• Fiji Sun
  • 24 Sep 2020
  • Jyoti Pratibha
  • Feedback: jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

Newly published book Leaps of Faith: An Immigrant’s Odyssey of Struggle, Success and Service to his Country, authored by former American Ambassador to Fiji, Osman Siddique, provides an interesting insight into Fiji Labour Party leader, Mahendra Chaudhry’s, term as Prime Minister.

Child of a Bangladeshi immigrant, Mr Siddique was American Ambassador to Fiji when the coup of May 19, 2000 took place. He dedicates parts of his book to his time in Fiji.

He recalls his meeting with Ratu Inoke Kubuabola who was the then Opposition Leader. Of his meeting, he writes: “But one of the more telling meetings was with the leader of the opposition in parliament, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola. He was extremely critical of many of the prime minster’s policies, especially when it came to indigenous rights.

He felt thoroughly disparaged by the PM’s son, Rajendra, a member of the prime minister’s official inner circle who, Kubuabola said, had been going great lengths to deprive him of a smooth-functioning opposition leader’s office. He’d been given no secretary, no assistant, outdated computers, and a used car that was well-worn. He’d felt disrespected and for good reason in my estimation. I knew I needed to have a meeting with Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, the sooner the better.”

Mr Siddique does get his chance to speak to Mr Chaudhry. The latter took time out for a working lunch on May 16, 2000 during Parliament sitting.

“I had met him before, of course. My very first meeting with Chaudhry actually took place before I’d met President Mara to present my credentials. To me, Chaudhry was something of an enigma. On a personal level, I found him to be engaging, soft-spoken, and a very smart politician. His public persona, on the other hand, was quite different. He could be arrogant and combative, a style more appropriate to the labour movement from which he came than to the parliament he was elected to lead. Despite his outward pretence of bravado, he’d requested of me an electronic sweep of his office complex to determine if his predecessor had bugged it. A team of technical experts periodically came in from Embassy Canberra to do routine security, cyber, and telecommunications checks on all our premises and to review the security measures in place at all our facilities. On their subsequent mission to Suva, I had to pull some major strings to accommodate the prime minister’s unorthodox request. Happily, nothing was found. Another time, when I had invited Chaudhry to lunch at the residence, he’d asked me if we could get him an armoured car like mine. It was obvious he was not comfortable with his own security and intelligence set up. Of course, I politely turned down this second request.

“Meeting with Chaudhry after the Outrigger meeting, I asked him if he was aware of any dissatisfaction among the ethnic Fijians. I pressed further, wanting to know if he had any specific intel on a protest march that was scheduled to take place in Suva the coming Friday. The prime minister, in his characteristic nonchalant manner, discounted the prospect of any such threats, calmly dismissing any danger as a “Fijian myth”. Nonetheless, I suggested that he carefully take notice of the growing complaints by a significant section of the population. Additionally, I implored him to recognize the legitimacy of the opposition in parliament, which I reminded him, is essential to the proper functioning of a parliamentary democracy.”

Three days after this conversation, George Speight led the marching protestors into Parliament and overthrew Mr Chaudhry’s government.

Mr Siddique’s book can be bought through Amazon.