Trinidad News:’No Fiji in T & T’ Sanders says. [Trinidad & Tobaggo will Host Commowealth Heads in Novemeber, 2009]
August 22, 2009 by Fiji Truth
Author: Sir Ronald Sanders,
Trinidad & Tobaggo Express, Thursday, August 20th 2009
If a contest was held to choose a country with a culture of coup d’états, the Pacific island state would be a front-runner. There were two coups in 1987, a third in 2000 and a fourth in December 2006.
Now, come September 1, the 53-nation Commonwealth is expected to suspend Fiji from its membership.
The suspension will come after almost three years of trying every diplomatic and negotiating device to convince the military government of Commodore Frank Bainimarama to restore the country to democratic rule.
A consistent figure in the last two coups, Bainimarama has shown a remarkable failure to honour commitments he gives to the international community.
Fiji is made up of a group of islands in the Pacific and has a population of 872,000 people consisting of indigenous Fijians, indigenous Rotumans and Banabans, Indo-Fijians, Chinese, Europeans (mostly Australians and New Zealanders) and people of mixed race.
Bainimarama’s 2006 coup had nothing to do with racial differences in Fiji and much more to do with controversies between him and the then prime minister, Laisinea Qarase, who was threatening to arrest Bainimarama and others for their part in the coup of 2000.
While the Commonwealth did suspend Fiji from the councils of the Commonwealth after the 2006 coup, it did not suspend it from membership of the grouping.
Along with the Pacific Islands Forum (Fiji and its closest neighbours), the United Nations and other bodies, the Commonwealth had been working to persuade Bainimarama to hold elections by March this year – an undertaking that he had given. But March came and went, and in April the government abrogated the Constitution, further entrenched authoritarian rule, cracked down on freedom of speech and assembly, and undermined the judiciary and legal system.
Bainimarama also scrapped the paramount Fijian institution, the prestigious Great Council of Chiefs which selects the president and vice-president. It is widely believed that he did so because the chiefs did not rally to him. He also prevented the dominant Methodist Church from holding its annual convention demanding that it must first be cleansed of political clergymen.
Making matters worse, Bainimarama issued a “Strategic Framework for Change” which he described as “the only path to ensuring sustainable and true democracy, the removal of communal representation and the implementation of equal suffrage based on common and equal citizenry”. Under this plan, work will begin on a new Constitution in 2011 and elections would not he held until 2014.
The group said it wanted the regime to “state its firm commitment” to reactivating the political dialogue “in writing” to the Commonwealth secretary general by September 1 or “Fiji will be fully suspended on that date”.
No one is holding their breath that such a written commitment will be forthcoming from Bainimarama.
His government has already condemned Fiji’s neighbours in the Pacific Islands Forum for expressing, in early August, “their deep concern for the people of Fiji in the face of Fiji’s deteriorating economy as a consequence of the military regime’s actions, including the undermining of the private sector and the negative effect on business confidence in the absence of the rule of law”.
Suspension of Fiji after almost three years of trying to reason with the military regime is necessary punishment now; but engagement is also necessary to give back to all the people of Fiji their right to democracy, constitutionality and the rule of law.
Sir Ronald Sanders is a consultant and former Caribbean diplomat.