Epeli Ganilau

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Ratu Epeli Ganilau

Ratu Epeli Ganilau (born 10 October 1951) is a Fijian soldier and statesman, who currently heads the National Alliance Party of Fiji. His career has previously encompassed such roles as Commander of the Fiji Military Forces and Chairman of the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (Great Council of Chiefs).


Military and early political career

Ganilau became Commander of the Fiji Military Forces in 1987, retiring in 1998 with the rank of Brigadier General. In 1999 he helped to found the Christian Democratic Alliance, which won three seats in the House of Representatives in that year's election, although he personally was not elected. He chose not to run in the election held to restore democracy in 2001, but in his role as Chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs, he continued to have an influential political role.

Chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs

Ganilau was appointed to the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (Great Council of Chiefs) in 1999 as one of six representative of the Fijian government. In 2001, he became the representative of the Cakaudrove Provincial Council, rather than the government, and was subsequently elected Chairman on 3 May 2001 after his predecessor, Sitiveni Rabuka, stepped down amid accusations that he may have been involved in the coup d'Útat that deposed Fiji's elected government in May 2000. The Bose Levu Vakaturaga is a formal assembly of Fijian hereditary chiefs, along with a number of specially qualified commoners, chosen mainly by Fiji's provincial councils, which also has a constitutional role in functioning as an electoral college to elect the President of the republic, as well as 14 of the 32 Senators.

Ganilau held the chairmanship until his sudden replacement on 21 July 2004 by Ratu Ovini Bokini. His departure followed the decision of the Cakaudrove Provincial Council to replace him as its representative on the council. The Great Council of Chiefs is required to elect a chairman from its own members, so the decision of the Cakaudrove Provincial Council not to reappoint him effectively terminated his term as Chairman, which was not due to expire until 2005.

The Cakaudrove Provincial Council gave no reason for its decision to replace Ratu Ganilau, but it is widely thought that the national government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase may have had a hand in the matter. Information Minister Simione Kaitani had criticized Ganilau for his public calls for the resignation of Vice-President Ratu Jope Seniloli, who is currently (2004) on trial for suspected involvement in the 2000 coup. Kaitani maintained that Seniloli was legally entitled to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. He went on to accuse Ganilau of hypocrisy, saying that he himself had been accused of involvement in Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara's forced resignation as President on 29 May 2000. There were also accusations that Ganilau was undermining the political neutrality of the Bose Levu Vakaturaga with his calls for a revival of the defunct Fijian Alliance, the multi-racial political party founded by Ratu Mara, which governed Fiji from 1967 to 1987. His call received support from a number of political factions, including the Indo-Fijian-dominated National Federation Party, but received a cool welcome from Prime Minister Qarase's United Fiji Party, which would see the revived Alliance as an unwanted rival, especially for the ethnic Fijian vote. Ganilau hinted that he himself would play a role in reviving the Alliance, and it the decision to oust him from the leadership of the Great Council of Chiefs was widely seen as a ploy to prevent him from using the Council as a platform from which to advance his own political ambitions.

Founder of the National Alliance Party

On 18 January 2005, Ganilau formally registered the National Alliance Party of Fiji. Joining him were university lecturer Meli Maqa as party secretary, and Manu Korovulavula as treasurer. Ganilau said the party would be multiracial and would pursue national reconciliation, something he had attempted with less success as Chairman of the Bose Levu Vakaturaga. "I was quite outspoken about the need to respect the rights all citizens in Fiji during my role as chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs," he said, "but that did not go down well with some. That is why I decided it was best to continue the fight on a political platform."

In a speech to the Fiji Institute of Accountants on 28 April 2005, Ganilau called for a sense of national unity to be built by an emphasis on common values, shared by Indo-Fijians as well as indigenous Fijians. These values should, he said, include a vision of the kind of society Fiji should be - "a Fiji where people of different ethnicities, religions and cultures can live and work together for the good of all, can differ without rancour, govern without violence and accept responsibility as reasonable people intent on serving the best interest of all". He called racism "a primary force of evil designed to destroy good men," and asked all Fijian citizens to learn from the past in order to build a better future. "I would like to make the point that we cannot undo the past but we can learn from it, and we cannot predict the future but we can shape and build it," Ganilau said.

On 3 May 2005, Ganilau strongly criticized Prime Minister Qarase for his calls for ethnic Fijians to unite politically to provide stable national leadership. Ganilau said this policy was "divisive and a travesty of good governance and responsible leadership in a multiracial country like Fiji." He called on his fellow-chiefs to take a stand against what he considered a move to pit indigenous Fijians against other races. Ganilau also spoke of the importance of chiefly institutions, saying that chiefs provided permanent leadership for the Fijian people, unlike politicians who could be dismissed at the ballot box and were susceptible to the temptation to appeal to voters' racist sympathies in order to win power. "Very often, to remain in power the easiest option for them would be to play the racist card, drum up fears of marginalisation and extinction of other ethnic groups," he said. He said the country would prosper if all political leaders would support the role of chiefly leaders and make "a serious effort" to bring together all the people of Fiji.

In a speech to the Lautoka Rotary Club on 13 May 2005, Ganilau called for better pay for professional and skilled workers, and also attacked racial discrimination in the employment, saying that it was socially and economically harmful and resulted in second rate replacements for talented people. "When we leave out people on the grounds of ethnicity we limit our options, he said. "As such, we become poorer because we are not making optimum use of our human resources, thereby depriving us of the returns and full benefit of our capabilities."

Domestic policies

Ganilau has spoken against the plans of the Qarase government to establish a Reconciliation and Unity Commission, with the power to grant amnesty to perpetrators of the 2000 coup and compensation to its victims. Ganilau first aired his opposition to the bill on 4 May 2005, saying that it was an unwarranted interference in the judicial process and represented a na´ve and uncaring attitude to people who had suffered as a result of the coup. On 18 May he went further, saying that he saw "nothing reconciliatory about the bill" and that "To use the word reconciliation is a gross violation of the rights of everyone in this nation."

Speaking at the Crime Prevention/Reconciliation Sports Day in Flagstaff on 4 June 2005, Ganilau called on the older generation to instill basic moral values in their children. "Increasing lawlessness and criminal activity can be interpreted as discourteous behaviour and lack of respect for other people and their property. So what we need to do if we want to salvage the situation is to go back to the basics," he said. The same day, he strongly criticized the country's leadership, saying that they were taking Fiji in the wrong direction, "spreading their gospel of fear and hate and not doing anything to help the ordinary people put bread on their table for their families." He warned against retaliation, however: "I believe we must not fight fire with fire, we will be burnt." The only way extremist elements could be stopped from destroying the nation, he said, was to deny them the opportunity to control the destiny of the nation by "holding the country ranson." He also called on people to respect one another, saying that it was the on way for lasting unity and reconciliation.

Personal life

Ganilau is the son of the late Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, the first President of the Republic of Fiji (1987-1993). He is married to, and has two sons and two daughters with, Adi Ateca Mara, the eldest daughter of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, the founding father of modern Fiji.

External link


Preceded by:
Sitiveni Rabuka
Chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs
2001 - 2004
Succeeded by:
Ratu Ovini Bokini

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