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Political Animal_1410I strongly sug­gest you look up Fiji and its coups in order to under­stand fully the import­ance of this election.

My fam­ily has lived in Fiji since 1996. Dur­ing the 2000 ‘Speight Coup’ the mil­it­ary took over my Dad’s house as its base of oper­a­tions, which led to him unex­pec­tedly show­ing up at my place in New Zea­l­and. It was also one of a few encoun­ters my fam­ily and the Bain­i­m­ara­mas would have over the years.

When the 2006 coup took place, I was liv­ing in Lon­don, feel­ing help­less while the grounds around Dad’s house and my sib­lings’ school were sur­roun­ded by sol­diers. A couple of years later, my broth­er took Bainimarama’s daugh­ter to her ball, which led to a ridicu­lously angry phone call from Lon­don and a hil­ari­ous con­ver­sa­tion between us:

Look, keep your head and don’t get beaten up by soldiers.”

Bro, he’s cool — he gave us a keg of beer.”

You can’t take free beer from a mil­it­ary madman!!”

But it was free!!”

Since the Fiji­an coup d’état in 1987, there is now a gen­er­a­tion that has grown up with more coups than elec­tions. The mil­it­ary has been in con­trol of the coun­try for most of that generation’s life.

The short of it is that Frank Bain­i­m­arama took full con­trol of Fiji in Novem­ber 2006, declar­ing him­self a bene­vol­ent dic­tat­or with a vis­ion for a bright­er future. His goals were, amongst oth­er things, the erad­ic­a­tion of race-based polit­ics. His meth­ods were author­it­ari­an and, in some cases, dis­turb­ingly bru­tal. The ques­tion is, after eight years, can he give up that power? And what is New Zea­l­and pre­pared to do if he doesn’t?

But that’s all a bit ser­i­ous for one of my columns. So go and look for your­self and, in the mean­time, here are some quirky Fiji­an facts:

  • Fiji’s slo­gan is “Where hap­pi­ness finds you”, which, giv­en the country’s strong armed mil­it­ary gov­ern­ment, is more sin­is­ter than they intended.
  • Fiji­an elec­tions are known as ‘coups’, and gen­er­ally occur either three to six months after a demo­crat­ic vot­ing count or when the head of the mil­it­ary runs out of things to do.
  • Fiji’s cur­rent prime min­is­ter, Josa­ia Vore­qe (Frank ‘The Tank’) Bain­i­m­arama, resigned when his coup was deemed illeg­al. The pres­id­ent he had appoin­ted then sacked the Supreme Court, threw out the con­sti­tu­tion and caus­ally rein­stated Bain­i­m­arama. Totally legit.
  • The cur­rent pres­id­ent, Epeli Nail­atikau, was appoin­ted when Frank Bain­i­m­arama spat out of a win­dow and hit Nailatikau’s head while he was walk­ing by. This is known as a Bain­i­m­arama divine blessing.
  • Bainimarama’s favour­ite polit­ic­al move is the side-step.
  • Fiji used to be known as the ‘Can­ni­bal Islands’. In mod­ern times, how­ever, it is now known as the ‘Commodore’s Islands’.

Why does all this mat­ter to New Zea­l­and? Because, as China invests in devel­op­ing Pacific coun­tries and the US feels it has to ramp up its pres­ence, New Zea­l­and, as one of the world’s largest Pacific hubs, finds itself caught in the middle. But per­haps even more import­antly — in the strange Kiwi way that makes every­one a ‘bro’ — Fiji­ans are our ‘cuz­zies’ — and your fam­ily, no mat­ter how frus­trat­ing it may be, counts.

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