Future Prospects

In looking at possible future directions for politics in Fiji, we must again consider the notion of regime vulnerability and, in this context, examine also the concepts of overt and covert regimes. In the earlier discussion of the 1970-1987 period, it was evident that although the liberal-democratic framework operated at a superficial level as an ‘overt’ regime, there was at the same time a stronger ‘covert’ regime operating through traditionalist conceptions of legitimacy. But it took a change of government under the democratic provisions of the constitution to reveal the relative strength – or weakness – of each of these. Following from this, it is logical to depict the liberal-democratic pattern of civil-military relations during the same period as an overt but weakly supported model, whereas the traditional-aristocratic pattern operated at a covert level, but was more strongly supported by the same traditionalist legitimator. The coup of May 1987, then, can be viewed not only as an act of intervention for the purpose of destroying the liberal-democratic façade, but also as an exercise in regime maintenance insofar as it restored the eastern chiefly elite to power – but this time as the overt regime.

The traditionalist regime is now supported formally (and overtly) by a constitution which does little to disguise its essentially undemocratic character. As suggested earlier, however, it lacks the support of a majority of the population, especially as it is explicitly designed to relegate the substantial population of Fiji Indians to electoral irrelevance. In addition, it discriminates heavily against urban Fijians, as well as those from the central and western regions, in favour of the eastern provinces. It is primarily for these reasons that the new regime may, in the final analysis, carry within it the seeds of its own destruction. Far from keeping the indigenous Fijians united in opposition to Fiji Indians, the new constitution is much more likely to serve as an instrument for its political fracture. How long this process may take depends on too many variables for any certain answer to be given. But on any reasonable assessment, the future stability of the chiefly regime must be in doubt – an assessment which has obvious implications for the role of the military. For whatever happens in the arena of civil politics, the military has established itself in a guardian role. In the terms expressed by Luckham (1971:27), the military now has a strong ideological disposition towards regarding itself as the ‘Platonic guardian’ of the national interest. This points to the continuation of a covert military regime operating beneath the level of the overt chiefly/traditionalist regime. And the praetorian character of this development does indeed suggest that the military in Fiji has become a homus politicus in its own right.