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Fiji's first prime minister of Indian ancestry, who was ousted in a coup twenty years ago, is planning a return to the political arena with hopes of leading the country out of its COVID-19 economic troubles.
Mahendra Chaudhry is the man whose government was hijacked at gunpoint and held hostage for more than eight weeks by Indigenous nationalists, led by George Speight, in 2000.
The popular trade unionist turned politician had been prime minister for just twelve months, after his multi-racial government came to power in 1999.
But it was quickly deposed in the civilian takeover of parliament by George Speight who had declared he was defending the rights of i-Taukei Fijians and the incident's been described as a showcase of the country's racial tensions.
Chaudhry did return to politics, including playing a part in Frank Bainimarama's military government as finance minister before Mr Chaudhry was pushed out in 2008.
But he was convicted for tax evasion in 2014 and paid a FJD$2 million(US$1 million) fine to avoid a 15-months behind bars.
His conviction made him ineligible to contest the last two elections, in 2014 and 2018, meaning many people thought his political career was over.
But now the 78-year-old is planning a comeback.
“I'm seriously considering it because there have been approaches made by people, prominent people in the country for me to take up politics again actively by contesting the elections,” Chaudhry told Pacific Beat.
Chaudhry has positioned himself as one of the most vocal critics of the Bainimarama Government's policies; he says he's worried about the direction Fiji is heading.
“They have had 13 years at the helm of this country and unfortunately, we are in deep trouble under the governance. The country is heavily in debt. Poverty levels are rising and unemployment is a big problem. And now with COVID-19, of course the situation has worsened. And it'll be a long time before the nation recovers,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down the tourism industry, and sent tens of thousands of people into unemployment and many Fijians have had to dip into their retirement funds to support themselves.
With concerns over national debt surpassing FJD$8 billion(US$4 billion),Chaudhry believes the government's policies aren't working out.
“It's increasing the gap between the haves and the have nots. And it's not going to do any good if they're given another term in government”.
But Chaudhry's Labour Party has been in decline for a number of years.
It didn't win a single seat in parliament in the last two elections.
Dominic O'Sullivan, an associate professor in political science at Charles Sturt University in Australia can't see the former prime minister making any significant political gain.
He said Fiji's political system is now weighted in Frank Bainimarama's favour.
“Chaudhry returning comes with the benefit of name recognition of vast political experience and also a reflection of the discontent that he obviously sees and Fijian politics the way it's operating it present,” he said.
“So while Chaudhry's consideration of coming back into into politics and maybe contesting the next election is significant at a personal level, it would be very, very difficult for the to have a material impact on the elections outcome”
Professor O'Sullivan says that Mahendra Chaudry's Labour Party's promotion of multiculturalism is now also being presented by the ruling Fiji First, which he said will make it even harder for Chaudhry.
“That kind of political philosophy is already represented through FijiFirst...I don't think there's a clear multiracial market for Labour under Chaudhry to contest,” he said.
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