Friday, December 30, 2022

2022 Pacific political upheavals, elections eclipse Tongan volcano

Popular original 1987 coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka . . . back as prime minister in Fiji
but with promises of a more democratic and transparent era. Image: FIJIVILLAGE

By David Robie

The Pacific year started with a ferocious eruption and global tsunami in Tonga, but by the year’s end several political upheavals had also shaken the region with a vengeance.

A razor’s edge election in Fiji blew away a long entrenched authoritarian regime with a breath of fresh air for the Pacific, two bitterly fought polls in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu left their mark, and growing geopolitical rivalry with the US and Australia contesting China’s security encroachment in the Solomon Islands continues to spark convulsions for years to come.

It was ironical that the two major political players in Fiji were both former coup leaders and ex-military chiefs – the 1987 double culprit Sitiveni Rabuka, a retired major-general who is credited with introducing the “coup culture” to Fiji, and Voreqe Bainimarama, a former rear admiral who staged the “coup to end all coups” in 2006.

It had been clear for some time that the 68-year-old Bainimarama’s star was waning in spite of repressive and punitive measures that had been gradually tightened to shore up control since an unconvincing return to democracy in 2014.

And pundits had been predicting that the 74-year-old Rabuka, a former prime minister in the 1990s, and his People’s Alliance-led coalition would win. However, after a week-long stand-off and uncertainty, Rabuka’s three-party coalition emerged victorious and Rabuka was elected PM by a single vote majority.

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