New Zealand and Australia must take some of the blame for the current situation in Fiji, says an Australian priest who has been teaching in Suva for the past 29 years.
Fr Kevin Barr who helped set up the Ecumenical Centre for Research, Education and Advocacy in Suva says New Zealand doesn’t seem to understand the full complexity of what’s happening.
The adamant stand that they’ve taken has been responsible for the present crisis.
The root cause of the present situation goes back to coups in 1987 and 2000 which aimed to protect indigenous Fijian rights.
The coup which saw Bainimarama in charge was directed at affirming the multicultural nature of Fiji and addressing the problem of corruption and economic mismanagement to ensure that the economy works in the interests of all Fijians, up to 40 percent of whom live below the poverty line.
‘Fiji could have elections tomorrow but this would not fix the problem. We have to get to the root causes—the racism that’s there, religious fundamentalism, the power of the chiefs.’
Fr Kevin says life in Fiji has been calm and relatively peaceful since December 2006 when Commodore Frank Bainimarama seized control in a bloodless coup and set up an the interim government ousting Qarase who had breached his promise to Bainimarama, introduced a number of racist bills and reinstated some of those involved in the 2000 coup. Since December 2006, despite a few incidents, life has been relatively peaceful in Fiji.
Just before Easter this year the constitution was abrogated and an emergency decree set in place for 30 days but life goes on normally and tourists are perfectly safe.
American Samoan Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin agrees with Fr Kevin’s assessment telling US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, that Fiji was not ready for elections. Regional heavyweights Australia and New Zealand had been painting an inaccurate picture of Fiji’s political scene, he said.
Returning to American Samoa from talks in Suva, he said the democratic system in the country had been unfair for years and Fiji was not ready for proper elections. He told Clinton the situation in Fiji was complex, and for too long Canberra and Wellington had been allowed to take the lead. He said:
‘It makes no sense, Madame Secretary, for the leaders of Australia and New Zealand to demand early elections for the sake of having elections in Fiji, when there are fundamental deficiencies in Fiji’s electoral process.’
Click here for Fr Kevin Barr’s background report.