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New Pressure On The Fiji Junta

  • July 3rd, 2008
  • Posted by 7thmin

fi-ji-coup.jpgCOMMENTARY: Things may be beginning to move quickly in the international campaign to get Fiji back to democratic government, though the military leader, Frank Bainimarama (picture), has continued to resist change.

He has been able to negotiate the appointment of an Acting High Commissioner in Canberra, announced this week, but continues to face increasingly strong demands from outside partners, especially Australia and the European Union.

WARNING FROM AUSTRALIA

The Australian Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, said on Monday that an acting High Commissioner and a Consul general for Sydney had been agreed to, following the appointment of a Supervisor of Elections in Fiji.

However the Minister was critical Commodore Bainimarama’s  suspension of a consultation process with the Pacific Forum countries, and equivocation over a commitment to move towards elections by March next year.

He has spoken of holding off those elections until a proposed “People’s Charter” was set up, with also delays for changes in the electoral system.

“An election cannot be conditional upon progress on a political dialogue or other processes”, said Mr Smith.

“Holding an election by March 2009 was Commodore Bainimarama’s faithful and unconditional commitment to Pacific leaders in October 2007.

“Australia continues to urge him to honour that commitment.”

WARNING FROM THE EU

The Commodore has been spoken to in the same terms by a senior European Union official, the Development Commissioner, Louis Michel.

EUAustralia
understands they met during the Food and Agriculture Organisation summit at Rome, early last month, and a reminder was issued, that the military government had given undertakings on the return to democracy, during a period of dialogue.

The EU has invoked the possibility of cutting money for development cooperation, if military rule continues in the Pacific Islands country.

BETTER IMPACT THAN THE AUSTRALIANS?

It has conducted its talks with Fiji within the format of its Cotonou agreement involving countries from Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific Regions (ACP).

EU officials and observers at Brussels have said that process, as an open forum, puts telling pressure on countries that fail in a commitment to democracy or human rights; and that it has been more effective with Fiji than current efforts by Australia or New Zealand.

For its part the Australian government has been calling on the good offices of government leaders in Papua New Guinea and Tonga.

NOT LEGITIMATE

The EU’s stance has become firmer now at the bi-lateral level, with the direct initiative by Commissioner Michel.

He is said to have responded to arguments by the military commander that “good governance” was more important than aid, by telling him that would be left to his judgment, but the reason for any aid cuts would be made public – with imaginable political impacts within Fiji.

Mr Michel also dismissed criticism by Commodore Bainimarama of the deposed, elected Fiji Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase, as justification for his coup d’etat; he said it was not for the armed forces to judge whether that government had been abusing its power.

Mr Qarase had been legitimately elected; the Bainimarama regime, the current interim government, was not legitimate, and was seen that way throughout the world.

Like the Australian Minister, the European Commissioner said the military government had one option, to honour the commitment it made to hold free elections.

DRESSING DOWN

Dressing-down of military usurpers by democratic leaders, and withholding of recognition, itself usually cannot force them out of power, but that, combined with money, or withdrawal of money, might.

The European Union has been preparing to squeeze revenues for Fiji, by blocking compensation payments to the country, for a reduction of prices paid  for its prime export product, sugar, under the ACP agreement.

Ministers form the interim government have been urgently arguing against that measure, but may have to face up to it sooner rather than later if they back away from going to the people, in internationally sanctioned elections.

The Bainimarama coup d’etat, the third in Fiji since 1980, took place in December 2006.

AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT STATEMENT

Full text of the media release from Stephen Smith, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Canberra, 30.6.08:

Government Agrees to Acting High Commissioner for Fiji

The Australian Government has today notified the Fiji Interim Government of its agreement to the appointment of an Acting High Commissioner in Canberra and a Consul-General in Sydney.

The appointment is designed to improve diplomatic communication between Australia and Fiji and follows on from the recall, by the Interim Government of Fiji, of its previous High Commissioner from Australia in July 2007.

The Government welcomes the recent appointment of a Supervisor of Elections by the Fiji Interim Government. This was an undertaking given to the Pacific Island Forum Foreign Ministers meeting in Auckland in March this year.  The Government has previously indicated to Fiji that progress on this front would be a consideration in the appointment of an Acting High Commissioner.

In coming to this decision very serious consideration has been placed on to the views of  Prime Minister Somare of Papua New Guinea and Prime Minister Sevele of Tonga, senior statesmen in the Pacific and friends of both Australia and Fiji.

Despite these positive developments, the Government remains very concerned about the situation in Fiji and recent statements by Commodore Bainimarama.

This includes indications from Commodore Bainimarama that an election will not take place until the regime’s People’s Charter is in place and that an election could be delayed by his plans to change Fiji’s electoral system.

The Government is also disappointed that Bainimarama has decided to suspend the Interim Government’s engagement in the Forum-Fiji Joint Working Group.

A further death threat delivered to our High Commission in Suva is another disturbing development.  We have again urged the Fiji Interim Government to agree to our request for the deployment of unarmed Australia Federal Police personnel to provide close personal protection and for additional security protection from the Fiji police.

Australia, with its Forum partners, remains committed to assisting Fiji to return to democracy and the rule of law by means of a democratic election by March 2009.

Australia recognises that, in addition to an election, a political dialogue, without any preconditions, is vital to address Fiji’s long-term issues and encourage lasting national reconciliation and stability.

Australia welcomed the fact that Commodore Bainimarama held meetings with ousted Prime Minister Qarase on 19 May and 17 June.  Australia urges all Fiji’s leaders to engage in a constructive dialogue on their country’s future.

However, an election cannot be conditional upon progress on a political dialogue or other processes.  Holding an election by March 2009 was Commodore Bainimarama’s faithful and unconditional commitment to Pacific leaders in October 2007.

Australia continues to urge him to honour that commitment.

Reference:  See EUAustralia, 9.12.06, 22.1.07, 15.4.07

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