The coup staged by Fiji's military commander, Frank Bainimarama, against the elected government led by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase cannot be justified on any ground. There might be an element of truth in the allegation that the Government was corrupt and chauvinistic. However, the fact remains it was returned to power in May 2006 with the support of a large majority of Fijians. In fact, Commodore Bainimarama put his compatriots on notice, nearly a year before the election, that the military would take over if the civilian leadership did not mend its ways. Against this background, the strong electoral endorsement of the Qarase regime could not be read as anything other than a signal that the Fijian people preferred a democratic dispensation. Commander Bainimarama has promised to surrender within a week the presidential powers he usurped but will he be able to do that? This is not the first time a military dictator in some part of the world has invoked the "doctrine of necessity." The damage done to Fijian democracy will not be undone if President Josefa Illoilo and the Council of Chiefs go along with the military's game plan and install an interim government to oversee fresh elections. Ratu Josefa and the Melanesian elders would serve their people better by leading a campaign of passive resistance against the junta.
Commodore Bainimarama's claim that a desire to protect the interests of Fijians of Indian descent was one of the major motives for staging the coup must be taken with a pinch of salt. It is true that the Qarase cabinet was set on introducing legislation by which possession of coastal land and its rich tourism potential would be reserved for native Melanesians; and relations between Fiji's two largest ethnic communities, which have been tense since the first military coup of 1987, could have deteriorated further. However, to believe that a military made up almost entirely of Melanesians would have acted against a civilian leadership drawn from the same community in order to protect the interests of the minority strains credibility. The contention that the coup was carried out to prevent rioting on the scale witnessed in 1987 does not make much sense since the junta has now set itself up as a target for disgruntled Melanesians. Fortunately, the international community has moved fast to isolate the junta, with several countries imposing sanctions. With all significant sections of the Fijian people also opposed to its putsch, the military may soon find the costs of the coup unsustainable.