May 11, 2012

Radio Australia: McCully says Bainimarama will form political party for 2014 elections

Updated 4 May 2012, 10:32 AEST
Fiji's interim foreign minister says Fiji's membership in the Pacific Islands Forum is irrelevant.

Ratu Inoke Kubuabola says the government has even considered withdrawing from the Forum.

Despite this there was a welcome mat out for this week's visit of a Forum Ministerial contact group that was in Suva to check on progress towrads a return to democracy.

The leader of the contact group was New Zealand Foreign Minister, Murray McCully who says there have been some positive sign of Fiji constitutional process ahead of promised free and fair elections in 2014.

Presenter:Geraldine Coutts
Speaker:Murray McCully, New Zealand Foreign Minister

McCULLY: Oh yes indeed, I think if you'd have asked any of us a year, two years ago how certain we were that there would be elections held in 2014, we might have given an answer like 50-50. Whereas now I think the signs are very compelling, that planning is underway for elections in 2014, we're seeing the rhetoric strengthen but also the actions behind rhetoric. The fact that there is a voter registration program about to commence, the fact that the machinery for elections is being planned in some detail. These are encouraging signs and we want in a sense of fairness to give credit for that and to encourage the next steps. And my own view is that the consultation process that start on the shape of the constitution is a critical element and really to focus very much on encouraging progress during this period.

COUTTS: There's been some press given recently to perhaps an attack by the acting interim prime minister, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum attacking Mr Carr for saying that the question about reserved seats for military just makes him compare Australia with Burma. There's also been a story that's come out where the military, speculation that they'll form their own party. Did you get a hint of this or was there any discussion on that?

McCULLY: A little bit of discussion but not a lot. Look the interim acting prime minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum often says uncharitable things, so I'm sure Mr Carr didn't take that too personally. I think as far as the military are concerned that is going to be one of the areas that we'll need to focus our attention, not just immediately but going forward. Once or twice during the various discussions we had I'm sure all of us turned our minds to whether the military really would go back to the barracks at the end of this process. Once you've got the machinery for elections in place, registration, new constitution and had a vote, none of this is worth anything unless the government duly elected is respected by the military. And I think that is where Fiji to be blunt is in transition at the moment, whether there's a significant shift that's going to need to take place from a society that is very heavily administered and managed by military figures, to one where a civilian government is able to make its own appointments and chart its own course. That is a significant shift I think Fiji is going to have to undergo and I think it's only right the MCG, including Senator Carr should be focussed on that challenge.

COUTTS: So no assurances were actually given about the military forming their own party, and also the call that Commodore Frank Bainimarama who was in India I think at the time and wasn't in Fiji for yours and Mr Carr's visit has claimed in the past that if the people want him, he will run for prime minister, and if he doesn't he won't be too far away as the military commander keeping an eye on what's happened in government to make sure that the changes they introduce won't be changed. So how confident are you that'll be a free and fair election, and that the parliament that does get elected is free and fair and won't be under the military regime?

McCULLY: As to your first point I think that it's quite likely that the interim prime minister will form a political party. I don't know that it's going to be simply a military party, I wouldn't be surprised if there were elements from inside the military and out who end up in such a party. But I think they are quite focussed on how they make sure that the new arrangements they've put in place are maintained. And so it's correct to then turn your mind to whether the military will respect a new administration, if it's going to pursue some policies that they don't like. So there's a period in which Fiji is going to have these sort of challenges to deal with. As to whether elections are going to be free and fair, we're very encouraged to have the reassurances that we received from the acting prime minister down that there would be a free and fair process. Some were more candid actually and said to us that there was a transition underway from a state where Fiji had some quite restrictive measures in place, which they've tried to justify to us, to one where these restrictions would be released as the consultation process got underway. And so my own view is that this consultation process is going to be something of a proxy for the elections in a sense. If everyone is able to participate in the consultation process, if it's carried out in a way in which freedom of assembly and freedom for the media are recognised, then that's going to be a very good sign for the elections. And that's why the Ministerial Contact Group really laid out that challenge in its report that if the consultation process could be carried out in that way, then we'd recommend to our leaders that they looked at some incremental changes to the restrictions that the Forum's put in place.

COUTTS: Well you're on the move again Mr McCully, you've got your bags packed because you're off today to the Non-Aligned Summit in Israel, where Commodore Frank Bainimarama will also be. Will you seek him out for a conversation?

McCULLY: I hadn't been aware that he'd been there to be honest, I knew Ratu Inoke would be there, and I always make a point of having a discussion with him when we're in these sorts of places. I'm sure that I'll see the Commodore as well. And I must say that it's quite a useful opportunity to have an informal discussion and to try and use those opportunities to encourage better communication.

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