July 31, 2012

Fiji's opposition cautiously welcomes decision to restore formal diplomatic relations

Updated July 31, 2012 16:50:00

A key Fijian opposition figure has cautiously welcomed the decisions by the Australian and New Zealand governments to restore their highest diplomatic post to the country. Yesterday, the Foreign Minister Bob Carr announced that the post of High Commissioner would be restored, partly in recognition of Fiji's progress toward democracy.

Source: The World Today | Duration: 4min 13sec
ELEANOR HALL: A key Fijian opposition figure is today cautiously welcoming the decisions by the Australian and New Zealand Governments to restore their highest diplomatic posts to the country.
Fiji's military leader, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, expelled the Australian and New Zealand High Commissioners in 2009, and the two countries responded in kind.
Yesterday, the Foreign Minister Bob Carr announced that the diplomatic posts would be restored, as Timothy McDonald reports.
TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Mauhendra Chaudry is the leader of the opposition Fiji Labour Party and a former prime minister. He's cautiously welcomed Australia and New Zealand's decision, but he's urging both governments to tread carefully.
MAUHENDRA CHAUDRY: While I welcome the decision to restore high commissioners, the situation with regard to the rule of law, media freedom, trade union rights, and human rights is still unsatisfactory and a lot of work needs to be done there before it can be said that we are really making progress towards democracy.
TIMOTHY MCDONALD: There is supposed to be an election in 2014 - at the moment do you have any confidence that it will be free and fair?
MAUHENDRA CHAUDRY: Reservations have been expressed about the electoral process. For one thing, the process has been taken charge of by the attorney general office. We had been insisting that the electoral process should be the responsibility of the independent office of the supervisor of elections and the electoral commission.
The constitution review commission has also made similar observations, they are not happy also.
So as I said, a lot more needs to be done before one can be convinced that all that is necessary in terms of moving the country towards democratic rule is above board.
TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Will Australia and New Zealand be in a better position to influence the regime of Commodore Frank Bainimarama now that they have restored the post of high commissioner?
MAUHENDRA CHAUDRY: Well I hoped so, I hoped that this particular decision, this move would help in getting the regime here to make concessions which both these governments had been asking for, for some time.
TIMOTHY MCDONALD: The Fijian regime plans to hold elections in 2014 and it's preparing to consult on a new constitution. But there appears to be deep scepticism about how fair those processes will be.
One former prime minister Laisenia Qarase will be sentenced today in a long-running corruption case dating back to the 1990s. Mauhendra Chaudry is also facing charges, and says the trials are politically motivated.
Media figures have also expressed concerns about progress. Russell Hunter is the former CEO of the Fiji Sun, and was expelled from the country. He's not convinced that the decision will make much difference.
RUSSELL HUNTER: I think it's neither better nor worse, it will make no difference to the Bainimarama program, but it also gives him a victory of sorts - he's long craved some veneer of legitimacy and he's now been given it. So he'll be very happy.
TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Now obviously press censorship and press freedom was a very big issue, you yourself were kicked out of Fiji. Has there been any progress on that front?
RUSSELL HUNTER: No, the media is strictly controlled through threats of fines, imprisonment. We don't hear quite so many threats of violence now but they do exist. There's no question that the government controls the media. Absolutely and completely.
TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Can you see any upside in Australia re-engaging in this way?
RUSSELL HUNTER: Any dialogue is better than none, but we have to counter that with what we've seeing of the Bainimarama idea of dialogue, which is that he talks and others listen.
TIMOTHY MCDONALD: The Trade Minister Craig Emerson agrees Fiji still has a long way to go, but he's told Sky News a new approach is needed.
CRAIG EMERSON: I think carrots are important in these things, because if you just have a wall of sanctions irrespective of the behaviour of any country then what they say, and this happened with Myanmar, the reformers were saying well you're playing into the hands of the hardliners if no matter what they do, no matter what progress is made, you keep the sanctions in place.
ELEANOR HALL: That's Australia's Trade Minister Craig Emerson ending that report by Timothy McDonald.

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