Former Fiji leader passes hat for comeback try

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The deposed prime minister of Fiji, Timoci Bavadra, is on a comeback trail, of sorts. It's been nearly a year since Dr. Bavadra lost his post in the first of two military coups which have turned the prospering Pacific nation into an economic and political mess.

In Australia recently for the first time since the second coup in September, Bavadra met with Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Foreign Minister Bill Hayden. Bavadra expressed disappointment over Australia's recent restoration of development aid to Fiji and advised close monitoring of aid funds.

He claims the military may be siphoning off funds, some from the United States, for its own use. (The US Embassy in Fiji and the Fiji government both deny this.)

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But most of Bavadra's time was spent passing the plate at university lectures and barbeques around Australia. During an interview from his budget motel, Bavadra outlined his grass-roots campaign for a democratic return to power, which he calls ``Operation Sunrise.''

``We are now moving village to village to explain the crisis to the people and organize our support,'' the thick-jowled Fijian said.

Essentially, this is the only campaign method left to Bavadra's ousted Labor Coalition Party. The media is government controlled. Diplomatic sources say Bavadra may no longer be a significant player in Fiji politics. And even if asked to, Bavadra says, he wouldn't participate in Fiji's current ``illegal government.''

But Bavadra says his support is growing. ``Already there is a tremendous swing of the Fijian people toward us because of the hardships since the coup.''

The coups have decimated tourism, one of Fiji's main industries. Bavadra claims inflation has gone from 2 to 7 percent in the last 10 months. There has been an exodus of skilled labor, and unemployment has doubled to 20 percent.

``Suffering is not selective. It reaches everyone, Fijian and Indian. People are now seeing we need the strengths of both communities to prosper,'' he says.

Bavadra was elected with strong support from Fiji's Indian community. But he was ousted by Brig. Sitiveni Rabuka as a way to keep political power in the hands of ethnic Fijians, slightly outnumbered by islanders of Indian descent.

Despite staunch opposition from the Queen's representative in Fiji, Brigadier Rabuka declared Fiji a republic, severing ties with the Commonwealth.

Several weeks ago, the prime minister of Fiji's interim government, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, was in London, hat in hand, seeking to patch up relations with the Crown and the Commonwealth. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher met with him and encouraged his efforts.

Restoring those ties would bolster the interim government's economic and political standing. Fijians hold deep affection for the Queen.

Whether or not Fiji regains the Queen's favor, reentering the Commonwealth may take some time. Ratu Sir Kamisese said it will be at least two years before a parliamentary democracy returns to Fiji.

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