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Fiji's military regime inspires loyalty, even in the midst of a crackdown

Sydney Morning Herald - January 13, 2012

Dylan Welch, Fiji Vijay points to a large, ugly, plaster-covered hole the size of a fist in a wall of his corrugated iron home as he describes Fiji before the coup government of Frank Bainimarama took power.

"A rock came through here," he said. "When [Laisenia] Qarase was PM, every second night you could hear big stones hitting the roof. This place was the highest crime area in Suva. You could hardly walk down the road they punch you, they spat on old ladies but under Bainimarama he made the police be very strict."

Vijay is one of several thousand Fijians who live in the Nanuku squatter settlement on the outskirts of the Fijian capital. Until the mid-1990s, the settlement had only one source of water, which was shared by everyone. It continues to have only limited access to electricity.

Vijay is ethnically Indian and eager to say that before the rule of Commodore Bainimarama, Indian Fijians were treated like second-class citizens and subjected to random violence.

Vijay's views echoed by many of the 38 per cent of the Fijian population that is ethnically Indian is the other story of contemporary Fiji, which has existed under a military regime since Commodore Bainimarama's coup in 2006.

The Herald has reported this week of new laws giving the government sweeping powers of arrest and detention and of a crackdown on religious groups and trade unions, but many Indian Fijians support the coup government because it brought stability and is less corrupt.

The past two elected governments, of Mr Qarase and Mahendra Chaudhry, are criticised for corruption and inflaming ethnic tensions.

Sitting in his small, sweltering lounge room with son Asish and grandsons Elvis and Aryan, Vijay affirmed he would vote for Commodore Bainimarama if he ran many expect him to in the planned national elections of 2014.

"I tell you, since the British [government], only this guy is good," said Vijay, who has lived in the Nanuku settlement for four decades and watched it grow from fewer than a dozen small houses to an area of thousands of impoverished people.

The lot of Indian Fijians reached a nadir under the Qarase government of 2000-06, which was fiercely pro-indigenous Fijian and included repeated attempts to kick Indians off their land when their government leases expired. The political system split down ethnic lines during that period, most indigenous Fijians voting for Mr Qarase and Indian-Fijians voting primarily for then-opposition leader Mr Chaudhry.

Commodore Bainimarama has sought to end the ethnic voting blocks and promotes "one person, one vote, one value".

His government says it is to prevent a return to ethnic violence that they have enacted the laws that allow people to be jailed for up to 14 days without a warrant or access to the courts.

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