While Australia's hard line approach to Fiji exposes the government to the charge that it only bullies smaller powers, there has been a call for Royal mediation to find a solution to the constitutional impasse in Suva.
The story began when the Fijian President Ratu Josefa Iloilo announced on 10 April that he had suspended the Constitution of Fiji, and had dismissed all of the judges. This was after the Court of Appeal had ruled that the government of Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was illegal. The President confirmed Commodore Bainimarama as Prime Minister and a state of emergency was declared which increased police powers and introduced censorship.
The Prime Minister says elections will not be held until 2014. The Commonwealth had already suspended Fiji from some of its activities and on 1 May the Pacific Islands Forum took the unprecedented action of also suspending Fiji.
…Why does Australia single out Fiji?..
As is usual, the Australian government has been forthright in condemning the Fijian government, and has sought to punish Fiji by blocking the United Nations use of Fiji soldiers in peace keeping operations and other sanctions.
The Australian government, like its predecessors, once again demonstrates a quite extraordinary inconsistency in its foreign policy. No sanctions are proposed against one of our largest trading partners, and a great power, although she never holds what Australians would call democratic elections. There is no indication that she will ever hold democratic elections.
If Australia is to hold itself up as some sort of moral guardian, it ought to condemn all countries, whatever their size and power.
To single Fiji out for condemnation alone makes Australia look like a bully, careful only to attack less powerful states.
…an old and close relationship…
What gives Australia the right to dictate to single out Fiji and tell her how to run her affairs? Fiji is not and never was an Australian colony, although she was represented at the 1883 Australasian Inter-Colonial Conference, Sydney, which was convened to discuss federation. All of the Australian colonies, New Zealand and Fiji attended. It is interesting to recall how close we came to being part of the same country.
At their request the British parliament passed the Federal Council of Australasia Act 1885. This was adopted by legislation of the Western Australian, Fijian, Queensland, Tasmanian and Victorian Parliaments, in that order. It was a weak, limited legislative body lacking an executive. Without New South Wales, New Zealand and (except in 1889) South Australia, and with Fiji not attending after 1886, it ceased to operate after its January 1889 meeting.
Fiji took no further part in the Federation story.
…finding a solution…
( A video of that interview is embedded in three parts below on the ACM site)
“We need to get rid of racism in the next five years and then have elections that people recognise will bring about true democracy in Fiji," he said. He expressed frustration at the lack of understanding of Fiji’s situation by the Australian and New Zealand governments.
It is not our intention to approve what has been done in Fiji. But Australian foreign policy should abandon futile "megaphone diplomacy" which is no more than spin designed to obtain headlines. It should stop imposing sanctions which only hurt the weak.
Rather we should be using our influence and our good offices to find a solution. After all, we are imposing no sanctions on the Middle Kingdom, and nor should we.
…return to democracy with the restoration of The Queen?…
Commodore Bainimarama said that when democracy was eventually restored in five years, Fiji would like to ask the Queen to resume her position as Queen of Fiji. (See video 1 below, about 2 minutes in.)
Fijian was declared a republic during the first coup in 1987, but as Her Majesty herself observed, this was done without reference to the Fijian people. Her Majesty said she was "sad to think that the ending of the Fijian allegiance to the Crown should have been brought about without the people of Fiji being given an opportunity to express their opinion on the proposal."
Her Majesty's statement was unusual. She spoke as The Queen of Fiji, and without the advice of Her Ministers, there being none. This statement implies that at some stage the people of Fiji will have to decide on the status of the Crown. An intensely loyal people, there is no doubt that in a free vote, the monarchy would be restored.
"I'm still loyal to the Queen – many people in Fiji are," he told Graham Davis, acknowledging The Queen’s photograph above his desk. "One of the things I'd like to do is see her become Queen of Fiji again."
One thing is clear. The Queen would only return if Her Fijian Realm were to be governed along sound democratic principles.
Not everyone agrees with the Australian government’s futile and embarassing megaphone diplomacy and discriminatory sanctions which only hurt the weak. The Australian editorialised (1/5) against isolating Fiji, without accepting the coup.
Anthony Bergin, author of “Democracy Postponed: Fiji and Australian Policy Choices,” and director of research programs at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra, argued (8/5) in the same newspaper that Australia's “sticks and no carrots” line since December 2006 hasn't worked.
Fiji, he said, won't bow to external pressures such as travel bans or Australia's “mean-spirited” decision to cut Fiji from our Pacific agricultural guest-worker scheme. He said ejecting Fiji from the forum extends our “failed approach”.
And blocking Fiji from contributing to UN international peacekeeping missions will result in unemployed Fiji military personnel with guns roaming the streets at home.
He said it was critical there be a compromise that embodies “the key change of open electorates and no affirmative action quotas while further constitutional reform is pursued.”
He argued for the appointment of an outside mediator, but in a process without Australian or New Zealand involvement – they have ruled themselves out.
Given Commodore Bainimarama’s and most Fijian’s loyalty to The Queen, he suggests a member of the Royal Family as mediator with Foreign and Commonwealth Office support.
It was once common for Kings and Queens, members of Royal Families and The Pope to be appointed arbitrators in disputes between countries. In more recent times the actual arbitration would be undertaken by leading jurists who would then give their advice.
“Prince Andrew, for example, has had a career as a naval officer and may have some rapport with Bainimarama, who was the former chief of Fiji's navy. Another possibility as a third-party mediator is an emissary of Barack Obama. Bill Clinton would be a stand-out choice.”
The chances of success are slim. But absent a mediation, he says everyone in Fiji “stews and suffers.”
“More pressure from Australia even may lead to financial collapse or a rival army faction moving in,” he warns.
He concludes “ We don't want any possibility to arise of direct intervention such as the 5 1/2-year regional assistance mission to Solomon Islands that has already cost Australia more than $1 billion.”