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Boosting Fiji engagement a wise move towards encouraging democracy

Regime leader Voreqe Bainimarama ... "bans are little more than an inconvenience, but mark Australia and New Zealand out as particularly mean-spirited and petty". Photo: Selwyn Manning, Scoop

Pacific Scoop:
Analysis – By Scott MacWilliam

Now that New Zealand has started to recognise the need to change its previous hard-line against the military regime in Fiji, a range of suggestions are being made about the most appropriate policy changes.

One move, proposed recently by Croz Walsh, is for the removal of travel sanctions which have discouraged some of Fiji’s most talented people from applying for government positions.

The reasoning behind this proposal is impeccable, and needs to be taken further with the removal of blanket sanctions on all personnel serving in the current government and administration.

The sanctions only apply to travel to Australia and New Zealand. Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and other senior officers have had no difficulty visiting other countries, including the United States.

Sri Lankan legal officers have been able to travel to Fiji via East Asia. In terms of effectiveness as a means of isolating the regime these bans are little more than an inconvenience, but one which marks Australia and New Zealand out as
particularly mean-spirited and petty.

Lack of logic
There is also a lack of political logic in the travel bans. As has been frequently pointed out, the Republic of Fiji Military Force (RFMF) is distinct by comparison to other South Pacific countries’ military forces because of its
professionalism.

Many members of the RFMF have had international training as well as extensive overseas experience, including in
peace-keeping duties. The role of this professionalism in maintaining discipline and preventing major splits within the military has so far been important, if easily underestimated.

The RFMF’s senior officers are well aware of international norms regarding the most appropriate role for soldiers in democratic countries. This awareness is evidenced each time PM Bainimarama speaks of the RFMF’s current objective as one of bringing “real democracy” to Fiji.

Advocating “one vote one value” as the basis of an electoral system is promoting one such norm, and the regime’s attachment to it is an indicator of their internationalism.

Despite acknowledging the importance of international education and military experience, regime critics have taken the perverse step of urging that travel sanctions be imposed as a punitive measure.

Blocking Fijian soldiers from serving in UN peace-keeping forces is also supposedly desirable, even while acknowledging that it is this experience which has contributed to the RFMF’s professionalism.

The RFMF should be wise in the ways of the democratic world – but its members should not have the experience of visiting the nearest liberal democratic countries!

With travel bans removed, or at least only applied in a selective manner where particular soldiers and others have engaged in offensive and vicious behaviour, Australian and New Zealand officials could engage more broadly with the regime’s senior personnel.

The next generation of officers could be given the benefits of an international education in countries with stronger democratic traditions.

Prime Minister Bainimarama and his closest advisers could be encouraged to visit Australia and New Zealand to engage personally with critics and empathisers alike.

Australian Foreign Minister and former Labor Party operative Stephen Smith could even explain in detail the lengthy and difficult process by which gross malapportionment has been removed from the Australian electoral system.

The ever-present danger is that members of the RFMF will get used to being in power and become entrenched in attitudes that are undemocratic.

Typically, the longer militaries are in office, even those which commence with the goal of returning to civilian rule, the more prone these are to considering themselves as a preferable substitute to the seemingly chaotic inefficiencies of elected governments.

Actions which isolate the military regime, even ineffective ones, will only encourage anti-democratic behaviour. Further elevating paranoia and increasing the possibility of internal fragmentation with the potential for civil war is in no one’s best interests.

While it is admirable that governments in Australia and New Zealand have continued some of their aid and development activities in Fiji, it is time to take additional steps which encourage further international experience for the Bainimarama government’s most important personnel.

Removing travel sanctions against all government officials would be one such step.

Scott MacWilliam lectures on development policy and poverty reduction in the Crawford School at the Australian National University. He previously taught public administration, governance and comparative politics at the University of the South Pacific, in Fiji, and the University of Papua New Guinea.

2 comments:

  1. Gone Qase, 22. January 2010, 11:02

    In addition to your comments regarding the professionalism of Fiji soldiers, the have over 30 yrs of experience participating and monitoring other trouble governments around the world to restored democratic rules, through this extensive experiences and on hands training, they saw a need to apply the same discipline and professionalism to their own country.

    If it work for other countries around the world where they served, why cant it work at home, and yes I agreed, the critics of the Fiji military need to change their perspectives in today’s world order.

    The military is the best way to restore order and create and environment for a political government to functions and democracy can be restored, eg, Israel, Iraq, Pakistan, now Afghanistan so Fiji is different.

     
  2. Vani, 24. January 2010, 22:13

    With professionalism comes intergrity!

    I totally disagree with the fact that the Fiji military should be sided with when it comes to making an ineffective government effective esp. in Fiji. That is why we have elections in democratic countries. It’s when we condone military action in coutnries where military coups are carried out, that when the military officers who carry the ARMS, like Bainimarama and his regime who will continue to think they are the people’s answer to a better world. You said it yourself here –

    (quote) The ever-present danger is that members of the RFMF will get used to being in power and become entrenched in attitudes that are undemocratic.

    Typically, the longer militaries are in office, even those which commence with the goal of returning to civilian rule, the more prone these are to considering themselves as a preferable substitute to the seemingly chaotic inefficiencies of elected governments. (unquote)

    Being trained or exposed to views overseas is meant to encourage openmindedness to bring about positive changes to one’s own country. But when one tries to go overseas to keep the peace and then when back home do the opposite, then something is totally wrong with that picture. One can only surmise that it is the INDIVIDUAL (psychologically, personnaly, professionally etc) who have lost track of their own responsibilities, thus, resulting in them taking actions like what Bainimarama and his military council did prior to and on Dec. 5 2006.

    You also suggested – “Prime Minister Bainimarama and his closest advisers could be encouraged to visit Australia and New Zealand to engage personally with critics and empathisers alike.”

    Bainimarama cannot face his critics personally because he lacks the TRUTH to face them. Why? Well…

    the bottom line is – you take away Bainimarama’s guns, What does he have left to give him the power to do what he is doing to our country? NOTHING! (But having Bainimarama meet his critics would be a swell meeting to witness. If only Bainimarama had the guts to do so, which is Naught!)

    I believe the reason NZ and Aust. have to stay true to their sanctions is so that it is a point being made for future coupsters.

    As a Fijian, I certainly hope and pray that Bainimarama’s coup will be the last. But with a military that has inflated egos and lack of intergrity and “intelligent matter” (all the intelligent ones have been pushed out or left) like we do in Fiji, A FUTURE COUPLESS FIJI, is not a given. Sad but true!