Tuesday, October 23, 2007

All should have a say in poll

MARIA BURESE
Monday, October 22, 2007

TIMES: How concerned is the Commonwealth about the lack of reported progress on getting Fiji back to democracy?

McKinnon: Within our rules, and we do not have many rules in the Commonwealth, we have a general commitment that a country should come back to full democracy within two years of a coup occurring. The commitment by the commodore is to come back by March, 2009.

The main thing is this statement should have the full confidence of the Fijian people. They want that to happen and they know that it should happen and everything should be in place to make sure it happens. The job should include the census, voter registration, and everyone understands what is happening.

We don't a want a situation to occur when we suddenly get to February 2009 and you realise you haven't go everything in place, so that is why it is important to have that timeline in place.

There are certain things that need to be done at certain times and I'm sure that can be done.

Times: Failing that, what is the position of the Commonwealth?

McKinnon: Well we don't get that sort of hypothetical type situation because we believe that in terms of what has been said, in terms of the aspirations of the Forum and the Forum ministers and other groups and the expectations that this will happen and we want it to happen. Everyone wants to help Fiji make it happen.

Times: How exactly are you reading the situation? I'm sure you are regularly updated on Fiji.

McKinnon: Oh, I read a lot, I get a lot of information, people write to me about things but I'm looking forward to a meeting with the Commodore here in Tonga and we will see how we go.

(The two have since met, have agreed on some things and disagreed on others, but talks are expected to continue between the leaders in the next six weeks).

Times: Will the Commonwealth continue to suspend, reinstate Fiji should the coup culture continue? No one wants that to happen but where does the Commonwealth draw the line?

McKinnon: I have said this before and, of other cases too, we do not want a situation where the army is seen to be the alternative government.

The alternative government should always be in opposition and if you constantly look and say we don't like what is happening, let's get the army in, that is not good.

Times: It may be all very well for the international community to be calling for democracy but has it made any effort to get to the root causes coups in Fiji and help remove those roots, or is it an internal matter for Fiji to deal with?

McKinnon: Well, at the same time there are a number of issues that Fiji has to address.

Whether these issues are of concern to the Commodore when he took over the Government I'm not too sure.

We are well aware of the long-running issues between the two main races in Fiji, which we thought not diminished after the George Speight coup in 2000.

So it is important when we talk about democracy none of us are saying you must do this or must do that.

Democracy is ensuring that every one has an equal say in how the Government is formed and how you choose the people who make decisions on your behalf.

That is the essence of it.

Times: Commonwealth observers to Fiji's general election last year described it as free and fair. Fiji's Human Rights Commission set up an inquiry to look into the outcome of the election again. Only 51 submissions were received from the more than 400,000-plus voters. Do you have any comment on this?

McKinnon: We had observers there headed by the former Foreign Minister of Jamaica.

They did recognise there were some deficiencies.

They did not believe the deficiencies reflected if rectified would have changed the results, the results would have been the same.

Nevertheless there were deficiencies and they encouraged me to continue to engage and help rectify those deficiencies, which is all within the elections system.

That is where we are now.

But my own head of human rights did go to Fiji about three months ago and she did highlight a number of deficiencies, which I cannot tell you about because it is contained in a report deficiencies within the overall human rights in Fiji, which I hope can be rectified.

It was a report only to me.

I've got to decide how much information should come from that report. That will come later.

Times: What does Fiji stand to lose from being suspended and what becomes of its financial obligation?

McKinnon: Well we don't get the money we don't spend it.

Most countries, for every dollar they give the Commonwealth they get back about $10 worth of assistance, so it is usually worthwhile staying within our assistance program.

We have been running programs in Fiji and they are continuing because it started before December last year and that's normal for us.

We cannot start new programs, we cannot do that because the country is still suspended but we hope Fiji does make the commitment to come back.

Times: I understand you are coming to the end of your term, what is departure message for the region, in particular Fiji and what was the highlight of your term?

McKinnon: The only message I would like to give the region is to work together for the greater good of all because the Pacific member countries except for Papua New Guinea have small populations.

Working regionally will get greater strength and benefits.

Times: What are your retirement plans?

McKinnon: Nothing really, I guess I will return to New Zealand and build a house.

Times: Are you confident Commodore Bainimarama will meet the 2009 deadline?

McKinnon: It is in my interest that he does because the Commonwealth makes it very clear that any Commonwealth country via the coup that leaves the Commonwealth by way of suspension has to come back within two years.

The Commodore's commitment is 2009 and, of course, you can stretch a little if we felt progress is being made but you do want to know that progress is being made. It's not just a matter of waiting to see that that happens in March 2009, but knowing what is happening in March 2008 and June 2008 to ensure things do happen.

Times: What can come out of this Forum that can satisfy Commonwealth leaders that there is a commitment to a March 2009 election?

McKinnon: Well, I think it is very much as I'm saying. We really want to know what is happening in the intervening period. This is the way I have had to deal with three or four other countries.

It's about having a very clear roadmap, not a roadmap for the sake of outside interest but a roadmap to satisfy people in the country that this is what is happening. Generally, people want to get back to democracy and to get back you do need a plan; you do need significant viewpoints because if you don't people lose confidence and we don't want that.

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