Australia joins New Zealand in easing stance on Fiji regime
Australia joins New Zealand and eases stance on Fiji despite fears the election will not be free and fair.
Australia has joined New Zealand in easing its stance on Fiji seven months before the elections promised by the Bainimarama regime.
The two countries' so-called smart sanctions are gradually being lifted despite fears the election will not be free and fair.
Sally Round has been asking whether the sanctions achieved their aim?
NZ GOVERNMENT: The New Zealand Government cannot overstate the severity with which it views the actions of Commodore Bainimarama and the Fiji military. They must cease their disgraceful acts and restore the legitimately elected government, or suffer the consequences of their grossly illegal acts.
That was the New Zealand government's warning as it placed sanctions on Fiji following Commodore Frank Bainimarama's coup of December 2006. Australia also imposed sanctions including the withdrawal of aid and travel bans on the military and their families. The United States and the European Union also took action.
Sanctions were to remain until the Bainimarama government held elections in 2009 but they were extended when it broke its promise and pushed out the polls until 2014. Now seven months before the promised date, Australia and New Zealand are easing up in order to encourage the regime and as a reward for progress Fiji has made so far, like registering voters and political parties. An economist in Fiji Wadan Narsey says the sanctions have not brought elections any earlier to Fiji, and they were merely a symbolic gesture.
WADAN NARSEY: The only place where the sanctions would have worked would have been if they had shut down the tourism industry from Australia and New Zealand and clearly the policy-makers were not keen to do that. So the sanctions haven't worked. It's pointless having them in place and quite a few of the sanctions especially against family members of military personnel go against the basic human rights of people. You don't hold family members responsible for the actions of a few military officers.
An international relations scholar Dr Richard Herr also says the sanctions haven't achieved their objectives.
RICHARD HERR: It didn't hasten the day of the election by one day, one hour, one minute so they've really failed to achieve any useful objective from the point of view of those imposing sanctions and from the point of Fiji. It's interfered with them having the public service and the other elements of its public sector in place, the judiciary and so forth, to hasten the return to democracy.
But a prominent trade unionist in Fiji, Daniel Urai, says the sanctions worked eventually hurting Commodore Bainimarama personally because he was not able to travel freely. And he says the lack of direct development assistance was also painful. But he says the sanctions should have gone further.
DANIEL URAI: For example on trade it would have had a big effect. It would have led to this country moving to elections much faster than the seven years of turmoil which we have faced.
SALL ROUND: People would have been hurt though, wouldn't they?
DU: People are hurt anyway. People since 2006 have continued to be hurt. At least it would have shortened their suffering and the removal of rights which we are facing in this country.
Mick Beddoes of the opposition grouping of political parties, the United Front for a Democratic Fiji, says the sanctions were very successful and helped to push the regime towards elections. He says easing them now doesn't make any sense when critical matters haven't been addressed and the elections are yet to be held.
MICK BEDDOES: For every relaxation of an existing sanction against the regime, there needs to be a corresponding benefit towards the forward movement to an election or to improve the current wellbeing, for example we have in place still today very draconian and oppressive decrees relating to political parties. We have this terrible decree relating to workers' rights in certain selected industries.
Winston Peters, who was New Zealand's foreign minister in 2006, says the sanctions could never achieve their potential without a ban on Fiji troops in UN peacekeeping duties.
WINSTON PETERS: We did all way we could do but I knew that others could do more in terms of having a profound effect on the military thinking of a number of people in Fiji. And it would become very clear they'd be going back to the barracks pretty fast if they thought their career path and their international engagement was going to be curtailed because of behaviour back home.
Mr Peters says there is no evidence of credible elections to justify an easing of sanctions just yet.
WINSTON PETERS: In every way, leading up to the election, during it and after it, freedom, fairness and accountability has to be demonstrated otherwise what's this election going to be about. I mean is it going to be a jack-up? We've got to know that it will not be and that all participants will be given a fair go to put their policies in front of the Fijian constituency.
The economist Wadan Narsey says from the point of view of both the people of Fiji as well as Canberra and Wellington, it's best the "pointless" sanctions be lifted now.
WADAN NARSEY: It is miles better for Australia and New Zealand to be in a position where they can influence events in Fiji than to be totally shut outside and of course from their point of view they've got to think about the strategic role of China in the Pacific. From our point of view it's much better for our people, our military to have relationships with Australia and New Zealand, whether it's in sports, military or whatever.
The Fiji regime has stepped up the pressure for outright lifting of sanctions calling them economic sabotage and Australia's foreign minister Julie Bishop said after her recent meeting with the regime leader that they are under constant review.
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