What Did Bainimarama Say? What Did He Mean?
Opinion. Crosbie Walsh(Photo: Bainimarama as he is usually portrayed on NZ TV.)
Prime Minister Bainimarama is sometimes his own worst enemy. He should know by now never, absolutely never, to make unprepared statements to the media. If he does, they will savage him as they have done with his latest remarks which have raised doubts about an election being held in 2014. What he says should leave no doubt about what he means.
This is not the first time he, and they, have acted in this way. On his return from his provincial tour of Lomaiviti just over a month ago he told a Fiji Sun reporter the people supported his reforms and asked him to stay in power after 2014. His remark was in response to Australia's Smith and New Zealand's McCully's remarks, made after the Auckland Forum dialogue with Fiji, that the situation in Fiji had deteriorated. Readers will remember Bainimarama withdrew his invitation to visit Fiji immediately afterwards. Bainimarama had not for one moment said that elections may not be held, or that the "people" represented national opinion (they were the remarks of villagers) but that is what the media took from his comment.
And this is what they have done, quite deliberately, with Bainimarama's interview with Radio Tarana, made by phone from Korea, in the wake of the the sudden cancellation of the MSG Plus meeting that was to be held in Fiji next week, as Bainimarama was still reeling from what he saw as Australia's involvement in a MSG betrayal.
The interview was then, predictably, taken up by Michael Field. And who can blame him. His continuous one-sided and false reporting (think of his recent totally unsubstantiated accusation of Mugabe-style confiscations of White-owned farms in Viti Levu!) shows he has a score to settle with Fiji and Bainimarama has once again provided him with an opportunity that was too good to miss.
First, read what Field reported Bainimarama to have said, taken from the Tarana interview. Note the obviously hurried, ad lib and disjointed sequence of Bainimarama's remarks. It is not hard to see how his intent could be misconstrued.
"In fact, I am all of a sudden thinking we might not be ready for 2014 for election if we don't get any assistance from Australia and New Zealand for instance ... If we reach 2014 and we are not ready because of constant interfering, we are not going to give up our government to political parties...I am seriously thinking about the date of the elections, the interference by these people, but I can tell you nothing is going to stop us from doing what needs to be done continuing on this pathway we need reforms ... That is going to happen, whether Australia likes or not, whether New Zealand likes it or not, they don't live in Fiji, they don't know what is happening in Fiji."
My reading of these remarks indicates they were thought up as he spoke. This was not a prepared response, and certainly not a statement on a change of policy. He says the idea of deferring elections "suddenly occurred" to him. I think it was his way of getting back at Australia.
Read his ideas in sequence, and then ask yourself what he really meant. He proceeded from the idea of their (Australian) assistance, to their interference, with a reference to political parties (we'll come back to that) and then moved on to say nothing will stop the needed reforms.
The reforms to which he referred are those Fiji is currently engaged on which will continue until 2014. They include electoral reforms. If the reforms were stopped now and left incomplete, his government would have to hand over to the "political parties" (that is, the race-based political parties he ousted in 2006). But when the reform process is complete, new non race-based parties will emerge to contest the elections in 2014.
Bainimarama was not seriously thinking about deferring the elections or not handing over government to the new parties formed for the 2014 election. He was using a bluff to warn Australia to stop meddling in Fiji affairs: 'Your interference could derail or delay the reforms. We will not allow that.' It was a poorly executed bluff which boomeranged, with the usual assistance of Michael Field and the several media outlets that used his story.
One might hope the more discerning readers will see Field's widely circulated report for what it is: another attempt to discredit the Bainimarama government and cast doubts about elections in 2014. And they probably will. Unfortunately, the typical reader and viewer will accept the story literally, as it was told, repleat with Bainimarama in his unchanged military uniform, as on New Zealand TV1 last night.
With respect, Prime Minister, the foreign media will always pounce on your ambiguities and use them to Fiji's disadvantage, misinform their readers, and influence Australian and New Zealand policies on Fiji -- and these were sufficiently ill-informed before you cast further doubt on the waters.