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Fiji: Pacific Islands Forum membership had its privileges

Previously we checked in on bloggers offering their analysis of the possibility Fiji would be suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum. The shoe has now dropped. Fiji's government refused to schedule elections at the group's behest, breaking off much of its relations with the group.

We’ll look at the outcome of Fiji’s suspension from the 16-nation from the regional block. The move, which came into effect midnight May 1, temporarily strips Fiji of full member privileges, including attendance of Forum meetings and events. The country will also no longer will benefit from new financial or technical assistance – other than aid toward the restoration of democracy.

Fiji’s suspension marks the first time in its nearly four-decade history the Pacific Islands Forum has taken this step against a country. Yet Forum chair, Toke Talagi, Premier of Niue, said the suspension was particularly timely due to the “deterioration” of legal, political and human rights in the country.

Fiji’s government called the suspension “regrettable.” The acting Prime Minister said the forum “has chosen to ignore the circumstances in Fiji” by forcing it to hold elections under a “racist” communal-based system (where Parliamentary seats are apportioned by race) that strips powers from politically moderate groups which attempt to attract voters across race/ethnic lines.

In Raw Fiji News, contributor Jean D’Ark responds to the regime’s refusal to hold elections until 2014.

DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS ARE NOT ABOUT ENDORSING A PARTICULAR ELECTORAL SYSTEM OR NOT. THEY ARE ABOUT DETERMINING WHAT THE PEOPLE THINK OF WHAT IS GOING ON? CONCEALED JUST BEHIND KHAIYUM’S STONEWALL OF EXTRA-PLANETARY PROPAGANDA IS THE CONCEITED ASSUMPTION THAT “WE KNOW BEST”. WELL – LET US SEE IF THE PEOPLE AGREE. OR ARE YOU AFRAID THAT THE PEOPLE WILL PUT TWO-AND-TWO TOGETHER, AND EQUATE FIJI’S CURRENT DIRE STRAITS WITH THE REGIME’S APPALLING DECISION-MAKING THAT PRECEDED IT?

Fiji Girl argues Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama is not out to progressively change Fiji to become a post-racial state; rather, he is engaged in a power play.

No matter how ‘over much’ the Baini might protest, this is not about Fiji’s electoral system. It never has been. This Vore coup has always been about him escaping from being brought to Justice for his treatment of the CRW soldiers [who attempted a mutiny in November 2000 that was violently put down by soldiers]. People are not stupid. Our neighouring governments are not stupid. They see through Vore’s lies, and see him for the pathetic creature he is.

Now that the Forum has suspended Fiji, the government can move forward with its promised reforms, says Kalougata in Fiji Board Exiles.

Frank can implement the charter and new Constitution without all the foreign meddling and a few countries in the South Pacific who agreed to Fiji's suspension can look for other shipping and airline routes to serve their countries. NZ and OZ will be happy to serve them for a price. Now is the time to quietly and politely implement some new policies for Fiji.

Jone says:

Agreed! Australia and NZ are total hypocrits. If the standard is democracy, then Tonga and Samoa should also be expelled. This ruling is a joke!

It shouldn’t be lost that the Forum Secretariat is located in Suva, Fiji’s capital. Real Jack argues Fiji should kick the regional body out.

the best thing about arrogance is that the way to lever it is to challenge the ego – and thats whats been done to Canberra – and they've swallowed it hook line and sinker – now Fiji is free to do whatever it needs to do to implement these changes – the Forum is now irrelevant to what happens here – it has the option of taxing to the maximum the Forums activities here or simply kicking them out – now noone can say Fiji acted prematurely or irrationally by kicking out the Forum headquarters and its offices from here.

One subtext of this story has been the ineffectiveness of Australia and New Zealand to influence events in Fiji. With Fiji now sidelined in the Forum, the regional body will certainly lose influence with the government while China and India have moved in and strengthened business ties with the country; even if that means for Fiji sometimes employing foreigners at the expense of locals while the economy is sinking.

Fiji’s government said regardless of the suspension, bi-lateral agreements with other countries in the region remain alive and it will continue dialogue with other international partners. The Australian press, at least, reports that China does not want to be seen as a “protector” to the Fijian regime. This has been picked up by at least one blogger, Discombobulated Bubu.

I was wondering why Voreqe has been strutting about like a peacock lately.

Word is that he thinks China will just write him blank cheques whenever he asks cos China is such the new bestest friend.

I am no political expert but I know enough to appreciate that this is a good example of just how no man is an island.

When it comes to the crunch, China will value Australia's word more because it is Australia that has the goodies that China wants.

Fiji offers no more than an opportunity for Chinese Nationals to come and earn a living (courtesy of the string attached to the Chinese loans) , pilfer our fishing grounds, and perhaps a land grab if we, it's citizens, continue to stay complacent about the rape of our freedoms.

Chinese don't come here to lay on the beaches. They go to places that have casino's and present opportunities to make money.

Bloggers aren’t only looking at this issue from the viewpoint of Fiji. New Zealand, Australia and the rest of the Pacific Islands Forum have parts to play also, says the New Zealand-based blog Fiji: The Way It Was, Is and Can be. While New Zealand has looked the other way regarding military coups in larger countries, two separate governments were not ready to do so with Fiji. That’s because New Zealand never saw Fiji as an equal partner.

Do I hold New Zealand primarily responsible for the way things have developed? Yes, but obviously not entirely. Bainimarama staged the Coup. His Government dug itself ever deeper into mud, much of its own making. Australia has also played an important role but seems, in most matters, to have taken its lead from us. Regretfully, I think we are the more culpable. I expected us to do better. Fiji's string of crises need not have come to this. We have been the most insistent on an election deadline that, for technical reasons alone, most probably could not have been met on time. Australia still has a High Commission in Suva, and has offered technical and other support. We have no High Commissioner and only skeletal HC staff.

We have offered nothing to help Fiji out of its mess– no forsensic accountants, no judicial or electoral expertise, no progressive easing of the travel bans, not even an air accident inspector. We, more than any other country, in our direct attacks and support for his opponents, drove Bainimarama back into a corner, provoking retaliation. Other Forum countries merely followed our lead, some with extreme reluctance. Let us hope dialogue continues, with or without the Forum. In a year or two, looking back, we may have cause to recall that it was at this Midnight we “send to know for whom the bell tolls.” We will then know whether is was Bainimarama, Qarase, Fiji, Australia's and New Zealand's mana, or the Forum we helped create and destroy.

Meanwhile, in displays quite uncharacteristic of good diplomacy, we have bailed ourselves and Bainimarama into a corner leaving neither a way to escape with dignity intact.

Along with the news of its suspension, the government announced its emergency rules would be extended for a second thirty days. This allows the police extra search and seizure powers, the right to detain suspects up to seven days without charges and provides strict rules for media coverage of political events, along with government censors embedded in newsrooms. The government said it re-upped the rules to maintain calm “during trying times.”

Following a court ruling stating the Commodore Frank Bainimarama came to power illegally in December 2006, the country’s President nullified the constitution, fired the entire judiciary and reappointed Bainimarama to a five-year term, expiring in 2014.

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