The Leaderboard: Laisenia Qarase

The Leaderboard profiles the people behind the policies of the Asia-Pacific. This post features Laisenia Qarase former prime minister of the Republic of Fiji.

Who is he?

Laisenia Qarase is the former prime minister of Fiji who was ousted from power by Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama during a 2006 military coup. Qarase held several roles in the military interim government led by Bainimarama following an earlier coup in 2000.These included being a member of the military council and an economic advisor before being offered the role of interim prime minister by Bainimarama. Qarase won Fiji’s 2001 and 2006 elections, serving six years in office before losing the support of the military. He was widely criticized for favoring ethnic Fijians over other races while in power.

Fiji's former prime minister Laisenia Qarase, shown here with John Howard and Helen Clark in 2003. Source: Australian Civil-Military Centre's flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

Why is he in the news?

Qarase hit headlines recently after being found guilty of nine charges of corruption. The 71 year-old was sentenced on August 3 to 12 months in jail for allegedly not disclosing his role in facilitating the acquisition of shares in Fijian Holdings Ltd. by three private investment firms while he served as its director. His case has been used by organizations such as Amnesty International to highlight the shortcomings of Fiji’s ongoing transition toward democracy. His case is not an isolated incident — former prime minister Mahendra Chaundry, Fiji Trade Union Congress president Daniel Urai, and businesswoman and political activist Mere Samisoni are all facing similar charges.

What can we expect from him?

Laisenia Qarase’s case is the most prominent of several that suggest that Commodore Bainimarama is purging the political opposition ahead of elections planned for 2014. Qarase would be a strong contender in a coming presidential race, though now his political career may be at an end. In a 2008 interview with the Australian Associated Press, Qarase presciently said, “(Bainimarama) can only prevent me [from running] by throwing me into prison or something like that, but I do intend to stand.” His conviction means that standing in opposition, or in the 2014 elections, will no longer be an option. It also sends a strong message to others in the opposition.


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