Aussies and Kiwis 'Saving Face', Out of Kick with US
Grubsheet #87 A CLAYTON’S RE-ENGAGEMENT
|NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully and his Aussie counterpart Bob Carr in Suva|
|Frankie Reed with President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau (Photo: US embassy)|
However much they speak of Fiji “not yet doing enough to be rewarded”, there can only be one plausible explanation for Aussie and Kiwi intransigence – political and diplomatic loss of face that the sanctions haven’t brought Fiji to heel. Bainimarama is proceeding with the timetable he announced all along – a national poll based on equal votes of equal value some time before September 2014. Yes, pure democracy in Fiji for the first time instead of the racially-weighted version that existed before Bainimarama’s 2006 coup and that Australia and NZ implicitly supported.
Oh dear, goes the thinking among the bureaucrats and their political masters in Canberra and Wellington. How do we adjust to the fact that the clocking is ticking away, an election is now only 28 months away and there’s ample evidence that Frank Bainimarama intends to keep his promise? Mmm. We can’t just back off, lift the sanctions and eat humble pie. What would that do to our regional and global standing – a tin-pot Pacific dictator making us look both stupid and impotent? Mmm. OK, here’s a plan. Let’s maintain the sanctions but start re-engaging in a minor way that might make any election fairer but doesn’t imply approval of the way in which it was brought about. How does that sound? Mmm. Yes Minister. Of course, Minister.
|Polite disengagement: Bob Carr and Fiji counterpart Ratu Inoke Kubuabola|
|Weakened governance: Frank Bainimarama|
It is petty and unconscionable, not least because better governance – the constant development catch-cry in the Pacific – is being sacrificed in Fiji and for what? To save face in the corridors of “power” in Canberra and Wellington. The decision to engage in the electoral reform process is a welcome crack in the granite-hard façade. But just as Clayton’s Tonic is the drink you have instead of a real drink, Australia and NZ are engaged in a Clayton’s re-engagement with Fiji – the engagement you have when a full engagement is just too hard to swallow because it also involves having to swallow some pride.
[My thanks to Graham Davis and Grubsheet for this article. -Ed.]