Mixed reaction to Bainimarama's proposed NZ trip
Suggestions that Fiji's military regime leader and Prime Minister will visit Auckland next month to campaign is getting a mixed reaction from groups representing people from Fiji in New Zealand.
Suggestions that the leader of the Fiji regime will visit Auckland next month to campaign is getting a mixed reaction from groups representing people from Fiji in New Zealand.
Frank Bainimarama has not visited New Zealand or Australia since he staged the 2006 military coup which removed the Laisenia Qarase-led government and brought him to power.
Mary Baines reports.
According to media reports, Rear Admiral Bainimarama will fly to Sydney and Auckland next month to campaign on behalf of his Fiji First Party, before the elections scheduled for September the 17th. He told Auckland's Radio Tarana he is waiting for a visa for New Zealand.
FRANK BAINIMARAMA: There's a plan for me to come to Auckland. It depends if the New Zealand government can grant me a visa, and I'll come.
Travel sanctions against Fiji coup makers, military personnel and other officials were lifted in March, but neither the New Zealand mission in Suva nor the foreign minister, Murray McCully, would say if the visit will go ahead.
Mr McCully's office says if a visit is confirmed, it will be announced in the usual way.
The interim president of New Zealand's arm of the Sodelpa party, Sai Lealea, says Rear Admiral Bainimarama should not be granted a visa.
SAI LEALEA: His eight years of rule in Fiji has proved that he has no regard whatsoever for human rights and has trashed many institutions and practices in government without consultation. I see no reason why New Zealand should grant him a visa to come to New Zealand.
Mr Lealea says if Rear Admiral Bainimarama is granted a visa, Sodelpa members would like to meet him to discuss their concerns with the regime. But he says it is unlikely the Prime Minister will meet any of his opposition because he has a history of running away from hard questions and avoiding debate. Mr Lealea says many people from Fiji in New Zealand are already voicing their objections and will protest if the planned trip goes ahead.
SAI LEALEA: We are doing this on behalf of people in Fiji. They're unable to voice their concern publicly, people are still cowered down by the various decrees and restrictions. So protests we will be doing here will also be representing the voice of people in Fiji who are unable to even protest, even to hold up placards, you're not allowed to do that.
But a spokesperson for the New Zealand-based Coalition for Democracy in Fiji, Nik Naidu, says a trip so close to elections is expected and could be positive.
NIK NAIDU: It's most probably appropriate to let the military personnel travel. You have an opportunity to engage with them, and influence them, impress on them the importance of letting the elections go through and to respect the results of the election outside the military cabinet.
Mr Naidu says the international community wanted Fiji to have an election, has lifted travel sanctions, and now must accept the Prime Minister will want to travel.
NIK NAIDU: Very difficult situation. You've got to stick by your own principles to oppose the military regime, but on the understanding that there will be smart sanctions applied and the sanctions will be gradually relaxed as that regime moves towards parliamentary democracy. So it's a give and take, and you've got to hedge your bets. Because if he wins legally, then what do you do if you don't let him in?
Mr Naidu says the proposed trip shows the regime leader is not confident of winning the election, so is reaching out to overseas citizens who are registered to vote.
The New Zealand Labour Party's spokesperson for foreign affairs, David Shearer, says he has no objection to a visa being granted if it enables Fiji's September election to be more democratic.
DAVID SHEARER: I don't have a problem in it so far as it helps the success of the Fijian election. I don't believe the election is going to be the most perfect in the world but if it is sufficiently democratic to transition us from where we are now, where it is effectively a dictatorship, then it's something that we should get in behind.
Other political party leaders from Fiji have campaigned in New Zealand over past weeks.
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