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Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, CF, MSD, OStJ, Fijian Navy, known commonly as Frank Bainimarama and sometimes by the chiefly title Ratu (born 27 April 1954), is a Fijian naval officer and politician. He is the Commander of the Fijian Military Forces and Prime Minister. While serving as Prime Minister, he has also temporarily held various ministerial portfolios: Information, Home Affairs, Immigration, Public Service, Indigenous and Multi-Ethnic Affairs, Finance, and Foreign Affairs.
Bainimarama has taken power twice in Fiji's history, the first time as Head of the Interim Military Government of Fiji from 29 May to 13 July 2000, after organizing a counter-coup to neutralize the ethnic Fijian putsch led by George Speight. He handed power over to the newly-appointed President Ratu Josefa Iloilo. He was instrumental in the rise to power of the government of the Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase, but his intense criticism of the government's policy of showing leniency towards persons implicated in the coup later strained his relations with the regime, and on 5 December 2006, he overthrew the Qarase government and announced that he had "reluctantly" assumed the powers of the presidency. He restored Ratu Josefa Iloilo to the Presidency on 4 January 2007, and was formally appointed Interim Prime Minister by Iloilo the next day. The appointment was declared lawful by the Supreme Court of Fiji in October 2008. Fiji's Commodore Frank Bainimarama has stepped down on 10 April 2009 as interim prime minister, after the country's court of appeal ruled the removal of the democratic government during his 2006 military coup was unlawful. President Ratu Josefa Iloilo then announced that he had abolished the constitution, assumed all governing power and revoked all judicial appointments. He reappointed Commodore Frank Bainimarama as prime minister. The media has dubbed Fiji a "Bainimarama republic", a play on banana republic.
Bainimarama's naval career spans three decades. He has received a number of honours for his service. He has been made an Officer Brother in the Order of St John of Jerusalem, and has received the Meritorious Service Decoration, the Peacekeeping Medal for United Nations peacekeepers, the General Service Medal, the Fiji Republic Medal, and the 25 Anniversary Medal.
Following his education at Marist Brothers High School, Bainimarama enlisted with the Fijian Navy on 26 July 1975 and rose smoothly through the ranks, becoming an Able Seaman in August 1976, a Midshipman in December the same year, and an Ensign on 1 November 1977.
After completing the Midshipmen's Supplementary Course in Australia, he was appointed Navigation officer of HMFS Kiro in August 1978. At the end of that year, he was promoted to Sub-Lieutenant. In January 1979, Bainimarama embarked on the Chilean naval training ship, the Buque Escuela Esmeralda, which spent six months circumnavigating South America. On his return to Fiji in August, Bainimarama was appointed Executive Officer of HMFS Kiro.
After a brief Navigation Course in HMAS Watson in March 1982, Bainimarama underwent Search and Rescue training at the United States Coast Guard Centre in New York. On his return to Fiji, he was appointed commander of HMFS Kikau, his first command post. He went on to command HMFS Kula, and spent four months in 1984 in the markings of the Exclusive Economic Zones of Tonga, Tuvalu, and Kiribati. After being promoted to Lieutenant Commander in February 1986, he departed for Sinai where he served for eighteen months with the Multinational Force and Observers.
Bainimarama returned to Fiji in September 1987. He took charge of the delivery of two naval ships, the Levuka and Lautoka, from Louisiana in the United States. He became Commanding Officer of the Fijian Navy in April 1988, and was promoted to the rank of Commander on 4 October that year. He held this post for the next nine years.
Bainimarama underwent further training at the Malaysian Armed Forces Staff College in 1991 and at the Australian Defence Force Warfare Centre at RAAF Williamtown, Newcastle, New South Wales, where he studied Maritime Surveillance Training. This was followed by Disaster Management training at the Asian Institute of Technology in 1993, and Exclusive Economic Zone Management training at Dalhousie University, Canada, in 1994. He was promoted to the rank of Captain in October of that year, and went on to attend the Australian Joint Services Staff College (JSSC). He attended the Integrated Logistics Support Overview course of the Australian Defence Co-operation Program on 23 September 1996, and the Chief of Army Conferences in Singapore in 1998 and 1999, as well as the Chief of Defence Conference in Hawaii.
Bainimarama was appointed Acting Chief of Staff on 10 November 1997, and was confirmed in this post on 18 April 1998. On 1 March 1999, he was promoted to the rank of Commodore and was named Commander of the Armed Forces, to replace Brigadier-General Ratu Epeli Ganilau, who resigned to pursue a political career. It was in his capacity as Commander of the Armed Forces that Bainimarama assumed command on 29 May 2000.
The Fiji coup of 2000
A group led by George Speight, a businessman who had been declared bankrupt following the cancellation of several contracts by the government, entered Parliament buildings on 19 May 2000 and disaffected elements of the Fijian population rallied to his side. For 56 days Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and most of his cabinet, along with many parliamentarians and their staff, were held as hostages while Speight attempted to negotiate with the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who denounced the coup and declared a state of emergency.
Believing that President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was not dealing effectively with the situation, Bainimarama apparently forced Mara to resign on 29 May 2000, in what some politicians have since called "a coup within a coup," and formed an Interim Military Government which negotiated an accord under which the rebels would release all hostages, including the deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, and would surrender without penalty. The government later reneged on the last part of the agreement and arrested Speight on 27 July 2000, with Bainimarama saying that he had signed that part of the accord "under duress."
Bainimarama attended a Leadership and Change Management course with the Public Service Training and Development program in February 2002, and a Policy Planning Analysis and Management course at the University of the South Pacific in Suva the following month. He went on to attend the Defence and Strategic Studies Annual Conference at the Australian Defence College in Canberra on 2 August, and the Program for Senior Executives in National and International Security at Harvard University in the United States from 18 to 30 August. In November that year, he was promoted to Rear Admiral, but this promotion was reverted to Commodore on 1 February 2003.
On 4 September 2003, Bainimarama attended the Pacific Armies Management Seminar XXVII in Seoul, South Korea, and went on to attend the PKO Capacity Building Seminar in the Philippine capital of Manila.
Despite his deteriorating relationship with the government, Bainimarama was reappointed Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces on 5 February 2004. That month, he attended the Pacific Area Special Operations Conference. This was followed by the Seminar Executive Course at the Asia Pacific Centre for Strategic Studies in Hawaii in April. In May and June, he attended the South East Asia Security Symposium. In September, he attended both the PAMS XXVII in the Indian capital of New Delhi, and the 7th Chief of Defence Conference in Tokyo, Japan.
On 14 December 2005, Bainimarama began an official visit to China, at the invitation of the People's Liberation Army. He reaffirmed Fiji's support for the People's Republic of China's One-China policy, and its territorial claims on Taiwan.
- See main articles: Military unrest since the 2000 Fijian coup d'état; 2005-2006 Fijian political crisis; 2006 Fijian coup d'état
Bainimarama, who initially kept a high profile after the coup, later became embroiled in constant controversy. He repeatedly entered the political arena to criticize government policy - especially its policy of leniency, as he saw it, towards persons responsible for the coup. Politicians countered with charges of inappropriate interference in political affairs, and some accused him of hypocrisy, saying that he himself had a case to answer for his role in Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara's resignation from the presidency.
Bainimarama condemned the early release of persons imprisoned for their involvement in the 2000 coup, including former Vice-President Ratu Jope Seniloli and Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, the Paramount Chief of the Tovata Confederacy. He spoke out against the organizing of Fiji Week, a week of religious services and cultural ceremonies, in which persons could apologise for their participation in the coup, that was held from 4 to 11 October 2004. On 13 May 2005, he announced his implacable opposition to the government's proposal to establish a Reconciliation and Unity Commission, with the power to grant compensation to victims of the 2000 coup, and amnesty to perpetrators of it. He agreed with detractors who called it a sham to grant amnesty to supporters of the government who had played roles in the coup. His attack on the legislation, which continued unremittingly throughout May and June and into July, further strained his already tense relationship with the government.
On 11 July, Bainimarama issued one of his strongest-worded challenges yet to the government, saying that it was forcing the country into the same anarchy as in 2000. In an eight-page statement, he warned that the Military would take decisive action against any "destabilisers" - among whom he named Attorney-General Bale and Ministry of Reconciliation Chief Executive Apisalome Tudreu. "The military will dish out the same fate we dealt George Speight and his group to anyone whom we think deserves this treatment," Bainimarama said. He said that he would arrest and put on trial anyone who threatened the stability of Fiji. The next day, it was revealed that a draft document signed by Bainimarama had originally contained a direct threat to overthrow the government if the bill went through. "The RFMF must stop the Bill from passing or get rid of the Government if it is passed. We can recover without this government, we cannot recover from this Bill," said part of an emboldened paragraph, which was edited out of the document, part of the Military's draft submission to the parliamentary committee considering the bill, before publication. The document accused Prime Minister Qarase and Attorney-General Bale of playing the race card deliberately for political reasons.
Home Affairs Minister Vosanibola finally admitted on 13 July that the government was constitutionally powerless to do anything to discipline the Military commander. He said that the government was very concerned about Bainimarama's behaviour, and accused the media of exacerbating the tensions. "You (the media) can play a major role and come to us first instead of coming to us after highlighting what he (Bainimarama) has said," Vosanibola told the Fiji Times. On 20 July, however, Bainimarama claimed that Vosanibola had attempted to dismiss him in June. Vosanibola had presented a letter of termination to the government, which they had discussed, he claimed.
On 24 August, Bainimarama went public with allegations that Senator Apisai Tora and other politicians, whom he did not name, had asked him to depose President Iloilo in 2000. Tora angrily denied the accusations, and was supported by Prime Minister Qarase, who claimed to have attended the meeting where the topic of removing President Iloilo was alleged to have come up. No such topic was discussed, Qarase said. Bainimarama reiterated his allegations on 1 September, and police spokeswoman Sylvia Low said that a file had, in fact, been opened as far back as 2001, when Bainimarama had made a statement to the police naming individuals he said were involved in the plot. That file was still open, Low said.
On 5 September, a team of Criminal Investigation Officers interviewed Bainimarama about his allegations. The details of the discussion were not disclosed, except that Bainimarama had filed an official statement. He told the media after the meeting that he was willing to testify in court. Earlier, Kevueli Bulamainaivalu, the police officer heading the investigation, had said on 29 August that until Commodore Bainimarama had filed an official report and signed it, the police could do nothing.
Bainimarama's detractors accused him of hypocrisy for vehemently opposing what he saw as the government's policy of leniency towards perpetrators of the 2000 coup, when there were unanswered questions about his own role in it.
On 25 April 2004, then-Opposition Leader Mick Beddoes called on the army to answer for its failure to protect President Mara while the country was in crisis. He called this "a fundamental failure" on the part of the army. On 5 January 2005, Joji Kotobalavu, a spokesman for Prime Minister Qarase, reminded the public that Bainimarama himself was currently under investigation for his role in the apparently forced resignation of President Mara.
On 2 May 2005, Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes announced that Bainimarama had volunteered to make a statement about his own role in Mara's resignation. To lay any charges, Hughes had earlier said, it would have to be proven that Bainimarama actually forced the President to resign.
Bougainville security situation
Bainimarama told the Fiji Live news service on 13 December that Noah Musingku, a Papua New Guinea businessman who once ran a failed pyramid scheme and has since been involved with an armed separatist movement on the island of Bougainville, had contacted him several months earlier, offering F$35 million for his cooperation with respect to "security work" in Bougainville. Bainimarama recognized the scheme as an obvious "con job", he said, and did not reply to the letter.
Fijian political unrest and coup d'état, 2006
On 31 October 2006, while Bainimarama was in Egypt visiting Fijian forces on peacekeeping duties in the Middle East, President Iloilo moved to terminate the appointment of Bainimarama, appointing instead Lieutenant Colonel Meli Saubulinayau who declined to take the position. Senior Fijian military officers backed Bainimarama, who quickly called on the Government to resign. The governments of Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and others called for calm, and asked for assurances that the Fijian military not rise against the government.
In late November 2006, Bainimarama handed down a list of demands to Qarase, one of which was the withdrawal of three controversial bills, including the Qoliqoli Bill (which would have transferred ownership of maritime resources to the Fijian people) and the Reconciliation, Tolerance, and Unity Bill, which would have offered conditional pardons to persons convicted of involvement in the 2000 coup. Despite further talks in Suva and in Wellington, New Zealand, Bainimarama gave the Prime Minister Qarase an ultimatum of 4 December to accede to his demands or to resign. In a televised address, Qarase agreed to put the three contentious bills on hold, review the appointment of Andrew Hughes as Police Commissioner (Bainimarama had demanded his dismissal), and give the police the option of discontinuing investigations into the Commander's alleged acts of sedition. He refused further concessions, saying that he had conceded all that was possible within the law.
Military manoeuvres followed, including the seizure of government vehicles and the house arrest of Prime Minister Qarase. On 5 December President Ratu Josefa Iloilo was said to have signed a legal order dissolving Parliament after meeting with Bainimarama. The President later issued a statement categorically denying having signed any such decree, however, and the exiled Commissioner of Police, Andrew Hughes, implicated Iloilo's secretary in the fabrication of the decree at the direction of Commander Bainimarama.
As of 9 December, there were reported arrests of members of the media and open dissenters, as well as incidents of intimidation and violence committed against political figures. Stuart Huggett, Chairman of the Public Service Commission, was reported to have been assaulted.
Bainimarama told a press conference on 15 December that he would agree to attend a forthcoming meeting of the Great Council of Chiefs, the feudal body empowered to choose the country's President, Vice-President, and fourteen of the thirty two Senators, only in his capacity as President of the Republic, the Fiji Sun reported. Told that the Great Council still recognized Ratu Josefa Iloilo as President, he said that in that case he would boycott the meeting. He also condemned the Great Council's invitation to deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, saying that Qarase would not be allowed to return to Suva to attend the meeting.
On 6 September 2007, Bainimarama imposed a renewed state of emergency for one month, alleging that Qarase and his spokesman were spreading lies and attempting to cause destabilization, following Qarase's return to Suva after having been confined to the island of Vanuabalavu since his ouster. Bainimarama said that Qarase and his spokesman should return to Vanuabalavu and that they could "talk from there".
Bainimarama became acting Minister of Finance on 18 August 2008 after Chaudhry and the other Labour Party ministers withdrew from the interim government.
Explaining the coup
The immediate cause of the military coup was Prime Minister Qarase's refusal to withdraw the Qoliqoli Bill. Bainimarama stated that his main reasons for overthrowing the Qarase government were that it was corrupt, and that it was conducting racially discriminatory policies against the country's Indo-Fijian minority. In a speech publicly announcing the coup, he stated that Qarase's policies had "divided the nation now and will have very serious consequences to our future generations". He added that "the passing of the Reconciliation, Qoliqoli and Land Claims [Bills] will undermine the Constitution, will deprive many citizens of their rights as guaranteed under the Constitution and compromise and undermine the integrity of the Constitutional Offices including the Judiciary". He explained that he would amend the race-based electoral rolls, so as to "lead us into peace and prosperity and mend the ever widening racial divide that currently besets our multicultural nation".
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly in September 2007, he stated:
"[I]n 1970, Fiji started its journey as a young nation on a rather shaky foundation, with a race-based Constitution, one which rigidly compartmentalised our communities. The 'democracy' which came to be practised in Fiji was marked by divisive, adversarial, inward-looking, race-based politics. The legacy of leadership, at both community and national levels, was a fractured nation. Fiji's people were not allowed to share a common national identity.
Of the two major communities, indigenous Fijians were instilled with fear of dominance and dispossession by Indo-Fijians, and they desired protection of their status as the indigenous people. Indo-Fijians, on the other hand, felt alienated and marginalised, as second-class citizens in their own country, the country of their birth, Fiji. [...]
Fiji's overall situation by 2006 had deteriorated sharply, heightened by massive corruption and lawlessness [...].
[P]olicies which promote racial supremacy [...] must be removed once and for all. [...] Fiji will look at making the necessary legal changes in the area of electoral reform, to ensure true equality at the polls. [...] [E]very person will be given the right to vote for only one candidate, irrespective of race or religion."
This was to be achieved, he declared, through a People's Charter for Change, Peace and Progress, the stated aim of which was to "rebuild Fiji into a non-racial, culturally-vibrant and united, well-governed, truly democratic nation that seeks progress, and prosperity through merit-based equality of opportunity, and peace".
In April 2009, he told The Australian's Graham Davis:
"My vision for Fiji is one that's free of racism. That's the biggest problem we've had in the last 20 years and it needs to be taken out. It's the lies that are being fed to indigenous Fijians that are causing this, especially from our chiefs who are the dominating factor in our lives. And the politicians take advantage of that. We need to change direction in a dramatic way. We need to get rid of Qarase and everything associated with the 2000 coup and begin entirely on a new path."
Davis noted that Bainimarama had introduced greater ethnic diversity into senior positions, and suggested that "maybe that's what drives Bainimarama most of all; the notion, however quixotic, of a multiracial meritocracy belatedly fulfilling the great promise Fiji had in its early post-independence years, when a visiting pope John Paul II famously described it as a model for the developing world. Before the greed, the racism and the gun."
Essential National Industries Decree
In September 2011, the Bainimarama government introduced a decree severely curtailing labour rights, so as to "ensure the present and continued viability and sustainability of essential national industries". In particular, the decree banned strikes in all but exceptional circumstances, subjecting them in addition to government authorisation on a case by case basis. It also curtailed the right for workers to take their grievances to courts of law. The Fiji Trades Union Congress said the decree "offers major weapons to the employers to utilise against unions [...] It outlaws professional trade unionists, eliminates existing collective agreements, promotes a biased system of non-professional bargaining agents to represent workers, severely restricts industrial action, strengthens sanctions against legally striking workers and bans overtime payments and other allowances for workers in 24-hour operations". Attar Singh, General Secretary for the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions, said: "We have never seen anything worse than this decree. It is without doubt designed to decimate unions [...] by giving [employers] an unfair advantage over workers and unions". Amnesty International said the decree threatened "fundamental human rights [...], including the right to freedom of association and assembly, and the right to organise".
2009 constitutional crisis
In April 2009, the Court of Appeal ruled the removal of the democratic government during his 2006 military coup was illegal. Bainimarama stepped down on 10 April 2009 as interim prime minister.
President Ratu Josefa Iloilo then announced that he had abolished the constitution, assumed all governing power and revoked all judicial appointments.
After abolishing the constitution and sacking the judiciary, President Ratu Josefa Iloilo reappointed Commodore Frank Bainimarama as prime minister only 24 hours later. On 24 April, the President made him Companion of the Order of Fiji in recognition of his "eminent achievement and merit of highest degree and service to Fiji and to humanity at large".
The controversy stemmed from Bainimarama's move to appoint Sri Lankan judges to replace the country's judiciary, which he ousted in April 2009.
Bainimarama displays above his office desk portraits of Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom and former Queen of Fiji, and of her consort Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. He has described himself as a monarchist: "I'm still loyal to the Queen. Many people are in Fiji. One of the things I'd like to do is see her restored as our monarch, to be Queen of Fiji again." However, in 2012 Bainimarama's government abolished the Queen's Official Birthday holiday in Fiji.
Bainimarama hails from the village of Kiuva in the Kaba Peninsula, Tailevu Province. He is the brother of Ratu Meli Bainimarama and Ratu Timoci Bainimarama, both senior civil servants. He was Roman Catholic-educated  and graduated from Marist Brothers High School in Suva. He is Methodist . He is married to Maria Makitalena, with whom he has six children and several grandchildren. He is a sports enthusiast, with a particular passion for rugby union and athletics. He has also served as president of the Fiji Rugby Union, and takes a keen interest in military history and current affairs.
- "Perfectly Frank - Fiji Sun". Fijisun.com.fj. http://www.fijisun.com.fj/main_page/view.asp?id=23796. Retrieved 28 July 2009.
- Herald on Sunday, Phil Taylor, Peaceful island village belies turmoil of national politics, 2006-12-10, page 20 (interview with Bainimarama's brother).
- "PM's New Year Message", Fiji government website, 1 January 2008
- "Nine cabinet ministers dropped in Fiji cabinet reshuffle". Radio New Zealand International. 4 January 2008. http://www.rnzi.com/pages/news.php?op=read&id=37313. Retrieved 30 September 2011.
- "Fiji's military leader takes over country's finances", AFP, 18 August 2008.
- "Ratu Epeli heads new ministry", The Fiji Times Online, 24 September 2008.
- AP (2006). Fiji army chief cedes powers. Retrieved 4 January 2007.
- Fiji Village, 04-01-07, 'Commander hands back Executive Authority to Ratu Iloilo ' ""
- Fiji Live, 04-01-07, 'I support army takeover: Iloilo' ""
- Fiji Village, 05-01-07, 'Commander Bainimarama sworn in' ""
- Fiji Live, 05-01-07, 'President swears in interim PM' ""
- "Fiji braced for protests after court ruling backs hardline leader", The Times, 9 October 2008
- "President acted within power says Court", Fiji Broadcasting Corporation, 9 October 2008
- , ABC News, 10 April 2009
- , New Zealand Herald, 10 April 2009  TV3 News 11 April 2009
- , Scoop.co.nz 10 April 2009 (and numerous others)
- Sid Marris, "Fiji coup a 'real danger', says Downer", The Australian, 2 November 2006.
- Patrick Walters, "Howard warns against Fiji coup", The Australian, 2 November 2006.
- "Fiji Times contributors warned by army - Fiji Times Online". Fijitimes.com. http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=53181. Retrieved 13 November 2008.
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- [dead link]
- "Martial law declared in Fiji - again". The New Zealand Herald. 6 September 2007. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/2/story.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10462047. Retrieved 30 September 2011.
- "Commander RFMF - Public Declaration of Military Takeover", Fiji government, 5 December 2006
- Prime Minister Bainimarama's address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 2007
- "Building a Better Fiji for All through a People's Charter for Change and Progress", Fiji government website, April 2007
- "Despot for diversity", Graham Davis, The Australian, 1 May 2009
- Decree No.35 2011 - Essential National Industries (Employment) Decree 2011, Fiji government
- "Union/govt face off: Decree deepens division", Islands Business
- "Warning on Fiji government plan to severely restrict workers' rights", Amnesty International, 8 August 2011
- "Frank Bainimarama receives Companion of the Order of Fiji from President", Agence France Presse, 24 April 2009
- "Fiji Scraps Queen's birthday holiday". NewstalkZB. 31 July 2012. http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/auckland/news/nbint/932411065-fiji-scraps-queen-s-birthday-holiday.
- "Catholics support Methodists - Fiji Times Online". Fijitimes.com. http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=99006. Retrieved 13 November 2008.