Watershed in Australian-Fiji Relations
Fiji requires our help now: the time is right
- From: The Australian
- October 18, 2011
It is now clear that once the process begins, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama will hold fast to his own schedule just as firmly as he has done with the earlier phases of the roadmap laid down in July 2009.
Australia has failed to make any impression on the course of Fiji's return to democracy since the December 2006 military coup. In fact, Australia largely created the diplomatic vacuum that has given us negligible influence and seriously eroded our standing in the region.
Jon Fraenkel's recent response (World Commentary, October 14) to the most serious challenge our regional leadership has faced in more than a quarter-century is for Canberra to do nothing to fix our fractured relations with Fiji, and to refrain from any positive steps towards assisting with the restoration of parliamentary democracy.
A recent Lowy Institute poll of political opinions in Fiji found nearly two-thirds support the present government. If the poll is to be believed, Fraenkel asks, why doesn't Bainimarama not hold immediate elections?
The answer is clear: the Fiji government is working to its own schedule. The government has not replaced the racially divisive constitution that contributed so much to the tensions within Fiji over the years. Nor has it begun to put in place a new electoral system to eliminate the race-based voting that perpetuated these tensions.
These and other political changes were never scheduled to begin before next year.
One might have doubts about the time allowed for these changes, but the Bainimarama government will not embrace the restoration of the Great Council of Chiefs or its racial control of important national offices under the 1997 constitution.
If Australia wants to influence Fiji's path to elections and the return to democracy in 2014, the Prime Minister should take positive steps at the Perth CHOGM for the Commonwealth to re-engage with Fiji.
Most of our Pacific island neighbours want this. And Washington has accepted that the best course for the US is to help Fiji get to 2014 successfully.
A year ago, the Fiji government indicated its receptiveness to getting Australian technical assistance with implementing its roadmap without conditions. It is in the interests of Fiji, the region and Australia that we be there to help the Pacific's key hub state at this decisive turning point.