Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 16:32 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 16:32 | SYDNEY

Fiji: The really big stick


Jenny Hayward-Jones


2 February 2009 08:03

Fiji’s interim Prime Minister was given an unequivocal and strong message by Pacific Islands Forum leaders at their 27 January meeting in Port Moresby. Commodore Bainimarama must nominate, by 1 May 2009, a date for elections to be held by the end of the year or Fiji will be suspended from the Forum. It is the first time leaders have contemplated suspending a Forum member and is a significant development in a region more used to finding a 'Pacific Way' through their challenges.

Bainimarama’s past practice and comments to the media this week suggest that he will ignore the Forum’s ultimatum, as he has ignored pressure from the Forum, the Commonwealth, the European Union and the United States to date. It also seems likely Fiji will be suspended from the Commonwealth soon.

The interim government has not demonstrated a capacity to engage rationally with its critics and its neighbours. Recent decisions indicate Bainimarama is rapidly narrowing his sources of advice. The interim government has suspended the respected Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ratu Isoa Gavidi and sacked Robin Nair, who had been appointed as an independent interlocutor to liaise with Fiji’s political party leaders and the interim government and prepare terms of reference for the President’s Dialogue Forum.

It is hard to see the decision to deport Fiji Times publisher Rex Gardner on the same day as the Forum meeting in Port Moresby as anything other than a deliberate provocation of Forum leaders, reflecting the diplomatic naïveté of the interim government.

The Commodore’s personal desire to sustain his rule and the dominance of the military in Fiji seems ever more clearly the real reasons for the delay in holding elections. The frequent delays in the political dialogue which could develop the electoral reforms he wants are evidence enough of this. If he continues to be more visibly concerned about his own future than the future of his country, Fiji has a lot more to worry about than suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum.

The Forum Leaders may have made the right decision in Port Moresby for the credibility of the Forum itself. But if their demands are ignored and Fiji is suspended from the Forum, mechanisms to assist the innocent people of Fiji deal with their government’s status as Paul Toohey’s rather aptly named Pariah of the Pacific must not be lost with the suspension.