Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Dictators Must Not Hold Sway in Pacific

Sai's Comments:

  • This is a very good reminder to us all about who actually runs Fiji - an unelected dictator who continues to deprive its citizens of their freedom.
  • As well, it is good that Mr Key is being cautioned about Bainimarama's motives for seizing power at the point of a gun. His reasons continue to change depending on the weather but one thing stands out like a beacon - he cannot be trusted to keep his words. He is stuck in his own world and that of his sympathizers who are propping him. He has already mapped out his roadmap to get Fiji back to democracy and ruled out anyone opposed to it.
  • The best Mr Key could hope for will be to insist for Bainimarama to start taking concrete actions to prove he is serious about his intention to return Fiji to democracy. First to remove media restrictions and allow a much more open debate and dialogue about his roadmap.
  • After all if Bainimarama takes his roadmap seriously, surely he should be able to defend it in any forum and in front of any audience. In the meantime, sanctions should remain until such time.

The Dominion Post Editorial - 5 January 2009

OPINION: Prime Minister John Key wants to renew engagement with Fiji. Good. The relationship is certainly in need of repair.

Fiji and New Zealand have a long history of strong links. Those links have been loosened in recent years, and relations reached a nadir in November when New Zealand and Australia's top diplomats in Fiji were told to leave, accused of meddling in Fijian affairs.

Last month, Mr Key said he was in the process of sending Commodore Frank Bainimarama a letter, "trying to engage in more dialogue", and that New Zealand was not "anti-Frank Bainimarama". Thankfully, he added "we do want to see democracy restored in Fiji".

The New Zealand Government has a fine line to tread between trying to build a relationship with Fiji's leaders and making it clear that the current situation there is unacceptable. Mr Key should never forget that, whatever his motives, and whatever the wrongs he felt he was righting, Mr Bainimarama took power at the point of a gun and deposed a democratically elected government.

Nor should Mr Key forget what has happened since. Mr Bainimarama promised the restoration of elections, but broke his promise.

Instead, he has tightened his grip on the country. Last April, after a court ruling that the 2006 coup was illegal, President Ratu Josefa Iloilo effectively tore up the constitution. As Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams commented, despite claims that basic rights would be respected under the new order, "it appears that the only current guarantees are ones of impunity, prolonged military rule, and reprisals against those who attempt to exercise basic rights".

Inconvenient judges were replaced. Opponents continued to be intimidated. Fiji's media remain under the control of the military. Mr Bainimarama now rules by decree. Elections are now not due till 2014.

It would be a shame if Mr Key's desire for a renewal of engagement or his statement that "we are not anti-Frank Bainimarama" were to be seen as any sort of endorsement of the commodore's regime.

The problem is that few options are open to Mr Key. The stick of sanctions has not worked. The Pacific Islands Forum and the Commonwealth have suspended Fiji from membership. The United Nations has ruled out using its soldiers in future peacekeeping operations. The European Union has cut sugar subsidies. New Zealand and Australia have denied government officials, the military and members of their families, entry to their territories.

Whatever else he does, Mr Key should not accept advice such as that from Auckland academic Hugh Laracy, who believes Mr Bainimarama should not get heavy-handed treatment "when he should be trusted that he's doing the best for his country". That is what defenders of dictators always say.

Mr Key is right to try to make a new start with the commodore in the new year. However, that does not mean forgetting that he is a dictator. The aim must be that dictatorships do not become the "Pacific way".

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