McCully's Carrot, Fiji's Response; MSG Meeting Update, Qarase Trial Date

N0275. AUSTRALIA- NZ, WHO'S LEADING WHO?  Hard on the heels of Kevin Rudd's statement that showed there was no change in the Australian government's position on Fiji (that is now even drawing criticism from former supporters such as Jenny Hayward-Jones of the Lowy Institute) comes NZ Foreign Minister McCully's statement that NZ would relax its travel bans against Fiji if the Bainimarama government would give a firm commitment to hold elections in 2014.

It is hard to know whether to take this remark seriously because Fiji has repeatedly said there will be elections in 2014. Their Roadmap, as readers will know because it has been stated often enough on this blog, set 2009-11 aside for physical and institutional infrastructure reforms, followed by constitutional reforms in 2012, electoral reforms in 2013, and elections in 2014, probably in September.

This is the Roadmap that was spelt out to Melanesian leaders at the "Engaging the Pacific" meeting at Natadola last year, and is being updated to Melanesian Spearhead Group officials this week in Suva (see N0277, below).  The Roadmap is based on the eleven pillars of the People's Charter and progress towards achieving the Charter goals is being monitored by the Strategic Framework for Change committee that was the subject of another posting in this blog last week.

There really is no excuse for the Minister not to know that 2014 is a definite date unless he chooses to heed  misleading media reports where Bainimarama has said some villagers are saying his government is so good, they don't want elections. The anti-government blogs and foreign media, bless them all, have put the villagers' words in Bainimarama's mouth and said they are the first signs that the government will renege on the elections. They have also speculated the military will not give up the "cushy" positions they now hold in government. 

The Minister, incredibly, seems to think that being able to attend "the Rugby World Cup would act as a carrot for the Fijian interim government to give a cast-iron assurance in return for lifting the travel ban in time for the Cup." We all know Bainimarama likes his football but it's more than a little condescending and patronising of the Minister to suppose Bainimarama would put a game ahead of what he is trying to do in Fiji.

There does, however, seem to be some change in NZ's position. McCully had previously demanded immediate elections. He now accepts 2014 as the election year. And in accepting this date, he acknowledges that the ban will have to be relaxed soon to allow the Fiji Government to appoint the people it will require to plan for the election. He notes they have "struggled to recruit for senior positions because the ban automatically applied to those people." In doing so, of course, he admits NZ policies have helped to increase the military presence in government, an outcome he presumably did not want.

The Minister said, "There's a point where it's going to be in our (sic!)  interests for them to be able to recruit heads of government departments that are not members of the military; that means at that point you have to look at the sanctions." Note "our" interests. I thought we were acting in Fiji's interests.

As the NZHerald notes "Mr McCully's views on softening sanctions to help Fiji appear at odds with the harder line taken by Australia." The Minister denies his approach is different from Kevin Rudd's. But why not? We are a sovereign nation, capable of our own initiatives. We do not need to follow Australia's lead all the time. And Dr Rudd has been far too preoocupied with Asia to have any firsthand knowledge of what is happening in the Pacific.

For a refreshing Aussie look at Australia and NZ's position, read this link to the Auckland University of Technology's Pacific Media Watch.

N0276. FIJI RESPONDS TO MURRAY McCULLY. Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Ratu Inoke Kubuabola says the Fijian government is  committed to holding General Elections in 2014.

“Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has time and again emphasized his commitment to elections timeline in 2014. That timeline remains and nothing has changed as far as government is concerned. Government is committed to ensuring that good and fair election is conducted. What more cast-iron assurance can this be for New Zealand or any other country for that matter.”

“New Zealand just doesn’t want to recognize nor understand that Fiji needs to give its people a fair and just election system that makes up the multiracial country of Fiji.” said Ratu Inoke. He said these things cannot be achieved overnight, and the government has set the time to 2014. -- MOI.

Col. Pio Tikoduadua, permanent secretary to the PM's Office,  echoed Ratu Inoke's remarks by saying
Fiji remains committed to holding elections in 2014 as this is  government’s promise to the people.  Note, to the Fijian people, not to NZ or some other foreign power. He said he found Minister McCully's comments "interesting."

The sticking point, once the date is accepted, will be on how open and inclusive the electoral dialogue will be, and which people and which parties will be allowed to stand for election.  I suspect McCully will want the "old politicans" represented.  I doubt this will be allowed.  They created the conditions that led to the coup.

N0277. MSG FOREIGN MINISTERS WERE BRIEFED on the progress of the implementation of the Strategic Framework for Change this morning. The areas covered were: Good governance (progress on the constitutional, electoral, public service and public sector reforms); Infrastructural developments (progress on land reforms, enhancement of international relations, maintaining macroeconomic stability and raising investment levels); and  socio-cultural programmes (reducing poverty, developing a common national identity, improving health service delivery and social justice). The Strategic Framework is based on the pillars of the People’s Charter to which all Government ministries are working to achieve. PNG Foreign Affairs Minister Don Polye expressed his country’s support for the work being carried out to reform Fiji. -- Based on No.0737/MOI.

N0278.TRADE EXPO AT MSG MEET. Some 24 companies and manufacturers of food products, home furnishing, textiles, footwear, financial services and much more are showing what they can offer the region at the expo that will be open at the Vale Ni Bose complex for the duration of the MSG meeting.Visits by the public are welcome. -- Based on No.0735/MTC.

N0279. QARASE TRIAL. The trial of former PM  Laisenia Qarase and former Fijian Holdings Chairman Sitiveni Weleilakeba for abuse of office  has been set for September 12. They have been charged by the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption with ten counts of abuse of office, forgery and issuing forged documents. There will be another pre-trial conference on June 10 when the two men will confirm their availability for the trial.


More detail please said…
Great to see a few confirmations of 2014.

Now lest gets serious and talk detail.

When will the dialogue start and how inclusive will it be ?

Will it be a free election....or will there be restrictions on who can run ?

Will it be a fair election.....will there be some international oversight ?

Will the PM and military accept the outcome ?

Will the PM break his promise and run in the election ?

What will the militaries roll be in the election and post election ?

What if a new party wants to reduce the size of the military - does that automatically exclude them from running in the election.

What if a party wanted to call a referendum on a new constitution - would that exclude them ?

Will all previous political parties and politicians be excluded ?

Will those with criminal records be excluded (like Francis Kean) or are military still above the law.

If franks keeps to the date that is something but until we know detail it is a nothing date,

The PM has to accept there will be people who oppose him and some of his ideas and laws. And if he believes in democracy he has to accept these not crush them.
sara'ssista said…
No276 How can it be that Egypt's military interim regime can organise elections for 80m people within a year of the fall of a despotic reime with a poulation largley rural with limited educational oportunities but Fiji requires 8 years of 'reform' , and even then elections to be held with conditions. How is that ?? Eactly how special are Fiji's circumstances and how must people feel to be portaryed as ignorant and easily manipulated that they need so much time to get their heads around the concept of a particular kind of democracy that appears to be specifically designed for fiji??
sara'ssista said…
No278 clearly there appears no rush for a speedy trial.How complex could it possibly be given there is either hard evidence or there isn't.

No276 conditions, conditions conditions.........the idea that we should all be grateful tohave the ooportunity for an actual vote is naive when again we don't who will be allowed to run... presumably all former politicians.. and that leaves us with teenagers houswives, the elderly and the military...well isn't that a spot of luck! Even if we accept, which i don't, that the'politicians' created the conditions for the coup a rather sweeping generalisation that has become the norm, presumably Croz is comfortable with the militray and their fellow travellers who were the 'means' behind the coup should still benefit???
who's who said…
@ 275 - The fact that McCully even considered dangling the World Cup as a carrot indicates the low regard with which he and his government consider Fiji and the depth of their ignorance of indigenous Fijian history, values and psyche. Is NZ offering to buy the Fiji Government's integrity with the World Cup ? What is the World Cup but a piece of silver? Of much greater value is that Fiji does not sell its soul.
who's who said…
@ sara'ssista

Why don't you educate yourself by spending time in the village the PM visited recently with several dozen horses for their means of transport. While there find out the facts on decision making processes at village level then report back to us.
No comparison said…
In Egypts there are some differences to Fiji. First, despite what you say above, I believe that Egypt is far more developed than Fiji with better overall education. Fiji's coups were also caused by the divide between the races and people using the race card for their own ends. Thirdly, international countries are supporting what the military are doing in Egypt, whereas they were tying to hinder Bainimarama and damage Fijis fragile economy. So in Fiji the military has decided they needed time to stabilise the economy and (attempt to) change the racial thinking of all Fijians so that when the election is held it will be under stable conditions, and be fair and reduce the chance of future coups.

I have heard that democracy advocates in Egypt have complained about having elections too soon. They argue that elections as currently planned will only benifit current political parties as they will be the only ones prepared.
sara'ssista said…
@no comparison....Egypt has a more developed education system? Egypt has no racial or religious divide? The military had support as the population invited them to intervene with international support. To that end , yes fiji is very different.
Cicero said…
Egypt, Libya, Tunisia all present similarities and significant differences to the Fiji experience. The population size for one. Standard of education another. Egypt has a long and illustrious history. It has been invaded historically on numerous occasions but has prevailed. Libya is essentially tribal and Tunisia has a vocal middle class. Or a middle class which has discovered its ability to be vocal through education overseas and then no jobs upon return home. The economies of these countries have proven critical through failure to produce jobs and a rising GDP. Corruption by an elite has beggared the ordinary people. It is a congruence of factors which results in revolution and fuels the determination to go out on the streets. This has been so since the French Revolution, the American war of Independence (late 18th century) the Fall of the Berlin Wall(1989) Significant changes of destiny which lined the pathway to Liberty.
Freedom of Choice said…
It's not about the 'Leaders' - this is about the people .....

Let us get this quite clear: this issue of an end to isolation is not about Leaders. Leaders come and go. This is about the PEOPLE OF A NATION, their benefit, their freedom of movement and their economic destiny. So, the political gloss should be cast aside. The people desire and deserve better. They require liberty to make choices. A fundamental human right.

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