Saturday, March 31, 2007

Does Fiji Need a Chance?

Give Fiji a chance

Fiji cannot be isolated from the rest of the world especially when it is just a developing nation.
We all know isolation is the price every democratic country will face when democracy is removed.
Fiji believes in democracy.
However, it is sad that Fiji’s democratically elected government was removed by the military on 5th December 2006.
Because of this, Fiji has been largely isolated from the global family.
But for how long?
We know that countries with democratic leaders have no tolerance for those who remove a democratically elected government.
The Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama had been critcised by world leaders for the bloodless coup.
They now demand a quick return to democratic rule.
Because of the coup, New Zealand, Australia, the United States of America and the United Kingdom have imposed sanctions against Fiji.
Fiji has also been suspended by the Commonwealth.
Commonwealth general secretary Don McKinnon in a press statement said: “The Commonwealth brings together 53 democratic countries around the world.
We have no tolerance for military leaders who overthrow democratic governments.
The overthrow of an elected government would be a clear violation of the Commonwealth’s Harare Principles, which define our association’s fundamental political values.”
We want to be back in the Commonwealth fold.
Fiji has paid the price for the coup.
Well, Fiji cannot remain isolated and surely the only way back is to return to democratic rule.
However, Mr McKinnon has suggested a way out now.
He says that it is now time to stop criticising the coup leaders in Fiji and start talking to them.
The Commonwealth general secretary made this comment on Wednesday at the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee in Wellington, New Zealand.
“There has to be dialogue with the Fijian government to help restore democracy,” he said.
The two Commonwealth countries that have been very vocal on the takeover are New Zealand and Australia.
In a joint statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of these two countries , Winston Peters (NZ) and Alexander Downer (Australia said: “We’d like to see Fiji return to democracy as quickly as possible and they clearly need a roadmap, but not a roadmap that’s four years long or three and half years long. Fiji needs to get back to democracy very quickly.
“That’s not just because countries like Australia and New Zealand believe very passionately in democracy - but because that’s important to the broader economic and social development of Fiji. Having the country run by the military isn’t going to be much of an option for the country over a period of years.
“So the quicker they can hand over to a civil democratic government the bettter.”
Both countries have imposed smart sanctions and according to Mr Downer they are proving as a matter of fact to be quite effective. He said: “The balance here has to be a balance between taking measures that affect those people in Fiji, who are responsible for acting illegally in this way and making sure that the ordinary peiople of Fiji don’t pay a penalty as well - they’re obviously paying a penalty in the sense that tourist numbers are down. The economy will turn down as a result of what Commodore Bainmarama has done.
That of course is damaging to the economy in itself, but I think these sanctions on travel by people who are involved in the coup or who have participated in an illegal government - stopping travelling to Australia and New Zealand - I think they are effectve.”
Mr Peters said the two countries were not punishing Fiji but had taken these measures to see a quick return to democracy.
It is time these two close Fiji allies engage themselves in talks on quick return to democracy.
The Interim Government needs about $53 million for the 2010 elections. It is a fact that Fiji needs financial help in this area.
Surely if it had the funds, the general elections could be pushed to an earlier date. Sanctions won’t help. They only damage the relationship. Mr McKinnon has also raised a point. He says one of the problems in Fiji is that its army is too big for a country of its size and, therefore, has too much influence.
In any democracy the military should not attempt to involve itself in politics and also shouldn’t give the impression it is seeking to usurp the powers of the elected government.
Here in Fiji the military is very powerful if only because it is the only institution that has arms.
These arms have been used in all the four coups we have gone through.
The RFMF, with a total manpower of 3500 men, is one of the smallest in the world. The 2950 men in the active army are organised into six infantry and one engineer battalions, with 350 reserves forming a further three.
However, the point of argument here is the power it has. Without the gun, the military cannot remove a government.
We need the military but surely its role must be clearly defined in the constitution.
The RFMF’s interpretation of its role in affairs of state hinges on its belief that its role as defined by section 94(3) of the repealed 1990 Constitution is retained under the
1997 Constitution. The relevant section of the 1990 Constitution states that “It shall be
the overall responsibility of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to ensure at all times the
security, defence and wellbeing of Fiji and its peoples.” The RFMF believes the
Constitution provides it with a political mandate to influence government policy in the
interests of Fiji, however they may be defined. The correct interpretation of the
military’s role under the 1997 Constitution remains contentious, and has not been
determined by the courts, although there was discussion during 2006 of a possible
Presidential reference to the Supreme Court on this issue.
It is a fact that the RFMF is large for a country its size and has a history of political involvement
This is supported by New Zealand’s Greens Party and NZ parliamentarian Keith Locke who says Fiji has an army much bigger than it requires, considering that we do not have any external enemy.
He even told a local radio based station in Auckland that the Fiji military has abused its powers.
Surely this will be disputed by the military.
We all know that the ousted Laisenia Qarase-led government had commissioned a review of the RFMF in 2005, which recommended the downsizing of the force, and its restructure, to more appropriately meet the needs of Fiji. This review was
received poorly by the RFMF.
Well, the new democratically elected government should look into this.
Fiji should be given a chance to sort out its own problem.
However, it will need international help.
Let us forget about the coup and help restore democracy with the coup makers. Work with the wrong to get the right.

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