka malua– of cautiously probing the parameters and thinking of how best to get around the guys with the guns – Mick gets up and takes the equivalent of a Fiji-style late night drunken punch.
It wasn’t clear from his comments precisely how he sees the entire military leadership being frog-marched down from the barracks, put before the courts, convicted and then sent to Naboro Prison to hang out for the rest of their lives with George Speight. So why say it? Was it a threat? That when he and his new mates, Laisenia Qarase and Mahendra Chaudhry, are swept back into office by a grateful nation that they will wreak judicial revenge on the impertinent Bainimarama and his cronies on the Military Council? Does Mick have a crystal ball over there in the West? Can he see the Three Amigos – Qarase, Chaudhry and himself – with their feet back up on the desks at Parliament House and their nemesis Voreqe in leg-irons in the prison teitei? In your dreams, bro. So why say it?
OK, let’s examine potential motives. It may well be that Mick sees the best hope for his party in 2014 in tapping anti-regime sentiment and that’s fair enough. He’s been a party of one – himself – in any parliament up to now and became opposition leader mainly because no-one else wanted the job. Like everyone else, the UPP will have to be multiracial and broad-based. So maybe that’s Mick’s plan; to rally anyone who doesn’t like the military whether they’re i’taukei, Indo-Fijian or the old “others” – general electors – around his ample girth. And especially anyone who can’t stomach the idea of Qarase and Chaudhry returning.
There have also been clear signs in recent days that Mick is the attack dog of the Three Amigos – taking it upon himself to speak for Qarase and Chaudhry at a time when both may feel constrained by the prospect of legal action against them. All three – Qarase as head of the SDL, Chaudhry as head of the Labour Party and Mick as head of the UPP – are discussing a joint submission to the Constitutional Commission calling for the restoration of the abrogated 1997 Constitution. They know it won’t happen but they’re doing it anyway, which is also their right but smacks of a spoiling tactic rather than a long term viable plan.
When Grubsheet wrote a piece – that also appeared in the Fiji Sun – describing any tie-up between the SDL and Labour as M.A.D – both deranged because of their previous poisonous relations and Mutually Assured Destruction because their supporters are so diametrically opposed – who went on the attack? Not the leaders of those two parties but good old Mick. He said I was the M.A.D one – as in “Manipulatively Anti Democratic” – and accused me of being biased in favour of an “oppressive” regime and even flouting the new media laws by not being fair, impartial and balanced. It was a legitimate opinion piece – not news – and clearly labeled as such but evidently only Mick is entitled to his opinion.
In his response, he put forward the remarkable proposition that any tie-up between the SDL and Labour in Fiji is no different to those of the Labor Party and the Greens in Australia or the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in Britain. Politicians are renowned for their short memories but the electorate isn’t so stupid. Weren’t certain SDL ministers in Qarase’s governments the very people who plotted to remove Mahendra Chaudhry – the Labour prime minister – and kept him and his government hostage in the parliamentary complex for 56 days? Pardon me, Mick, but I don’t think that’s happened in Australia and the UK. It’s a nonsense and you know it. We’re just not as gullible as you remember us.
No-one knows what the future holds when it comes to politics or the judiciary for that matter. But Fiji badly needs men and woman of goodwill, integrity and calm judgment in the lead-up to 2014 to give us the stable and prosperous future everyone craves and deserves. When they finally get to vote again, ordinary people will also be casting for fresh ideas and sensible policies, not the division and self serving politics of the past. If Mick Beddoes wants to be considered for public office again, he badly needs to lift his game. Because by any standard, the comments he made about the military were a gratuitous provocation at a time when the nation needs cool heads, not little big guys with mouths that move faster than their brains.