When this column focused on the Fiji election two weeks ago, my thoughts were centred on what would happen once the
election was over. Not surprisingly the vote was split along ethnic lines with caretaker Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase
winning 31 seats in parliament, while Mahendra Chaudhry and the Labour Party won 27 seats. Both men were considered to
be the front-runners in the election and this result was expected. However, the big question that hangs over Fiji now is
what role will coup leader George Speight have.
The problem with the result is that it gives no party a clear majority in Parliament. Therefore, a coalition of one form
or another will govern Fiji. Already there have been calls for unity, reconciliation and for the new government in Suva
to exclude George Speight. The New Zealand government has been quick to voice its opinion on this matter and has
cautioned Fiji on the inclusion of the ultra-nationalists. Following the election result, Foreign Minister Phil Goff
said that, “it would be a matter of regret if those with more extremist views were to gain disproportionate influence
through holding the balance of power. Most New Zealanders would regard the inclusion of George Speight in parliament or
government as unpalatable”.
Unfortunately, Mr. Speight is part of the political equation in Fiji, regardless of whether people inside or outside of
Fiji find this unpalatable. Mr. Goff claims that, “Mr Speight was responsible for the violent overthrow of Fiji's
democratic government and people died as a result of his actions. You cannot only follow the rules of democracy when it
Mr. Goff must be cautious when making statements such as this one. Mr. Speight was responsible for the overthrow of the
Chaudhry government and took power, albeit briefly, through the barrel of a gun. However he did follow the rules of
democracy in winning his seat in this election. While he should be held accountable for his actions last year and if
found guilty punished, people must be wary about criticising his election victory. Mr. Goff is correct when he says that
one cannot follow the rules of democracy when it suits you and this not only applies to the likes of Mr. Speight but
also to those who are its staunchest supporters and advocates as well.
Whether Mr. Speight is able to take his seat in the Fijian parliament is another matter. In determining his liberty, the
Fijian judicial system will also determine whether he can fulfil his duties as an MP. Under the Fijian constitution, Mr.
Speight must forfeit his seat if he is unable to attend parliament because he is in jail. His only hope rests on whether
he is granted a pardon, however if Mr. Qarase is serious about reconciling the differences with Fiji’s Indian community
then this will be unlikely.
Pardoning Mr. Speight for political reasons would be a major blow to Fiji’s efforts to seek rehabilitation in the eyes
of the international community and Mr. Goff is right when he says that it would be serve as a message for other
dissidents that violent action is the way to achieve their political objectives. Even with this being the case, Mr.
Speight may be granted his freedom.
Therefore, let us assume the worse case scenario with Mr. Speight being released from prison. What happens then? First
of all, it is Mr. Qarase that holds the key to Fiji’s political future and direction - not Mr. Speight. Mr. Qarase must
ensure that any coalition arrangements do not include Mr. Speight or members of his party and allow him to hold the
balance of power. This would allow him a disproportionate level of influence and would almost certainly mean trouble in
Secondly, Mr. Chaudhry must be allowed to play an active role, either as Leader of the Opposition or as a member of any
coalition government. The Labour Party did finish second in the election and therefore must await the decisions taken by
Mr. Qarase on who he governs with. These are the rules of democracy and if at the next election the Labour Party is
declared the largest party, then it will be accorded this right.
I am no supporter of George Speight or believe in anything he stands for, but I do concede that if he gains his liberty
that he must be allowed to sit in the parliament. I agree with Mr. Goff that this is not ‘palatable’, however I feel it
is dangerous for Fiji to follow any other path. There is clearly a problem in the country with nationalism and there are
others who will take over from where Mr. Speight left off. If Mr. Speight is allowed into the political equation then it
is probably the best method in assuring that there will be no repeat of May 2000 and keeping him and his supporters in
check. By allowing Mr. Speight to participate in the political process, the Fijian government denies him the opportunity
to claim that he and his supporters were not given a fair deal. Democracy does not always work to our liking, but like
Mr. Speight, we cannot decide to change the rules and determine the manner in which it is carried out along with who
participates and how. New Zealand was one of many states that called for a return to democracy in Fiji following last
year’s coup. Now it has returned, we must accept its outcomes whether we agree with them or not. Unfortunately this
example of democracy may involve Mr. Speight.
PS. I’m pleased to say I received a few replies to my column last week but I need to clarify certain points. Yes, I find
Michelle Boag attractive and to those who got a little upset at what I said, then I suggest they look up the word
‘irony’ in the dictionary. Finally to the person who emailed me claiming men like me give other men a bad name, I have
this to say: Damn right.