‘Rambo’ Rabuka: double coup maker and now Fiji’s PM

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Sitiveni “Rambo” Rabuka is an ex-soldier and former international sportsman who on Saturday returned as prime minister of Fiji after a 23-year hiatus.

Rabuka turns 75 next September, but used TikTok to reach young voters during this year’s poll — flexing his biceps in a training singlet after finishing a workout in one popular clip.

“Someone asked me the other day, ‘Do you ever lift, bro?’” he said in the clip.

“I said: ‘I used to but now I’m more in-terested in lifting the standard of this country.’”

The natural athlete was a powerful all-rounder in his youth.

He represented Fiji in the hammer throw, shot put, discus and decathlon at the 1974 Com-monwealth Games and scrummed down as a prop forward for the Flying Fijians national rugby team.

But he is perhaps most famous for insti-gating two coups in 1987 while a lieutenant colonel in the Fijian army — earning himself the nickname “Rambo”.

“I had to do what I had to do in 1987,” he told the Fiji Sun in a 2014 interview. Rabuka retired from the military to go into politics, taking his no-nonsense style of command from the parade ground to parliament.

He was elected prime minister in 1992 and held power until he lost at the 1999 polls to Mahendra Chaudhry, Fiji’s first Indo-Fijian premier.

A devout Christian, Rabuka married in 1975 but there were allegations in a biography, pub-lished in 2000, that he has had affairs.

“I have admitted I’m no angel… I have been weak in those areas,” he told the New Zealand Herald at the time.

Following a nine-month legal battle, Rabuka admitted in a magistrate’s court in 2002 that he had fathered a child during an affair with a jour-nalist.

After Frank Bainimarama seized power in his own bloodless coup in 2006, he and Rabuka regularly clashed as fierce political rivals.

Rabuka sat out the 2014 elections, but led the Social Democratic Liberal Party — SODELPA — to a narrow defeat in 2018, despite the threat of disqualification hanging over him.

His party lost to Bainimarama’s Fiji First, but only after an appeal court dismissed a corruption case against Rabuka just two days before the election.

After quitting SODELPA in 2020, he founded the rival People’s Alliance party, whose coalition partners have now helped oust Bainimarama and returned Rabuka to the prime minister’s office.—APP