Report – By Phyliss Hao Zhang
Fiji must hold elections before it can win a place back in the Pacific Islands Forum regional political grouping, believes a veteran New Zealand journalist.
But Michael Field considers that while the military backed regime appears to be committed to elections in 2014, “a lot can go wrong”.
He believes the current crop of Pacific political leaders regard the prospect of regime Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama being back in the fold as “too awkward” as shown at the last forum in the Cook Islands in August.
Before the 43rd Forum started in Rarotonga, Fiji’s outsider status had aroused the attention of Pacific countries and media.
“Australia and New Zealand have made their positions very clear – that Fiji has to hold elections before it can be re-admitted,” said Field, a senior journalist with Fairfax New Zealand.
“I also get the sense that the other members of the Forum are happy to go along with the views from Wellington and Canberra,” he told Pacific Scoop.
“After all, Bainimarama did break a promise to them to hold elections in the past.
“Now he has to prove himself. I also believe that the forum itself is now struggling a great deal to be relevant.”
Field points out that the last forum achievements had become modest and barely noticed in recent times – and if the body “weakened” on Fiji, it would become irrelevant.
“At this time I think Fiji is seriously committed to holding its elections but a lot can go wrong.
“There are so many unanswered questions that threaten the whole process: among them is whether the members of the overthrown government will be allowed to participate and whether Bainimarama himself is going to run for elections,” said Field.
Field also said Bainimarama and the Attorney-General. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, had set so many qualifications around holding elections, and the nature of political parties, that it was far from clear whether the rest of the world – much less the forum – would regard any election as free and fair.
Regarding Fiji’s threats to withdraw from Pacific-African, Caribbean, and Pacific (PACP) group, Field said: “The world these days is full of various bodies and forums.
“Some leaders in the Pacific seem to spend most of their lives at them – rather than at home.
“The forum headquarters in Suva would make a nice resort.”
The PACP group is due to discuss Fiji’s status at a meeting later this year.
Fiji and Papua New Guinea signed an interim EPA with the European Union in 2009.
The interim agreement focused on trade in goods which includes important provisions on relaxed rules of origin for the fisheries sector.
Phyliss Hao Zhang is a Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student at AUT University.