For outside onlookers at Fiji, the 2014 deadline for democratic elections seemed like a far-off date in the future, arbitrarily picked by military leader Commodore Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama.
He argued two years ago that such time was needed to “change” Fiji and cleanse the political system from corruption and entrenched racism.
Now, the 2014 deadline is closer – a mere three-year term of government for New Zealand and Australia – and some commentators are starting to think that Bainimarama might actually hold to his word. That he actually has a plan.
The question is why have Australia, and to a lesser extent New Zealand, held back from engaging with Fiji, in order to more effectively encourage the promised return to democratic elections.
What usually holds diplomats and politicians back from visiting undemocratic countries is the danger involved. Sometimes necessity overcomes danger. In fact, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has visited plenty of undemocratic countries.
Between September 2010 and February this year, Rudd had visited Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, Brazil, Chile, Bali, the United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan, Bahrain, China, South Korea, Japan, Belgium and Italy. Almost half of his tenure as foreign minister was spent overseas.
In fact, within two months of being sworn in, no less than four different ministers of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s government visited China, an undemocratic country from which many more human rights abuse stories would emerge if it was not for censorship of the media.
Invitation to Fiji
Yet Rudd hasn’t been able to get to Fiji, despite an invitation from Bainimarama. In fact, the military leader has invited Rudd three times since the 2006 coup to see what the real situation was like.
Now it is not as if it is dangerous. Fiji earned $147.3 million from Australian tourism in a record-breaking third quarter of 2010.
"What's holding them back is their stubbornness and also the fact that they do not understand what the real situation in Fiji is like, which makes it difficult for them to come out of their shell," Bainimarama said at the time.
Last year Gillard did not make it to Vanuatu for the Pacific Islands Forum and sent then foreign minister Steven Smith, and only after strong encouragement from the opposition that he should go.
The Fijian media treated it with cynicism. True, Gillard stayed to fight for the last few seats that helped her cling to power, but it showed where Fiji and the greater Pacific really is in the priorities of the current Australian government.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.