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Commonwealth suspends Fiji

The Commonwealth of Nations has suspended Fiji from the 53-nation body for failing to hold elections by October 2010.

While Fiji technically has been suspended from the group of former British colonies since its December 2006 coup, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group made the disbandment full on September 1. This is the second time Fiji has been fully suspended by the group. Only Nigeria, Pakistan and Zimbabwe have previously been removed by the Commonwealth.

While the move was hardly a surprise, it most likely will drive  a deeper wedge between Fiji’s military backed government and the international community. In May, the regional group Pacific Islands Forum suspended Fiji from participation in its body for the failure to hold elections. Shortly afterwards, the European Union cancelled its 24 million Euro sugar subsidy to the country.

To Fiji this most recent suspension means the country will be excluded from Commonwealth sporting events. Also, Fiji’s government will be barred from attending in Commonwealth intergovernmental activities, meetings and, perhaps most importantly, receiving technical assistance.

Frank Bainimarama in December 2006 ousted the government of Laisenia Qarase, whom the military leader claimed ruled for the benefit of indigenous Fijians at the expense of ethnic Indians, the country’s largest minority group, making up nearly 40 percent of the population. It was Fiji's fourth military coup since 1987.

The so-called Indo-Fijians are descendants of indentured workers brought to the Pacific Island nation to work in sugar plantations by British colonial rulers roughly one hundred years ago.

A large proportion of Indo-Fijians have subsequently been kicked off the land their families once farmed. While the community as a whole has excelled in the economic sector, tens of thousands of Indo-Fijians have left Fiji for other countries.

In April Bainimarama and his government was provided with a five-year mandate after the country’s president abrogated the 1997 constitution. He was responding to a court decision claiming Bainimarama’s coup was illegal, forcing the Prime Minister to step down and requiring the president to appoint a caretaker government to bring Fiji to elections. However, the president maintained Fiji’s constitution did not provide him with that power.

Since then, Bainimarama said his government will begin work on a new constitution in 2012 to take the country to elections in 2014. The Prime Minister has said he will write a new electoral law, scraping the country’s method of providing different voter roles for people of different ethnicities. He also maintains he will spend the next three years rebuilding Fiji’s infrastructure and propping up its economy, which has been hit hard by the global economic crisis and the after-effects of political instability.

Let's get to the bloggers. Writing a few days before the suspension, Loyal Fijian argues that life in Fiji will go on outside the umbrella of the Commonwealth.

Fiji is is set to be suspended from the Commonwealth.

While this statement Will surely be used by the Anti-IG forces to depict the IG in a bad light, life will go on as normal.

The Commonwealth is nothing more than a Club of former British colonies with no real purpose or power.

In fact, what is the sense of reminding ourselves of the dark chapter when we were subjugated by a foreign power?

In this day and age, do we need a Commonwealth?

Loyal Fijian does not think so. We are a sovereign nation and have no need for the relics of history.We are a republic!

The Commonwealth can do as it pleases.

Fiji: The Way It Was, Is and Can Be finds little solace in the Commonwealth's decision.

One can, of course, see where the Forum and Commonwealth are coming from. They had to react to what they saw as an illegitimate regime imposed by the military. The pity is they could not also see that the regime that was deposed was far from democratic, even though it had the support of most ethnic Fijians. And that the only way to break the cycle of coups, and establish a just and more genuine democracy, was to remove race as the inflammatory accelerant from Fiji politics once and for all. The party leaders, Qarase and Chaudhry, the Commonwealth insist Bainimarama include in dialogue do not want this. Race-based parties and electorates guarantee their re-election. That's why their recent letter to Bainimarama copied the Commonwealth's insistence on inclusive dialogue with no conditions and no determined outcomes, and why the Government will always resist this sort of dialogue with politicians like this.

The situation is anomalous but the irony is not hard to see. Read it slowly. Two democratic, non-racist institutions oppose a military regime —–and so unwittingly continue to extend support for undemocratic, racist politicians—– and so undermine the wobbly efforts of the military regime (sic!) —- to impose democratic, non-racist political procedures.

However, a comment from Alterego takes the blog's writer, Crosbie Walsh, to task for his alleged support of the Bainimarama regime:

I'm as opposed as you are to undemocratic, racist politicians; problem is they're a product of the population that elects them. As are the good ones: every country has it's fair share of both.

At least pre-Bainimarama the upright citizens of Fiji could publicly voice their opinions, campaign on issues of importance, petition their representatives, vote bad leaders out, and take bad law to court.

So how exactly is the current situation an improvement?

No Right Turn, another blog from New Zealand, wonders why it took the Commonwealth so long to suspend Fiji.

Almost three years after Bainimarama's coup, Fiji has been suspended from the Commonwealth. It took them long enough. The net effect will be that the Fijian regime doesn't get invited to parties any more – including, if they care, the Commonwealth games – but that seems entirely appropriate for an unelected dictatorship.

Given the entrenched anti-democratic attitudes of Fiji's dictator, this is unlikely to change his mind. But it does send a message internationally that coups and dictators are unacceptable to the community of nations, and that democratic countries will not associate themselves with them.

At Raw Fiji News, lartinidaveta says the UN must continue the pressure on the regime and send Fiji’s peacekeepers home.

If the Commonwealth would really want to hit Baini and his supporters where it hurt most then they should veto for the discontinuation of RFMF at all UN Peacekeeping duties. That is Baini lifeblood thats keeping him in power. All Fijian Security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan should be terminated immediately and have them replaced by other Pacific Islanders Peace keepers that had being trained by RAMSI. There should be concerted effort by all global and regional gatekeepers in order to eradicate this type of political problem from the Pacific for good. What ever happen in Fiji can aslo happen in PNG and these are destabilizing factors for regional peace.

Along with news of the suspension, the International Federation of Journalists have called for Australians and others to boycott Fiji. This is in response to the Public Emergency Rules that have been in place since the abrogation of the constitution that give the government the power to place censors in news bureaus throughout Fiji.

At the Soli Vakasama blog, Fiji ex tourist wonders how regular people will accept the suspension.

It will be interesting tonight to see its reaction to the suspension from the Commonwealth. Surely the athletes and rugby players who will miss out on the Commonwealth games next year must be spewing.

Let’s hope they air their disquiet.

The UN must now suspend Fijian soldiers from all peacekeeping; it is immoral not to do so.

It was a great call by the journalists to ask tourists to not visit Fiji. It is not the workers who would lose money but the junta through taxes.

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  • Billy Sullebarger

    As the most far-reaching colonial power, Britain has influenced a vast assortment of nations that were former colonies and present-day commonwealths. While they have not always been supportive to preserve indijenous lands and culture, and have even deceived them (see Treaty of Waitangai), they vhave always endeavoured to establish countries with a developed economy, and a democratic, represenatative government in all of theuir commonwealths. In fact, one of the primary goals set for the Commonwealth of Nations in the 1971 Singapore Declaration, is to promote a represenatative governent and individual liberty. When a member of such organization fails to meet these requirements, such as Fiji, they should undoubtedly be suspended from the group.

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