Engaging with Fiji by Sanjay Ramesh

A review of Australian-Fiji relations which concludes:


The government of Fiji must be given the time to develop, implement and evaluate its political, social and economic policies using evidence-based methodologies. However, it should ensure that its strategies and processes are transparent and inclusive and past initiatives are fully audited and outcomes clearly measured against strict performance guidelines. While time and space should be given to the Fiji government to implement its reforms, there has to be evidence that reasonable steps are being taken to return Fiji to civilian rule in the future. The international community should understand that rushing into an election without establishing sound constitutional, institutional and electoral systems can lead to further political breakdown and military coups. Therefore, it is important that Australia work with the Fiji government in ensuring that preconditions for a return to civilian rule are fully embedded, and for this to occur, both sides have to start dialogue, potentially brokered by a third party.

The Australian government in July flexed its diplomatic muscle and sabotaged the scheduled Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) meeting in Vanuatu, resulting in Fiji's temporary withdrawal from the group in August. The future of the MSG continues to remain uncertain as tensions continue between Port Vila and Suva over democracy and rule of law. Even the scheduled October MSG meeting in Solomon Islands has been postponed indefinitely, with Australia accused of continued interference and pressure on Vanuatu.
It was widely anticipated that, at the Solomon's meet, the leadership of the group would have passed from Vanuatu Prime Minister Edward Natapei to the Solomon Islands Prime Minister Danny Philip, and then potentially to Fiji Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama. Australia and New Zealand are unsettled by this prospect and have reiterated unwavering commitment on its existing position on Fiji, pushing Fiji further to look north for support and assistance.

Inside Australia, there is another social dynamic that mirrors Fiji's ongoing ethnic fault line. Indo-Fijians who had fled Fiji twice due to racial violence and military coups prefer Fiji military to be given the opportunity to implement electoral, constitutional and social reforms under the Peoples' Charter, whereas some indigenous Fijians prefer strengthening of sanctions, including trade embargoes to force the Fiji regime to agree to early elections. There have been a growing number of claims by indigenous Fijians for protection visas in Australia, and according to President of the Fiji Freedom and Democracy Movement Usaia Waqatairewa, "people have been systematically beaten or taken … in Fiji and they're trying to leave our shores."
The principal member for the Australian Government Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal, Denis O'Brien, revealed that there was an increase in refugee cases from Fiji. Concerns over growing number of indigenous Fijians seeking protection visas from the Australian government came to the forefront after Fijian detainee Josefa Rauluni committed suicide at Sydney's Villawood immigration detention center on September 20.

Considering that some 80 percent of indigenous Fijians voted for the deposed Soqosoqo ni Duavata ni Lewenivanua Party in the 2006 elections, it is not unreasonable to assume that many in the indigenous community disagree with the rationale behind the 2006 coup. Besides, the Australian government on a number of occasions has reiterated that the regime in Fiji is undemocratic and continues to suppress freedom of expression and political association. If the current policy position of the Australian government is anything to go by, then protection visas should be available to indigenous Fijians until after the proposed general elections in 2014.

Besides differences in opinion between the two Fijian communities, growing differences are emerging between the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal National Party Coalition over strategies on Fiji. Even the Australian government's coalition partner, the Greens, are concerned that the principled position of Canberra and Wellington has forced Fiji into the arms of China, which has encouraged Fiji to continue its reforms and pledged funding for major infrastructure projects and provisions for equipment and training for the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.

While relations between China and Fiji are expanding, Australia has closed its door for any meaningful engagement with the country, following the deportation of Australian High Commissioner to Fiji Sarah Roberts.

There was intense criticism in Fiji of alleged "arm twisting" by Australia of a number of Pacific Island countries that were warming up to Commodore Bainimarama. At the heart of the contention is the fear in Canberra that an undemocratic Fiji may unleash a coup virus in a region facing acute environmental, social and economic problems. As a consequence, Australia has maintained sanctions against Fiji since December 2006, including restrictions on visas to travel to Australia by high-profile coup supporters, Republic of Fiji Military Forces officers and their families, and a litany of others with ties to government.
Researchers Anthony Bergin and Robin Nair said, "Diplomatic fallout aside, there has been little recognition of the fact that such actions might only serve to humiliate the Fijian people, who appear to be warming to Bainimarama's plan for 'building a better Fiji,' and raise the prospect of Fiji withdrawing from the Pacific Islands Forum altogether."

After the cancellation of the scheduled MSG meeting in Vanuatu, Commodore Bainimarama invited Pacific Island leaders to the "Engaging with the Pacific" meeting to explain the details on its strategic roadmap for elections in 2014, which states that public consultation on a new constitution would commence by September 2012 and communal voting will be abolished to allow a person to vote with equal value irrespective of their racial background.

Pacific Island leaders came out in support of the Fiji government's Strategic Framework for Change and Roadmap to Democracy after a presentation by the Strategic Framework for Change Coordinating Office. Pacific Island leaders endorsing Fiji's plans included former Solomon Islands Prime Minister Dr Derek Sikua, Kiribati President Anote Tong, Prime Minister for Tuvalu Apisai Ilemia and country representatives from Tonga, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Tokelau, East Timor and Wallis and Futuna.

At the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) meeting in Vanuatu in August, New Zealand and Australia continued to encourage and support Fiji's early return to parliamentary democracy in accordance with the Biketawa Declaration and the PIF decisions at Port Moresby and Cairns in 2009. However, the approach taken by PIF is problematic and politically not feasible. The Fiji government is required to firm up and draw new electoral boundaries based on the open-list proportional system of voting. Proportional voting has its own challenges, and the government has to agree to an electoral divisor rule that provides the greatest measure of proportionality and establish supporting institutions that promote broad-based inclusive democratic government.

There are initiatives underway to reform government departments so that there is more focus on service delivery and ethical conduct. Besides these challenges, the Fiji has also implemented Land Use Decree 2010 for better utilization of land and equitable returns to both landowners and tenants.

The government of Fiji must be given the time to develop, implement and evaluate its political, social and economic policies using evidence-based methodologies. However, it should ensure that its strategies and processes are transparent and inclusive and past initiatives are fully audited and outcomes clearly measured against strict performance guidelines. While time and space should be given to the Fiji government to implement its reforms, there has to be evidence that reasonable steps are being taken to return Fiji to civilian rule in the future. The international community should understand that rushing into an election without establishing sound constitutional, institutional and electoral systems can lead to further political breakdown and military coups. Therefore, it is important that Australia work with the Fiji government in ensuring that preconditions for a return to civilian rule are fully embedded, and for this to occur, both sides have to start dialogue, potentially brokered by a third party.

Dr. Sanjay Ramesh is an honorary research fellow at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney. His email is sanjay.ramesh@sydney.edu.au. 

Source:

 

Comments

Fiji needs a government said…
This 'review' by Ramesh is a poorly argued and predictable piece of work from an indo-Fijian trying yet again to justify a military coup supported by indo-Fijians. For a stsrt, Fiji doesnot have a government, it has a military junta. Why should Australia, or anyone else negotiate with a junta? There is nothing to negotiate.
This coup, of all coups in Fiji, has been the most divisive. you do not bring people together by force and 'decrees' from and illegal regime. anyone who thinks that as a result of this coup, divisions between Fijians and indo-fijians have improved - are in denial or deceit.
As for Fiji rushing to china - who cares - if and when it is necessary that can be dealt with.
the coup is bringing nothing to the people of Fiji, it has destroyed the sugar industry and damaged the economy. either the military go back to the barracks and play with their toys, or chaos continues and divisiveness increases - its very straightforward - even for 'academics'.
Croz Walsh said…
@ Fiji needs ... If you think the article is poorly argued, why not tell us why? I'm afraid it is not a reasoned argument to dismiss any article because of its author's ethnicity or his supposed political position. An argument is more than a statement.

You say this coup is more divisive than the earlier coups which, incidentally, is another issue that has no bearings on the article you criticise. You should clarify what you mean by divisive. Who exactly is being divided from who? I would have thought almost all non-ethnic Fijians (and quite a number of ethnic Fijians) opposed the 1987 and 2000 coups but you apparently are only talking about division among ethnic Fijians, as if the others don't count.

Fiji needs ... people who can think and present rational arguments that will help to build the nation, not people who assess every situation in terms of race and their own "needs." Fortunately, the evidence is that a growing number of ethnic Fijians do not agree with you.

I'll leave your "poorly argued" statements (no, they were not arguments) about Australia and China for others to address.
The ranting of the damned said…
Croz, there's been a perceptible increase in recent days in correspondence from what might be termed the extreme anti-regime, pro SDL lobby, of which the above is typical. These comments are characterised by precisely the features you've mentioned - declamation rather than cogent argument, virulence and an over-emphasis on race. Perhaps it has something to do with your attacks on Coup 4.5, something of a concerted counter-offensive by your critics? It certainly seems that you've stirred up the indigenous extremists who, judging from their writings, aren't democrats at all but bordering on the crypto-fascist. No attempt to address the content of Sanjay Ramesh's piece, just crude dismissal based on the colour of his skin. They don't seem to realise that their every utterance makes Bainimarama's coup not only justifiable in the minds of right-thinking people but an absolute necessity. Fiji needed to be saved from this evil obsession with race and the arrogant sense of superiority of the hardline elements of the i'Taukei. Keep up the good work.
sara'ssista said…
I would argue there has been more than sufficient time and more than sufficient power. Every regime or government bleat about more time and blame the previous bunch, but chararcteristically you won't see bainimarama do an Obama and actually admit his failings and ditch his dictatorial and vain tendencies.
Taveuni said…
The likes of Sanjay Ramesh appear to forever ethnicise and ‘racialize’ their analysis of the Fiji situation.

Without regard to the fact that some of the most vociferous opponents of the post- 2006 coup military backed regime are Indo-Fijians whilst ethnic Fijian political and other opinion leaders appear to have lost their voices, Ramesh posits an ethnic divide in the positioning of the two ethnic categories. Ethnic Fijians are opposed to the regime and Indo-Fijians support it!

Several ethnic Fijian vanua and their chiefs have made peace with the regime and support it. Some have even publicly apologized for their initial refusal to support it. And of course, the military remains 99.9% ethnic Fijian –if no one else supports it, their families do!!

Indo-Fijian opponents include the NFP and the Sangam and such professional bodies at the lawyers’ association. Individual academics, trade union leaders and sugar cane growers’ representatives have been some of the most vocal opponents since December 2006. With the ouster of M.P. Chaudhary from the government’s good books, the FLP has also become an opponent of the regime.

Most multi-ethnic NGOs are opposed to PER and the longer this human rights violating regulation is continued the more people will join in opposing it and by extension the current government.
Coup of many colours said…
I wonder where was this logic when the deposed Vice President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi stated that the indigenous Fijians see the 2006 as an Indo-Fijian counter-coup. This was 2007 and by 2008 it has become an FLP coup and then by 2009 an Indo-Fijian Muslim coup and now Indo-Fijian business big business coup. The fact is that all political parties lost out because of the coup, except the National Alliance Party of Ratu Epeili Ganilau. Then again, the military has made it clear that no previous political parties or party-affiliated individuals will contest any future general elections. Indigenous Fijian provincial chiefs slowly realised that Ro Temumu Kepa and Mere Samisoni style resistance was futile and as a result, the chiefs that wanted Bainimarama evaluated for mental stability have run up to him with a volley of tabuas in a colourful display of matanigasau. Even Ratu Inoke Takeiveikata- the mastermind behind the Speight putsch has reconciled and there are similar overtures from the Methodist Church. Former nationalists like Kubuabola are now the international affairs face of the Fiji Government.

Indo-Fijians generally support any political initiative in Fiji which is free from all forms of racial discrimination. Bavadra tried to bring about change through democratic elections, he was deposed and Chaudhry met a similar fate in 2000 but Bainimarama has started a new political paradigm of re-engineering indigenous institutions so that it is aligned to his reforms. As you state that some academics, union leaders. NGOs do not share Bainimarama’s social engineering but as in any situation, there will be support and resistance to any form of political change and Fiji is no different.

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