A Pacific Scoop team was on the ground for Fiji coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama’s elections visit to New Zealand. Video news report by Alistar Kata from the Manukau rally.
Report – By Mads Anneberg and Alistar Kata
Waving Fijian flags and holding placards, around 20 people marched on the Manukau Events Centre at the weekend, protesting against interim Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s public meeting while he was drumming up support for next month’s general election.
Bainimarama’s visit to Auckland is part of his FijiFirst campaign leading up to September 17 elections – the first since the military seized power in a coup in 2006.
Protester Lina Robanakadavu questioned why Bainimarama was allowed into the country.
Another protester, Sai Lealea, said he was determined to speak up for those who could not.
“In Fiji we wouldn’t be doing this, we wouldn’t be standing out and protesting at the front entrance,” he said.
“We do that because our relatives and friends and those who have been victimised in Fiji are not able to.”
The protests were soon cut short as security officials removed some of the group from the property, others managing to sneak into the hall.
Many of Bainimarama’s supporters had also found their way to the venue, packed out with about 1000 people.
FijiFirst supporter Mohammed Buksh said the work that had been done in Fiji should be “praised”.
“Bainimarama has given a lot of light to this government,” he said.
“Everybody has the right to live whether you are rich or poor, and he is trying to make sure that everybody has a decent life.”
A crowd of supporters cheered Bainimarama into the hall after he entered through a side entrance, avoiding any confrontation with the protesters.
He started the meeting by thanking the New Zealand government for acknowledging Fiji’s step towards “real democracy”.
The media were not permitted to ask questions, and question time was taken mostly by supporters who thanked him for bringing an end to racial tensions between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians.
Bainimarama talked about his plans for Fiji in the future, referring a number of times to the 2013 Constitution, to which some audience members objected.
His speech received persistent interruptions from the protesters, which provoked a response from Bainimarama:
“I’ve been told not to worry about the devils… But seriously, I have another term for them. They are nothing but a bunch of losers.”
Bainimarama’s comment sparked loud reactions from both supporters and protesters, as did another comment he made answering the question of a man in the audience.
The man said he was happy with Bainimarama’s accomplishments as PM, but he wanted assurance that there would not be another coup following the elections.
Bainimarama said it was “a hypothetical question” that no one in the room could answer. But asked the second time, he replied, laughing:
“You vote me into Parliament, and there will be no coup.”
According to a poll conducted for The Fiji Times, published on the day of Bainimarama’s visit, 56 percent of respondents would vote for Bainimarama’s party, FijiFirst.
The elections in Fiji, now just over a month away, are getting more and more attention throughout the region.
Amnesty International released a report on Wednesday blaming Bainimarama for “creating a climate of fear in Fiji”, harassing journalists and trade unions.
Opposition parties in Fiji have also blamed the PM and his party for creating an “uneven playing field” leading up to the elections.
However, these issues flew below the radar on Saturday with the media unable to ask questions during the 90 minute-long public meeting.
The visit is Bainimarama’s first in eight years to New Zealand.
The 2006 coup d’état in Fiji, which he led, and the failure to meet original deadlines for elections resulted in a travel ban to both Australia and New Zealand.
It was also Bainimarama’s first visit to the country as Prime Minister of Fiji, but there were no official meetings scheduled during his stay.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully told Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report that he probably would have “sought a brief formal meeting” with Bainimarama, had he not been in Myanmar for the weekend.
He also said that to his knowledge, Bainimarama was entering New Zealand on a tourist visa.
Bainimarama left the venue in a white Mercedes, honking his way through the crowd of supporters, protesters and journalists.