Pacific Scoop

Former army chief Nailatikau now Fiji’s new President

Ratu Epeli Nailatikau ... sworn in as Fiji President. Photo: Radio Fiji

Ratu Epeli Nailatikau ... sworn in as Fiji President. Photo: Radio Fiji

Opinion – By Crosbie Walsh

As diplomatic relations with Australia and New Zealand continue to deteriorate, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau has been inducted  President of Fiji for the next three years.

No vice-president is to be appointed.

If the President is absent, Chief Justice Anthony Gates will act on his behalf. Ratu Epeli has been Acting President since Ratu Iloilo retired in on July 30.

Following his induction as President today, Ratu Epeli read the 13th century prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi – Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace:

“Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt,  faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.” (Fiji Times)

Earlier, government spokesman Neumi Leweni said the appointment was discussed by cabinet “quite a while ago”.

Why a decision was delayed for three months is anyone’s guess, but the much quoted Dr Jonathan Fraenkel, of the Australian National University, “a leading academic on Fiji” has one explanation. He says:

“Quite a few people have suggested that there’s some nervousness on Bainimarama’s part of giving executive power to Ratu Epeli Nailatikau [because Ratu Epeli is part of the old elite he told the UN he was replacing]. So there’s obviously [sic!] some fissions  going on within the cabinet.” The delay could “suggest a split within the interim regime.”

Guiding hand
Ratu Epeli, a former army commander, is credited with guiding Bainimarama through his early military career.

Several anti-government blog are openly critical.  FijiTruth’s article by former SDL politician Mere Samisoni calls it a “miscarriage of justice” and says deposed VP Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi was supposed to be the next president as agreed by the Great Council of Chiefs.

In a rambling, disjointed statement, she says:

“Bainimarama and his stooges have [acted] to avoid paying the price, under the rule of law, for what happened under his command to the murdered Counter Revolutionary Warfare soldiers and the four civilians.

“With Nailatikau’s appointment, there is now a Mara-Ganilau dynasty that is trying to rule and own the Fijian people and our land… Fiji languishes under Bainimarama’s politics of expediency.

“This kind of politics does not promote public good or justice. It is greedy for power, money and status and it is an insult to the Fijian people, to our history, our culture and our sacred values and aspirations.”

She then calls for elections.

Brief biography
Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, LVO OBE MSD OStJ, 68, has had a long career in the military, diplomatic service, and government. He was 17 years in the military, saw combat service in Sarawak, and  rose to Brigadier-General and Commander of the RFMF only to be deposed while overseas by Lt Col Sitiveni Rabuka in the 1987 coup.

His diplomatic career followed after a Foreign Service course at Oxford University with appointments to United Kingdom and Fiji’s Roving Ambassador and High Commissioner to the member states of the South Pacific Forum, before taking up a post as Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs and External Trade in 1999.

Following the Speight coup of 2000 that he strongly opposed, he was nominated as Prime Minister but withdrew in favour of consensus candidate Laisenia Qarase.

He was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Fijian Affairs in Qarase’s interim Cabinet, and  following the 2001 elections he was Speaker of the House until the 2006 miliatary coup.

Since then he has successively been Interim Minister of Foreign Affairs, Provincial Development and Multi-Ethnic Affairs,  Indigenous Affairs, and Vice-President.

In Fiji and in the Pacific, he is known for his outspoken appeals to combat AIDS and in 2005 he was appointed the UNAIDS Special Representative for the Pacific.

Ratu Epeli is the great-great-grandson of Ratu Seru Epenisa Cakobau who ceded Fiji to the British, the second son of Ratu Edward Cakobau, the Fiji Battalion Commander in World War II, and an uncle of the present king of Tonga.

He is married to Adi Koila Mara, the second daughter of  modern Fiji’s founding statesman Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara,  who was a Cabinet Minister in the Chaudhry FLP Coalition Government.

Adi Koila was detained by Speight with other government members for 54 days. She later spoke out strongly against Qarase’s inclusion in government of extreme nationalist CAMV politicians who had supported the Speight coup, and praised Bainimarama for speaking for the “silent majority” in opposing Qarase’s “Reconciliation” Bill.

She blames the 2000 coup for the early death of her father and mother.

Her mother, Ro Lady Lala Mara, was Ro Tui Dreketi and head of the Burebasaga confederacy until her death when she was succeeded by her younger sister, Ro Teimumu Kepa, who is a strong anti-Government spokesperson.

Adi Koila’s brothers are Ratu Finau Mara, recently appointed Tui Nayau and coup supporter, and Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara, the fourth-ranking officer in the RFMF.

Ratu Epeli Nailatikau will probably be the last president before a new constitution is written. It is doubtful the future will see a return to the past with the president nominated by the Great Council of Chiefs who must be an ethnic Fijian.

But the appointment could be made by the ruling party or, more likely, by parliamentary agreement, or even by the people in a national election.  The position could be largely ceremonial, with or without emergency powers, or, if elected, have some of the powers of a US president.

We will know sometime before 2014.  But, of course, if the government is overthrown before then, the chiefs could once again be the power brokers — and even more “reconciliation” will be needed.

Dr Crosbie Walsh is a retired professor and director of development studies at the University of the South Pacific. Other articles and links are on his Fiji blog.

Sources: Wikipedia and various.

1 comment:

  1. armstrong, 2. August 2012, 1:34

    Dr Walsh the prayer that was made by all christian churches
    In Fiji for peace and prosperity is it still effective in the
    Affairs of Fiji people? Armstrong.