Leaders of Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands will lobby the 15-member Pacific Islands Forum to consider lifting Fiji’s suspension to re-start dialogue with the country to provide its military backed government time to complete reforms.
The statement came after the three leaders met with Fiji’s military ruler Frank Bainiarama in a special session of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, a bloc of countries who self-identify as having Melanesian populations, distinct from Micronesian and Polynesian peoples.
Bainimarama flew to Port Vila, Vanuatu to explain his “strategic framework for change,” the five-year plan to help remake Fiji’s ethnic-based constitution and voting system to take the country up to elections, scheduled by Fiji's President for September 2014. (Discussion on that plan here.)
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Michael Somare said the Bainimarama regime isn’t going away until 2014, and by keeping intact the suspension, the Pacific Islands Forum will have no leverage with Fiji’s government. Also, because Fiji plays an important role in the Pacific economy, its outsider status will undercut the current PACER trade negotiations. Finally, the group called on Bainimarama to engage with all Fiji’s leaders to implement a process of national reconciliation.
The Pacific Islands Forum voted unanimously in January to suspend Fiji from the group unless it scheduled elections in 2009 as once promised by Bainimarama. After going back on this promise originally made in October 2007, Bainimarama has stated that holding a vote without altering the country’s race-based voting system would further heighten ethnic tensions by rewarding parties that only appeal to a specific ethnic group.
The country’s population is currently made up of 60 percent indigenous (Melanesian) Fijians and roughly 37 percent ethnic Indians, the descendants of workers brought to the islands roughly a century ago by British colonial rulers.
To some success, Fiji's government has tried to paint its suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum as forced upon smaller countries by Australia and New Zealand. Bloggers and commentators debated how the MSG decision will affect the upcoming Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Cairns, Australia.
Topasi at Real Fiji News
The stand taken by the MSG, in particular PNG and the
Solomon Islands in relation to Fiji lifts the stakes to new heights. The implications are enormous, far far beyond the tiresome calls for the return to democracyin Fiji.
What we are seeing today are two island nations with enormous economic clout standing up to imperialist bullying by the big two…
The MSG is no longer a feral dog feeding on scraps. The MSG carries more clout than all the Pacific island nations combined. That is a fact. ..
Forget about the rantings of Tonga and Samoa. They are just empty barrels with zero economic clout. They are just fresh-of-da-boat freeloaders who have nothing to offer Australia and NZ.
Fiji has some important allies in the MSG. The stakes have been raised to dizzying heights.
From commenter Vitivou:
This is what bloggers who hate Bainimarama do not understand.
The real motive of why Australia and New Zealand are sanctioning Fiji or trying to get Fiji out of the SPF is nothing to do with a return to democracy. It is to do with the fact that they see this as their best opportunity to get PACER implemented.
PACER will see the final and total control of the Pacific island economies by New Zealand and Australia. This will create far worse economic benefits to Pacific states.
On the other hand, from Soli Vakasama:
Ever since the fool [Organizer of Fiji’s first two coups – in 1987 – and later elected Prime Minister Sitiveni] Rabuka pushed for Fiji to be recognised (duh) as Melanesian, our Nation has become like the other Melanesian Islands, BACKWARD in every way as soon as the irrelevant military here becomes involved in politics that is much too overwhelming for them.
For that leka Somare to state that Bhainimarama is good for Fiji, is the biggest insult toward the citizens of Fiji and negates all that we strive for.
These Melanesian leaders are the most corrupt around, feathering their crummy nests by selling out their own people – as the saying goes, Birds of a feather flock together, Thick as thieves or it takes one to know one.
From Navosavakadua writing at Raw Fiji News.
The MSG gang don’t seem to understand what fools they’ve made of themselves by supporting a tin-pot dictator.
Fiji has a right to be represented in trade talks and other regional matters but Frank doesn’t represent Fiji. If they can’t understand this you’ve got to wonder what they think they’re doing in their regional meetings.
But what is their motive for standing up for a dictator? Are they on the payroll of a state that wants to see the Aussies and Kiwis pushed out of the Pacific?
Or do they have some secret dream of replacing Fiji as the hub of the Pacific? If we degenerate further into the status of a tin-pot dictatorship it’s true that Vanuatu could start to replace us as the hub but others may be hoping to pick up a share of regional activities which are currently headquartered in Fiji.
I don’t understand their motives at all, but I do know that when they say Frank’s roadmap to nowhere should be seriously considered, they have some other motive. The only thing that’s clear from the roadmap is that the dictator does not intend to share power with anyone for the next five years. If they can’t see that it means they’re blind or have some other secret, dirty motive.
In an untitled post at Raw Fiji News
The leaders of these Islands, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu have done a back flip not for the good of the people but for their big egos, they need to agree with Fiji and together they seem to think they are bigger than Australia and New Zealand. Be good if they were, they would not have to rely on aid money from Aust and NZ for those that need it the most in these islands. For humanitarian reasons this will carry on so those that rely on aid money will not miss out. The problem with Pacific leaders they glorify and feed off each other without any thought for its people. Leading a nation is not much fun without the recognition of the super powers and like Frank should also be isolated and not given what they want.
A commenter named mrx77 says:
In good times, we cry, piss and mourn of Australia and NZ’s “interference” in our affairs.
In bad times, we expect them to bail us out unconditionally.
New Zealand author Crosbie Walsh writes that Australia and New Zealand could well lose this battle in the Pacific Islands Forum. From Fiji: The Way It Was, Is and Can Be:
It would seem that for all their well-meaning diplomacy and aid, Australian and New Zealand politicians (and, presumably, their advisers) have a lot to learn about their Pacific neighours. The Melanesian Spearhead Group decision does not bode well for the health of the PI Forum, unless Australia and New Zealand are prepared to back down. For the record, the population of the MSG totals about 7.5 millon; that of other Island Forum members well under one million; Australia 21 million and NZ 4 million.