|Not only the date wrong|
But John "Wayne" Key had already made New Zealand's position clear. While earlier he'd talked about "progress" towards elections, now he nudged the goalposts further away and said there would be no change until elections were held and the military returned to the Barracks. Interestingly, he made this one-country statement as if speaking for the Forum before it had even discussed Fiji. The Australian PM, with her popularity plummeting ahead of the Federal Elections, committed Australia to $390 million over the next ten years to promote Pacific women, and then returned home to mourn the death of five soldiers killed in Afghanistan. When Mrs Clinton finally arrived, she said next to nothing on Fiji and fielded reporter's questions on Afghanistan. The Pacific leaders, who were not reported as saying anything very much, need not have been there. Publicly, they went along with the Australian and New Zealand position but from their earlier remarks only Samoa, the Cooks and Niue were totally happy with the decision.
The importance of the Australia-New Zealand position was highlighted by the European Union delegate who said the EU would continue to follow the Australian and New Zealand lead on Fiji, and the EU's $360 million targeted to assist the sugar industry, on which 100,000 people depend for a living, would continue to be withheld until they gave the signal. This is ironic. Both countries said they had not placed trade bans on Fiji because bans would adversely affect ordinary people, and yet their present stand has precisely this effect. The Forum also had nothing to say on West Papua despite ever increasing evidence of very serious human rights violations by the Indonesian military. Another military, another irony?
PNG offered some way out by offering to support Fiji at the ACP (Asia Caribbean Pacific) meeting in Port Moresby in December, and in the meantime Australia and New Zealand said they would not stand in the way of Fiji being invited to attend "parallel" Pacific meetings, but not the Forum that seems to stand as some sort of symbolic sign of their adherence to "democratic" principles.
We do not know what weight they gave to a submission from Fiji's old political parties that essentially wanted everything to return to how it was before the 2006 coup, but if they go along this road, or indeed offer any support for this position, they will be helping to derail the constitution dialogue process and put an election in 2014 even more in doubt than John Key thinks possible. The old parties say the process is fundamentally flawed and they clearly have no intention of cooperating with the Constitution Commission whose chairman Prof Yash Ghai shares some of their concerns about the process but, unlike them, thinks the process is well on track and is satisfied people with views opposed to the Government are coming forward to freely express their opinions.
Australia and New Zealand should be offering every support they can to the Dialogue process. If they lead the Forum to go along with the old parties, they will be supporting a system far less democratic than the one envisaged in the People's Charter and in the Government's non-negotiable principles. They will also be supporting increased instability in Fiji with unpredictable outcomes.
Meanwhile, they should be aware that their mana as Pacific power brokers is being threatened. Others will step in to help Fiji.
Last week the Japanese offered to help Fiji's election process; Fiji established diplomatic relations with Iran and signed a memorandum of understanding with North Korea, and in the United Arab Republic, Fiji opened its new embassy. This is all part of its Look North diplomacy and engagement with the Non-Aligned Movement countries. It is now a long way away from its former semi-dependence of Australia and New Zealand. China has pumped $650 million into the Pacific over the past year. The Melanesian Spearhead Group has been revitalised and Bainimarma is its current chairman.
A Forum, dominated by Australia and New Zealand, is no longer representative of Pacific opinion, even if it ever was. Samoa, Niue and the Cooks whose economies would collapse without their aid, will continue to go along with what they want. The position of other Forum countries is more fluid. Fiji's geographic location and relatively advanced infrastructure make Fiji far more important to the Forum than the Forum is to it. They couldn't even relocate their headquarters to Samoa!
I laughed when I read Forum members were feted on One Foot Island in Aitutaki. If John Key thinks the Forum will be all that relevant to Fiji by the time it holds elections in 2014, he should try pulling the other one. But by then he is likely to have stood down from parliament and Gillard will be in the back benches. They will not have left a Pacific legacy about which we can be proud.