Fijians have discovered that the contagion of ethnic strife, once unleashed, retains its virulence. A mutiny by elite soldiers last week has raised fears that stability will not return soon to the South Pacific nation. The uprising was quickly put down, but the damage has been done. A cloud of uncertainty hovers over Fiji.
The country is still reeling from the failed May 19 coup attempt. Then, ethnic Fijians, enjoying support from factions within the military, overthrew the government, which was headed by an Indian prime minister. The plotters claimed they were acting to protect indigenous rights; the fact that the leader, Mr. George Speight, faced corruption charges at the time of the coup casts some doubt over his motives.
Mr. Speight and some of his supporters were arrested after two months of drama. Questions have lingered, however, over who was really behind the coup attempt. Finding answers has taken on a new urgency in the aftermath of a mutiny at the country’s military headquarters on Thursday.
The timing of the mutiny could not have been worse. Only days before, the interim government announced that the new constitution, which is to be drawn up before elections are held, would protect the rights of all Fijians. And the Reserve Bank of Fiji has reported that the impact of the coup would not be as bad as feared: The economy was forecast to shrink 8 percent, rather than 15 percent. With a bumper crop of sugar expected and tourism rebounding as a result of incentive programs, Fiji’s economy was expected to grow 5 percent next year.
Those good tidings are now in doubt. The May coup ringleaders are in prison, but powerful forces that supported them are still free. Even if they are a minority, they have the potential to cause great unrest. The prospect of further instability will deter badly needed foreign investment. Few tourists plan tropical vacations that feature dusk-to-dawn curfews. Mr. Speight has been arrested, but his handwork has not been undone.
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