Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 05:29 | SYDNEY
Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 05:29 | SYDNEY

Fiji and the art of the boycott


Jenny Hayward-Jones


20 August 2008 16:08

The era of boycotts in the Olympics may be over but the Pacific Islands Forum is not yet immune from them. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manessah Sogavare boycotted the Leaders Summit in Tonga last year. Fiji interim leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama’s boycott of today’s Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Summit in Niue shows it is still an effective means of making a political statement, even if a negative one.

In lieu of personal representations, Bainimarama has published the statement he would have given to the summit, defending his efforts to reform Fiji’s democracy, criticising the findings of the Ministerial Contact Group report that has been presented to leaders, and warning that he is prepared for Fiji to face international isolation if the Forum does not support his objectives.

Forum leaders have condemned the boycott, which sabotages their efforts to hold Bainimarama accountable for his promise to hold elections in Fiji by March 2009. Kevin Rudd said it was a 'direct and deliberate snub' and Helen Clark compared the boycott to Robert Mugabe’s relationship with the Commonwealth. Tongan Prime Minister Feleti Sevele, the outgoing Forum chair went so far as to say the boycott tested the 'strength and relevance of the Forum'.

The 'important political issues' that required his attention at home — Bainimarama’s excuse for not attending the summit attention — are the very issues that are the subject of the Forum’s angst over Fiji. Bainimarama has sacrificed his best opportunity to justify, personally, his concerns about Fiji’s future to his counterparts and perhaps win some understanding. His snub, combined with his defensive written statement, has served only to aggravate Forum leaders. They must surely be wondering how their influence — so critical to establishing the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands in 2003 — has failed to keep Fiji, the very centre of the Forum’s operations, in the Forum family.

Forum leaders, faced with such a challenge to their pride, will have little choice but to repeat and increase their demands for Fiji’s adherence to the March 2009 election deadline. This will give Bainimarama the excuse he needs to alienate Fiji from the region and ignore Fiji’s most important partners. Perhaps this was his strategy from the outset.