Fiji coup leader quits politics

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 15:51 30/01/2013
Sitiveni Rabuka
STANDING DOWN: Sitiveni Rabuka led two coups in Fiji in 1987.

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Sitiveni Rabuka, the army officer who started Fiji's coup culture, says he is quitting politics and will not stand in democracy restoring elections next year.

"I leave with no regrets, except for the way I entered, for which I have publicly apologised," he said in a statement.

Rabuka staged two coups in 1987 and was tried over allegations he led a military mutiny in 2000.

His departure comes as the present military regime of Voreqe Bainimarama, who led Fiji's fourth coup in 2006, is enforcing a decree requiring former political parties to meet difficult conditions to register for the 2014 poll.

The new rules appear to have ended any prospect for the party Rabuka started, the indigenous Fijian Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei.

Bainimarama is strongly opposed to ethnic-based political parties.

Rabuka said he would not take part in the elections.

"I am stepping out of all political activities," he said.

"I am very grateful for all the support I received from a large part of the Fiji population while in party politics."

Rabuka said he had no regrets about what he did while he had power between 1987 and 1999, adding:

"I changed what I wanted to change."

Rabuka, as a lieutenant colonel and third in command in the Royal (now Republic) of Fiji Military Forces, on May 14, 1987, ended the Indian dominated Fiji Labour Party (FLP) government of Timoci Bavadra a month after it was elected.

After then-Governor-General Penaia Ganilau tried to restore the constitution, Rabuka in September staged his second coup.

Rabuka eventually restored democracy.

Under elections held under his new constitution in 1999 he lost to FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry who stayed in power exactly one year before he was overthrown in the 2000 coup led by businessman George Speight.

Politicians were held hostage for 56 days and were eventually freed under a deal led by Bainimarama, who at the time ran Fiji under martial law.

Bainimarama subsequently had soldiers and rebels involved arrested, sparking a mutiny in which special forces soldiers tried to kill him. Eight people died.

In 2006 Rabuka was sent to trial on mutiny charges but he was found not guilty.

As the trial was underway, Bainimarama staged the latest coup.

Two years ago Rabuka told Fairfax he had apologised to the late Bavadra's family for the first coup.

"What I did was wrong," he said as the Bainimarama regime stripped him of his pension and his car.

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"I felt justice had finally caught up with me. I was receiving something I had unfairly gained."

Rabuka said that in 1987 he was young and "very traditionally trained ... in mostly traditional Fijian institutions".

Now he knows that leadership is different "where you are responsible for every citizen, irrespective of race".

Rabuka was granted immunity from prosecution over the coups.

He survived several high profile sex scandals in Fiji, defending himself after one colourful incident by saying he was "a carnal man".

- Stuff

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