Obituary: Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau

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The Independent Online
THE OBITUARY of Fiji's late President Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau by Kenneth Bain (17 December) brought out well his warm and generous personality, writes Roger Barltrop. But it did less than justice to his strenous endeavours, in the wake of the first military coup in May 1987, to restore constitutional government in Fiji.

True, there was some latent conflict between the role of Governor-General, with its responsibilities to all the peoples of Fiji, and that of a high chief, with special responsibility to Fijians. This showed itself in his reluctance to attempt positive action against the coup leader, Colonel Rabuka: for example, he had prepared, but did not issue, a letter dismissing Rabuka from the army. He preferred to try to untie the Gordian knot rather than cut it. But it remained his objective to secure a constitutional solution.

As British High Commissioner in Fiji during those turbulent months, I saw much of Ratu Penaia; and, even if at times, in the face of both political pressures and conflicting legal advice, his resolution seemed to falter, I never doubted his good faith. His action in dissolving parliament - which Rabuka had effectively dismissed - was taken on the advice of the judiciary, linked to his assumption of executive powers under Section 72 of the Constitution. As for the idea of direct appeals to the people, he did in fact prepare a broadcast to the nation; but Rabuka denied him access both to the radio and to the press. There were, throughout, severe constraints on his freedom of action.

When in late September 1987 his quest for a constitutional solution seemed to be crowned with success, in the Deuba Accord, Rabuka struck again, with his second coup, and declared a Republic. Thereafter Ratu Penaia found himself isolated and quite powerless in Government House. Only then did he bow to reality and tender his resignation to his Sovereign, in her capacity as Queen of Fiji. It was for him a moment of anguish: both as Governor-General and as a high chief, he was acutely conscious of how much the link to the Crown, dating back to the act of Cession by Fiji's then high chiefs in 1874, meant to the Fijian people. Over two months were to pass before he was prevailed upon to accept the Presidency.