Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Former Leader of the Labour Party in Fiji discusses her political future

RICHARD ACKLAND: And with an extremely rare and interesting interview from a former Leader of the Fijian Labour Party, Kuini Bavadra, now known as Adi Kuini - I think that's her correct title - here's Pru Goward in Canberra.

PRU GOWARD: Well, two coups and a military dictatorship later, the Pacific paradise of Fiji is firmly in the hands of the Conservatives. Whatever Fijian Indians might deserve, there's now no chance of anyone other than Fijians running that country. So, where does all that leave Adi Kuini, formerly Kuini Bavadra, and the Leader of the Labour Party? She's now the wife of Australian business lobbyist, Clive Speed, and will spend the next year in Australia before returning for the Fijian elections.

Basically, so long as she remains a member of the Labour Party, Adi Kuini will never lead Fiji. And when I spoke to her in her new home in Canberra, yesterday, Adi Kuini made it clear that the next 12 months is for contemplating her future and perhaps even crossing to the enemy - the Fijian political party.

ADI KUINI: As it stands, at the moment, the Coalition Party will never be able to win a majority. The rules of elections have been laid out in such a way that there's never going to be a chance of the Coalition coming into power. We will be in Opposition indefinitely.

PRU GOWARD: So, if there's very little chance of your Coalition Party ever gaining office in Fiji, then what's the point of you being there? Are there not other ways to reform Fiji?

ADI KUINI: It's very difficult when you have, you know, the military backing the interim government. It's very difficult when there is such an oppressive environment and, you know, everything is dictated by the State, what you do. We think, you know, that we represent the future, and it's inevitable that the old order will have to give way to the new emerging leadership which is represented by, basically, the Fiji Labour Party or the Coalition. I would like to think that most people in the Fiji Labour Movement would like to have me back, and that's why I've already been asked not to leave the Fiji Labour Party. So, I'm still a member of the Fijian Labour Party, and I still like to be involved.

PRU GOWARD: Would you countenance leaving the Fijian Labour Party and, for example, trying to reform the Fijian political party by joining that?

ADI KUINI: The question has been raised before with me. Unavoidably, I'm still part of the social organisation of, you know, the Fijians at the grassroot level. I'm part of, you know, the traditional hierarchy, of chiefs from my area. So, inevitably, you know, there's going to be questions of, or I'm going to be approached by people about standing as a candidate for the Fijian Chief-sponsored Party. That's a question that I have to really seriously consider and weigh against my basic political philosophy which is represented by the Fiji Labour Party.

Our main issue in Fiji is not whether the Fijians should be supreme or whether one ethnic community should lead at the expense of another. I think the real issue in Fiji is to do with, you know, with class, that you have poor Indians as well as poor Fijians, you have rich Fijians as well as rich Indians. It has got nothing to do with one ethnic group being superior to another, and that's why I support the Fiji Labour Party. So, it's really that, you know, when the time comes, when the right time comes, I'll have to weigh what I believe in as a matter of principle, which is represented by the Fiji Labour Party. I have to weigh that against being part of the Fijian traditional system, which I very much belong to with the Fijian people.

PRU GOWARD: And in which there is actually a practical possibility that you could achieve change in Fiji by belonging, and perhaps even leading that Party.

ADI KUINI: I don't think there's a possibility of me leading the Fijian political party, given that, you know, I have been strongly identified as one of the members of the new emerging Fijian leadership.

PRU GOWARD: I wonder whether you'd agree that, practically, you're more likely to achieve change by staying with your traditional political ties, and that's really the judgment you're going to make over the next year or so?

ADI KUINI: I believe there is, you know, good logic in that, that if you want to change a system, you have to be working from within, and that's one reason why I might have to consider that issue seriously - whether to join the Fijian Chiefs-sponsored Party. The difficulty is in handling the contradiction in philosophy, of one against another.

PRU GOWARD: It must torment you, mustn't it?

ADI KUINI: Oh, yes. I've had sleepless nights thinking about it. This is one of my problems. I .. some of us suffer from it. You tend to think that it's a burden that is yours personally, when in fact, you know, the whole country's there and there are people who can share the burden. But some of us are so committed to these principles, to this vision, that we tend to feel that it's your own personal burden, and it's one of the things that has given me sleepless nights.

PRU GOWARD: Does your links with .. well, some have described it as Fijian royalty, put you in a special position to leader a new Fiji, do you think?

ADI KUINI: Yes, I think that's helped considerably. If I weren't part of the Fijian traditional hierarchy, I don't think I would be taken seriously by the Fijian people. If I were just, you know, an ordinary Fijian women, they would never take any notice, but because I'm related to the High Chiefs in Fiji, they take notice. Even though the Minister of Information does his best to condemn me, to undermine me, it doesn't seem to have made any difference. In fact, the more that the Minister of Information does that, the more he angers the Fijian people, which shows, you know, that they have some respect for what I represent as an individual and as being part of that Fijian traditional hierarchy.

PRU GOWARD: In this contemplation over the next year, do you feel any sense of betrayal to the friends and alliances you've developed as Leader of the Coalition?

ADI KUINI: Yes, that would, you know, that would definitely arise. If I were to leave the Fiji Labour Party, and joined up with the Fijian Chief-sponsored Party, I would definitely bring about that kind of feeling with the Fiji Labour .. Fijians in particular. They would really see it as a betrayal, outright betrayal on my part because they feel that, you know, that once I joined up with the Fijian Chief's Party I would be in a very strong position, vis a vis, the Fiji Labour Party. I think the Fijian Chief's Party would go out of its way to ensure that I remain with them, and knowing the way they operate, they would give me a very lucrative position within the Party to ensure that the Fiji Labour Party's never going to win me back.

PRU GOWARD: And has the Fijian political party approached you at all?

ADI KUINI: No, it has not, formally, but I received word from people at the grassroot level, you know, they're trying to find out what my feelings are about the future.

PRU GOWARD: It's going to be a very, very, difficult 12 months, isn't it?

ADI KUINI: Yes, it's going to be. But at the same time, it's going to be a relaxing one in the sense that I haven't had a chance to take stock of myself, the family, which direction I'm going, you know, given the kind of history I've been through in the last four years.

PRU GOWARD: Adi Kuini, the former Kuini Bavadra, talking there of her sleepless nights as she contemplates her political future in Fiji.