Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 12:24 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 12:24 | SYDNEY

Progress in Fiji?


Jenny Hayward-Jones


17 March 2009 08:35

Offering a hint of optimism in a depressed Fiji, the interim Government hosted a meeting of political party leaders on 13 March. Interim Prime Minister Commodore Bainimarama’s address to the meeting was notable for its recognition that the global recession made it more important for Fiji to unite and reform. 

This somewhat belated admission by the interim Government that the economy is in trouble is not the real motivation behind Bainimarama’s reform agenda. It is nevertheless a valid argument and may prove more useful in persuading the nation and the region of the need for reform than any argument Bainimarama has made to date. The interim Government could yet turn the global economic crisis to political advantage.

At the meeting, Fiji’s political parties agreed on the agenda proposed by the interim Government for the President’s Political Dialogue Forum (PPDF). the forum will discuss the democratic experience in Fiji and parliamentary reform, electoral reform and general elections, and the People’s Charter. The PPDF itself will be brokered by the UN and Commonwealth Secretariat. 

The omission of any reference to the role of the military in the agenda suggests political parties considered that the need to move forward with the dialogue was more important then the details of the agenda. Insisting on discussion of this sensitive issue would not have curried any favour with Commodore Bainimarama, who chaired the meeting. 

Yet identifying, negotiating and agreeing on the appropriate role for the military is central to any discussion of democracy in Fiji. Forum participants may have to use discussion of the People’s Charter to focus on the future role of the military.

Meanwhile, it seems not everyone is happy to discuss democracy. Last weekend's stoning of the house of Attar Singh, Fiji Islands Council of Trade Union general secretary and chairman of the Movement for Democracy in Fiji, and the smashing of Fiji Times Editor Netani Rika’s car last week send worrying signals about freedom of speech. 

Whether or not these crimes are found to be politically motivated, the public image they create of a climate of intimidation is not conducive to establishing an open political dialogue, or for that matter, improving a poor environment for investment.

Photo (of Fiji presidential guardsman) by Flickr user Saunderses, used under a Creative Commons license.