15 Jul 2013

MSG criticised for supporting Fiji's military regime

5:08 pm on 15 July 2013

The United Front for a Democratic Fiji has strongly criticised Melanesian Spearhead Group member governments for supporting Fiji's military-led regime .

The UFDF, which comprises four political parties and the Council of Trade Unions, says once a democratically elected government is in place, Fiji's MSG membership must be reviewed.

Until last month, Fiji's regime held the MSG chair and it continues to enjoy strong support from the governments of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Johnny Blades reports:

PNG's government recently announced it would provide over US$11 million to assist Fiji prepare for elections in 2014. This sum dwarfs election assistance packages from Australia and New Zealand, traditional partners who Fiji's regime has been increasingly turning away from. While the Pacific Islands Forum suspended Fiji in 2009 over failed promises for holding elections, the MSG has given Commodore Frank Bainimarama's regime considerable leeway. A Fiji academic, Dr Brij Lal says the regime uses the reception it gets in the MSG for its own domestic propaganda purposes, especially in pitting Melanesia against Australia and New Zealand. He thinks MSG governments have little clue about what's going on in Fiji.

"BRIJ LAL: In many ways, what is happening in FIji is a transgression of the very principles and values for which the MSG purports to stand: democracy, dialogue, discussion... But what is happening in Fiji is in complete contrast to those principles. They should be listening to the voices of (groups) who represent the people because they were duly elected to parliament, as well as political parties and NGOs, trade unions and so on, I think that would better inform MSG's approach to Fiji. But what they're doing at the moment is, I think in the long run, counter-productive."

PNG's former Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare epitomises MSG support for Fiji's regime. Sir Michael has urged MSG leaders to resist taking the moral high ground to criticise Fiji's slow return to parliamentary democracy.

MICHAEL SOMARE: I think let's all work together to make sure that we have support. I'm sure that we will support each other in the region. When Fiji had their problems, we were there. Papua New Guinea is always there. And I can assure you, when we are a united people you can beat your enemy. Your enemy is people who feel that they govern you.

The UFDF co-ordinator, Mick Beddoes, says Sir Michael's stand is disappointing. Mr Beddoes supports engagement by the international community with the Fiji regime but feels MSG members have failed to use their influence to bring about democratic change and only talk to the regime rather than other political players in Fiji.

MICK BEDDOES: They have not engaged the regime, they have embraced it. And that's where they've gone wrong. And until the MSG leaders wake up and realise that while they may feel what they're doing for the moment suits their interests, they should be looking further afield when we do return to a democractic rule. And we will return to democracy. The future government of Fiji will definitely review its position as a member of the MSG because the MSG leaders have proven, in times of difficulty, they're the first ones to abandon the country that's in trouble.

The UFDF also objects to the MSG being the only international organisation invited by Fiji's regime to send an observer mission for next year's planned election. The UFDF believes observers should be confined to the UN, the Commonwealth, the European Union and the Pacific Islands Forum.